RV Service Plan Gets Mileage From Mailer

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Don't mess with a winning formula -- that's Elizabeth Winer Eversen's philosophy. The marketing director of Affinity Group Inc. has used the same direct mail piece promoting an RV service plan since early 2002.


"People keep saying we're going to dilute its effectiveness if we keep mailing it as is, but it's still as strong as ever," she said. "A lot of the recipients spend much of their time on the road and respond as much as three months after it's mailed."


Perhaps one reason for the success of the Continued Service Plan mailer is the selection of names available from AGI's lists. They include 1.1 million active names from cataloger and retailer Camping World and 970,000 members of the Good Sam Club who own RVs and are active in the RV lifestyle. AGI owns Camping World and the Good Sam Club.


"There is some crossover between the Camping World and Good Sam Club files, and some of the people may have been mailed up to three times, and that would only happen based on very frequent purchase activity within Good Sam or Camping World," she said.


AGI, Ventura, CA, has mailed the piece monthly since January 2002 with an average of 100,000 pieces per drop.


"Our business is doing well despite the fact that it's travel-related," Eversen said. "After 9/11, more people rented and bought RVs, and the industry is doing OK now despite the economy. People want to stay stateside and want to drive, and they don't want to get on a plane. They are spending more time with their families, and they're doing it through RVing.


"Also, people are keeping their RVs longer and are making a bigger investment and want them protected with the CSP. Since we moved to this package a year and a half ago, we've seen an increase in the core response rate."


The response rate has stayed at 2.5 percent since the pieces began mailing. The sales conversion rate has also remained at 16 percent of those who respond. Best of all, the annual renewal rate is 80 percent.


These trends have been consistent through the most recently tracked mailing, which went out in May. Because of a seasonal fluctuation, circulation was 140,000 for May. With a 16 percent sales conversion rate of those who responded, the May mailing produced 560 sales of the service plan at an average cost of $700 annually.


"The average RV can cost between $50,000 and $60,000, so our product is extremely affordable," she said.


The May mailing targeted 21 subsets of AGI's files. Among the 140,000 names were:


· 30,000 mail-order buyers from the Camping World catalog.


· 5,000 Camping World retail buyers in the United States.


· 7,000 members of Camping World's President's Club, a frequent-buyer program.


· 17,000 people who renewed their Good Sam Club membership.


The five elements of the piece include a business reply envelope; a single-sheet "NO MORE MAJOR REPAIR BILLS!" insert; and Good Sam Club member testimonials.


But the element that Eversen praises most is a folded sheet telling recipients that: "With so many things to go wrong ... The odds of a breakdown go up every year ... But we'll help pay the bills to fix them!"


The sheet folds open to reveal a chart on one side showing that the likelihood of a breakdown rises annually. The other side shows various parts of an RV that are covered as well as typical replacement costs.


Also significant to the overall package design is a window in the outer envelope that lets recipients see what appears to be a repair bill with the words "PAID BY CSP" stamped on it. The "bill" -- which is for more than $9,000 covering the repairs for an engine, refrigerator and air conditioning -- appears at the top of the two-sided pitch letter that also contains the words, "YES, We pay your repair bills!"


"It is meant to show them that if they get this bill, they might have to abandon their dreams of a vacation," she said. "This is how much it could cost, but if you have CSP, you don't have to worry about it. [The pitch letter] draws them in, and the folded piece inside the envelope makes the sale. It answers the questions people have."


The bottom of the pitch letter has a cut-away form that can be filled out and mailed for a quote. It also contains a toll-free number.


"About 80 percent respond through the mail, which is unbelievable," she said. "We mail them a personalized quote, and every quote is followed up by our outbound telemarketing group in Englewood, CO, which has 13 licensed insurance people."


The effort's per-piece cost totals about 34 cents, which includes 21 cents for postage, 4.7 cents for personalization and insertion and 8.5 cents for printing.


Most policyholders are older than 50, and 80 percent are male. Ninety-eight percent are married. Only about 20 percent have children living at home. Most policies are sold for used RVs, not new vehicles.


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