ProFlowers Prunes Catalog for Mother's Day

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The retailer has mailed 3 million catalogs in a staggered fashion during the four weeks leading to the May 14 holiday, and the majority of the books are in the slim-jim format of 6 by 11 inches.

ProFlowers said that postage for the slim-jim costs 25 percent less than for its regular 8-by-11-inch book after the differing weight and sorting charges are tallied. And in one of the retailer's most recent tests, the slim-jim outsold the bigger version.

"If there's a way to get an equal or better response and cut our costs by shrinking the size of the catalog, then that's what we are going to do," said Bill Strauss, president/CEO of ProFlowers, part of San Diego-based Provide Commerce Inc. "While we are still testing both sizes to see what's sustainable over time, most of the households are currently getting the slim-jim."

The retailer's fourth annual Mother's Day catalog takes another creative turn by steering away from a merchandise-oriented layout in favor of more brand messaging. None of ProFlowers' floral arrangements, chocolate sweets or fruit baskets are featured on the cover this year. Designed in conjunction with marketing services firm BBDO West, Los Angeles, the catalog showcases its newly adopted style of sloganeering that pushes the "Pro" part of its brand.

On the front of the 20-page book appears sentimental copy, such as "ProMommy," "ProLove" and "ProPeekABoo," in large, mostly white font on top of a pink-and-green image of a rose. Also coming to view in the vertical layout are the words "ProFieldFresh," "ProOnTime" and "ProLongLasting."

Each of the latter phrasings turns up once more inside the book as a headline to a three- to five-sentence blurb designed to inform readers about one or two customer-care-based reasons to place an order. Page 9 of the catalog involves a passage about ProFlowers' Gerbera Daisies selection from coastal California.

"Some of the softer selling points of our brand messaging are starting to be weaved throughout the catalog," said Jen Carroll, public relations director for the 7-year-old retailer. "We have found that our customers tend to enjoy that."

Past customers total one-fourth of the catalog recipients, while the rest are prospects from a list compiled by direct marketing services providers Walter Karl Inc., Pearl River, NY, and Fasano & Associates, Sherman Oaks, CA.

Regarding the considerable prospecting, Mr. Strauss said his firm views catalogs as one part of a multichannel engine that involves other offline advertising along with e-mail and Web promos. He suggested that ProFlowers, which sends more than 10 million catalogs yearly, doesn't shy from direct mail's potential for branding its Web site.

Yet it still uses systems to track telephone center and Internet purchases back to the catalog in order to gauge the success of a mailing. In one example, page 16 entails instructions that describe the idea of taking advantage of catalog-only specials either over the phone or by entering a product number at www.proflowers.com.

"We can measure what impact the catalog has even if the customer doesn't directly order from it," Mr. Strauss said. "And the book reinforces our brand name and the fact that we sell flowers at a time like Mother's Day."

Indeed, Mother's Day is the company's biggest sales period, followed closely by St. Valentine's Day with the December holiday season a distant third. Since its first Mother's Day catalog in 2003, the former Web pure play has expanded to include editions for all major gifting periods and a year-round "everyday" mailer for occasions like birthdays and anniversaries.

Mr. Strauss said that his firm's increased focus on catalogs has been prompted partly by the rising cost of search engine marketing and other Web advertising. The company's ad budget is now split 50/50 between online and offline, he said.

Its multichannel efforts seem to be accelerating. According to Nielsen//NetRatings' MegaView Retail Report, ProFlowers topped all online retailers for conversion rates with a mark of 14.1 percent for January, while scoring even higher at 21.2 percent for February and placing first again.

In addition, it's the chief brand for Provide Commerce, which earned $177 million in 2005 while turning a profit of $8.9 million. The net figure represents a 54 percent rise from the year before.

"Pure plays now know that selling goods online does not equate to only marketing themselves on the Web," said Jack Aaronson, CEO of multichannel strategy and design firm The Aaronson Group, New York. "Catalogs are in a resurgence period. Everyone abandoned them over the last decade, thinking they were vestiges from the past. Now, online retail players realize that traditional marketing techniques never stopped working. It is the blend of traditional and modern techniques that are winning multichannel consumers."

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