Soccer Supplier Scores With Catalog Changes

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Sales are still coming in for Big Toe Sports' two fall catalogs, but early results indicate that changes in the books will produce better numbers than the early fall books for the soccer specialty cataloger.


Page count (84) and SKUs (about 5,500) remained unchanged, but the company wanted to move away from what general manager Dan Nuthals described as a "more industrial, less human" look that marked the early fall catalogs, Nos. 7 and 8. The solution for the fall books, Nos. 9 and 10: changing the font, from sans-serif to serif; and increasing the use of soccer players modeling uniforms.


"The magic thing for me is creating a link to the game," Nuthals said. "We're building a better link to the game with 'on-figure' photography. The players are being shown in the gear, and the people receiving the catalog are getting an idea of how they will look."


In an effort to determine appropriate drop frequency for 2002, Big Toe Sports, Madison, WI, segmented its house list of 100,000 into different categories: about one-quarter received one catalog that was mailed Aug. 13, while another 25 percent received the other book, which dropped Aug. 27. Half of the file received both.


"We increased our frequency from six to 16 books this year because I felt we were leaving a lot of sales on the table," Nuthals said. "I wanted the catalogs to be in front of them constantly, but I want to determine which buyers should get maybe six catalogs each year and also learn who the high-frequency buyers are who should get all of them."


Gaining information about buyers is crucial for the company in preparing for its 2002 marketing efforts.


"The marketplace historically runs on a four-year cycle with the high point coinciding with the World Cup, which takes place next year," he said. "Next year the magic number will be producing between 14 and 18 catalogs."


Production costs were minimized in the two fall books, as their only difference is the front and back covers. Total cost amounted to 76 cents per piece, including postage. All production elements were provided inhouse, with only the printing being outsourced.


As of Sept. 6, those receiving only book No. 9 produced a 3.1 percent response rate with an average order amount of $167. Those who got only No. 10 accounted for a 2.7 percent response rate with an average order amount of $183. Recipients who saw both books came in with a 3.8 percent response rate with an average order of $216.


"The more quality books we put in front of our core consumers, the more they react," Nuthals said. "It gets to the point where you're printing money when you're printing catalogs."


Even without taking into account the additional sales expected to be produced this month, the catalogs have out-performed the two early fall books in which the same segmentation of the house file was used.


Book No. 7 was mailed on July 23, while No. 8 dropped on Aug. 6.


Those who got only No. 7 produced a 2.8 percent response rate with a $163 average order size. No. 8-only recipients accounted for a 2.9 percent response rate with an average order of $175. Those who got both gave the company a 3.6 response rate with a $203 average order.


"And the gross margin is three points higher with the fall books," he said. "The items that used 'on-figure' photography, such as uniforms, are higher-margin items, so we were leading the horse to water."


Big Toe Sports buyers can generally be categorized as belonging to two groups: business-to-consumer and business-to-team. Soccer moms and players ages 12 to 19 fall within the BTC group, while the BTT segment includes soccer coaches at the high school, college and club levels. BTT purchasers receive quantity pricing for many team items specified in the catalogs. The amount of revenue generated by the two segments is roughly equal, while the BTT average order is more than $700.


The Internet ordering option produces 15 percent of the company's revenue, while regional sales representatives account for 20 percent. A 30-agent call center in Madison is primarily staffed with bilingual agents.


"Sales reps create a relationship, and we can get a significant influx of BTC orders from a club or school when the coach recommends us to his players," Nuthals said.


The fall books were the company's first to provide a free shipping offer on all shoes, which appeared on the covers.


"It increased our footwear purchases 20 percent to 25 percent [compared to the early fall catalogs]," he said. "It's a higher-margin category. We wanted to eliminate some of the disadvantages when it comes to worrying about returns, since buying footwear through a catalog is inherently difficult."


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