Sales Jump As Callers Get 'Real' Tours of National Parks

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The Parks Company catalog has seen sales of its custom-made apparel, art and vintage collectibles that celebrate the 54 national parks, quadruple since its debut July 4. Calls have jumped 1200 percent.


A key to the small catalog's growth, according to founding partners Joe Galliani and Mike Baggetta, is the Indiana Jonesesque experience national parks enthusiasts are greeted with when they call. While they don't battle grizzlies and wolves, they are made to feel as if they're on a tour, of say Yellowstone, by phone reps of MBS Communications, a teleservicing agency based in Cheshire, CT, which handles all of the company's calls.


"Our service representatives introduce themselves as park guides," said Galliani. "We have a specific idea of the image we want to create for our callers who love the parks but may not get to visit as often as they would like to."


Thirty-two MBS customer service representatives (CSRs) work with the Parks Company and a couple of other catalogs on what the call center describes as a semi-dedicated team, meaning representatives are trained in answering calls for a few particular catalogs.


"The advantage of concentrating calls on a team is that they become familiar with each catalog and the questions that are most frequently asked," said Vincent Mulhall, vice president sales and marketing, MBS Communications.


Supervision is constant, according to Mulhall. Each supervisor handles 10 CSRs and is always on the floor listening, answering questions and giving immediate feedback to reps. Twenty percent of calls are monitored to learn customer response and what can be done to improve performance. During one campaign, for instance, only 40 percent of the customers were ordering. Supervisors listened to 50 calls and discovered that customers were skeptical, so the script was changed and a guarantee offered. The account is now closing at about 65 percent.


Galliani involves himself daily in the call center operations. "I even make follow-up calls," he said. He used to send handwritten notes to customers. "This is to ensure a seamless connection with the customer."


Even more crucial to this relationship is to have a good teleservicing agency, Galliani said. He and Baggetta had a bad experience with a Southern California agency that used human error as a blanket excuse for countless inconsistencies and mistakes. The partners did extensive research before choosing MBS Communications, making their decision after receiving glowing reports from six major clients, including Bloomingdales by Mail, Jack Nicklaus Golf and BMW Accessories Catalog.


The Parks Company has a different relationship with MBS Communications than MBS usually has with its clients. For instance, Galliani scripted the message himself.


"Coming from a background as a writer for the creative industry, it was natural for him," said Mulhall. "We have flexibility in designing our scripting and a client can tell us exactly how he wants it written. [Galliani] wants the customers to smell the pine cones from the cabin we are answering from. It was not a problem for us. We have the software that can support various formats of scripts. Not everyone has that."


The Parks Company ad invites consumers to call 1-888-PARKS-CO to request the themed catalog, which contains USA-made, high-quality apparel, art and vintage collectibles accented with custom-designed logos of the national parks.


After initial testing, the company stopped advertising in The New Yorker, Smithsonian, National Wildlife Magazine and Atlantic Monthly in favor of Sierra Magazine, National Parks Magazine and Ranger Magazine, which target the parks audience more exclusively. Sierra and National Parks magazines each have a circulation of 500,000; Ranger Magazine has a few thousand.


According to Galliani, potential customers appreciate his company's effort to give back to the parks. Five percent of gross profits as well as 10% of the purchase price on designated scenic logo items are donated to the parks. Galliani and Baggetta donated $5,000 of their own money and another $5,000 from the National Park Foundation toward flood relief in Yosemite. And the catalog itself gives information about various nonprofit organizations dedicated to restoring health to the parks, including the Yosemite Fund, Sierra Club, the National Park Conservation Association and the National Park Foundation.


"We are creating a legacy," said Galliani. "This is more than an investment for us. The parks have several billion dollars worth of budget backlog and something really needs to be done to protect them."


The Parks Company founders have high-profile backgrounds that don't include direct marketing. Galliani is a toy inventor -- he co-created Mattel's best selling Street Sharks -- writer and creative talent, whose clients have included MCA/Universal and Dow Chemical.


Baggetta, who designs the custom-made items and logos in the catalog, is a designer, art director and creative director. His clients include MGM/UA, Mattel, NBC Television and Tri-Star Columbia Pictures.
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