The Mighty Little Catalog Lists

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You may be wondering what a "little list" is. Well, it depends on the eye of the beholder. It could be a list of 5,000 to 10,000 names with small growth potential or a list of names from a start-up catalog. For some, a list under 50,000 12-month mail-order buyers is considered small. For argument's sake, this article is geared more towards the 5M-10M name lists. Regardless of the size, the potential of these names can be enormous and these "mighty little lists" can prove to be gems.


Many catalogers are looking for new and innovative ways to get their catalogs into the hands of consumers all across the world. But one avenue that seems to be overlooked is the little lists and start-up catalog lists. These are very fundamental lists and should be considered in circulation plans. Why you ask? Some very good rationales for using these types of lists are:


New source of names. Once a larger cataloger has been in the mail for many years, they sometimes fall into the routine of using the same lists over and over again. Using new lists brings in fresh names. Once these new prospects purchase from the catalog, the buyers become important for mailers' house files. They are the new blood that is needed to boost the response of mailers renting that particular list, thus generating more list rental income.


Not saturated. At this point in time, since many mailers are not using these little lists, these direct mail customers have not been swamped with catalogs in their mail boxes. This gives mailers a better chance of making a sale, than with other lists that may be over-exposed.


Well sourced files. Most of the mailers with little lists have smaller circulation plans than the larger mailers and their mail plans tend to be more targeted to their category. For instance, a new home decor mailer will focus their plans on using other home decor files, making this list a stronger performer within category.


When a larger mailer has exhausted in-category resources, many will turn to out-of category-lists for their mailings. These lists can be anything from publication and compiled lists, to databases where the exact source of these names is not known. However, because these names are not catalog sourced, they tend to reduce the effectiveness of their list rental by other mailers. This rarely occurs with little lists since there is such a broad selection of outside lists to use.


Fill-in names. Most mailers decide in advance the specific number of names they want to mail in a given season. As many list rental files decrease, whether from cut backs in the mail or a soft first half of 1999, little lists and start-ups become a great source of additional names for mailers to meet their planned circulation.


Exchange leverage. Since these smaller mailers are looking to break into the marketplace and grow their business, they are valid contenders with which to bargain. Being a start-up, and competitive in nature, it was probably difficult for them to get some lists initially, but not so now that their names are available. These smaller mailers tend to update their files more frequently so that they can have as many names as possible to exchange. This enables them to keep their costs down -- which in turn reduces costs for larger catalogers.


Future growth. In general, if these new mailers and small mailers are going to increase their circulation plans and grow their files, now is the time for larger mailers to test these little lists. If a mailer tests now, the mailer can get a good read on results. So, when they are ready to order again, most of these lists will have updated and there will be more fresh and profitable names to use. Just remember, the big guys were little once.


Sixty percent is still worth it. Understandably, the big mailers out there, may not agree with this view of little lists. When large merges take place, mailers tend to lose 40 percent of their input and small lists may tend to get lost in the merge. This does happen quite often and certainly these types of lists are not made for all. But just remember, the possibility that mailing 60 percent of these names that are well sourced and not saturated could be well worth the loss of 40 percent after all is said and done.


After reviewing these rationales, you can see that there are very valid and profitable reasons to use these little lists and start-up lists. So, if a larger mailer is looking for a new source of names for increasing circulation, or as fill-in names that have not been saturated and are well sourced, they are out there for the asking. Just go out and order some mighty little lists and watch your profits grow.


Wendy Udell is senior sales executive at Mokrynski & Associates Inc., Hackensack, NJ.
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