Poland by Mail Bolsters Prospecting This Holiday Season

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A cataloger of Polish-themed merchandise hopes that an improving economy, ethnic affinity and more aggressive marketing will combine for holiday sales success.


Poland by Mail had a Christmas circulation of 187,000 last year, with only one-third targeting prospects. Two-thirds of this year's 276,000 books went to prospects, with drops of about 140,000 on Nov. 10, another 75,000 on Nov. 19 and the final 61,000 on Nov. 21.


"The economy is a big part of it, but I believe the Christmas season for Polish people has much more meaning than it does for the average family," said Jarek Zaremba, president of Polart Distribution USA Inc., Sarasota, FL, which owns Poland by Mail. "We completely spoil our kids with gifts. Polish people buy much more for Christmas than what is available in the stores. Everybody buys for everybody, and not just one gift.


"After last Christmas my feeling was we did not mail enough catalogs," he said.


Careful name selection was crucial to the change in strategy. In addition to Polish surnames, criteria for selecting 2003 Christmas catalog prospects included last-24-month mail-order buyers with a total spend of at least $700 in that period.


"Their ancestry is the most likely factor that will spark interest," he said. "That's actually more important than when they made their most recent purchase, how much they spend, how often they buy or whether they've purchased something from Lands' End or L.L. Bean."


Though overall sales results have yet to be compiled, Zaremba noticed that one item, the Polish Angel Fabriche Christmas ornament, began selling exceptionally well right after the initial drop.


"Our catalog had not entirely reached all of the people yet, and about two-thirds of what we had in stock is gone already," he said. "Some people have ordered as many as six.


"Last year we ordered 120 and sold them out in two weeks. This year we ordered 300 and I was afraid that would be too many."


Zaremba moved the item from last year's position on the bottom-right corner of page 5 to the upper-left corner of the back cover. The price rose from $39.95 to $49.95.


"With the larger number of units I had to move, I needed to give it better presentation," he said. "When I sell them it will mean $15,000 for the bottom line. I wish I had ordered 750."


Zaremba expects each sales channel to generate the same percentage of sales as last year: less than 1 percent via fax; about 2 percent from order forms mailed in; 70 percent from orders placed by phone; and just under 30 percent from www.polart.com. Finding a new printer this year has resulted in a drop in the overall per-piece expense to 50 cents from about 60 cents. The book stayed at 48 pages.


Last year's average order generated by the Christmas book exceeded $80 while the response rate was above 2 percent with three to four units sold per order. This year's holiday book expectations include a $90 average order with a 2.5 percent response rate and the units per order remaining constant.


About 40 percent of the merchandise in last year's book has been replaced, resulting in about 100 new items this year.


New styles and designs have been incorporated in the pottery, jewelry and military figures categories along with new T-shirts in which there are nearly a dozen new designs. The DVD & video section includes about 50 titles and is toward the back of the catalog where several new books about Poland also were placed.


Along with the Polish Angel Fabriche Christmas ornament, Christmas carol CDs and calendars are expected to be hot items. Translation software, at $169.95, is among the book's higher-priced selections.


The typical customer is older than 40, and about 60 percent are female. Also, 62 percent speak English only, 28 percent speak English and Polish and 10 percent speak Polish exclusively.


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