Testing Creates Fertile Ground for Garden Tool

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NEW YORK -- The Mantis Tiller may have maintained its $299 price point for 20 years, but its marketing has changed greatly in that time.

Stephen J. LePera, media director at Schiller-Pfeiffer Inc., Southampton, PA, described those efforts to market the tiller, a tool used by vegetable and flower gardeners, at the Direct Marketing Association's Insert Media Council Luncheon yesterday.

Converting inquirers to customers is a two-step program in which inserts generate leads and the company mails to those names for up to five years to try to make a sale. Schiller's first control piece from the 1980s was on 105 matte coated stock and had a white background with muted colors, LePera said. It was text heavy with long paragraphs.

"Most important for us was the offer of a three-week home trial," he said. "We know we have to overcome a pretty significant leap of faith by getting people to buy power equipment through the mail. By offering them three weeks to use it and then return it, we felt it was a pretty generous offer. It got Mantis on the map."

Ultimately, Schiller beat the control "just by removing the pre-filled check box on the 'request for more information' and employing a bright blue arrow pointing to the box and requiring the person to actually fill in their own check," LePera said. "We ended up beating our control piece and getting a 30 percent reduction on our ultimate cost per order."

The moral of his story? Test and make incremental changes, even if the appearance of success with the control piece is evident.

After the event, LePera acknowledged some softness in response rates on the front end, which has become more difficult because of the Internet and competition from big box stores. But conversion rates have held steady.

Also, the no-risk in-home trial period was lengthened from three weeks to one month in the 1980s and then to one year in the early '90s.

"Our returns are quite low," LePera said. "We get more notes from ... hearty Midwesterners saying, 'No way. You're not getting it back' than we do get returns. That offer of a one-year trial ... caused a lot of consternation, but ... it's been tremendously successful."

Also providing case studies at the luncheon were JoAnna DeGennaro, director of package enclosures at Bookspan, Garden City, NY; and Dan Plunkett, senior vice president of marketing at Singer Direct Inc., Scarsdale, NY. Linda Callahan, senior vice president at Leon Henry Inc., Hartsdale, NY, moderated.

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