Travel Decline Won't Bring Magellan's 'To Our Knees'

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John McManus is trying to balance marketing delicately with good taste.


The founder and president of Magellan's, Santa Barbara, CA, has identified more than a dozen items in his 60-page Holiday Gift Guide 2001 catalog with the image of an American flag accompanied by the words "Safer Travel."


"It's a fine line between needing to be topical and being seen as capitalizing on tragic events such as the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks or the [Nov. 12] crash of the jet heading from New York to the Dominican Republic," McManus said. "We want to place Magellan's where it deserves to be, which is a marketer of products designed for safer travel. We wanted to be appropriate in reminding people about the fact that's what we are."


A swath on the upper right corner of the cover projects the "travel safer" theme of the book.


"The bottom line is that we offer products that make people feel more comfortable about certain aspects of travel," he said.


McManus decided to add the element during the final week of September. The catalog was repaginated to bring the featured items to the front of the book while much of the luggage was moved farther back.


Mirroring the overall decline in the travel industry since Sept. 11, it's a given that McManus is seeing a decline in the book's response rate.


"We're down about 20 percent in sales overall," he said. "For this year's holiday book, the response rate will probably be off 20 percent, but revenue will only be off 15 percent. Those numbers won't bring us to our knees."


Early results from the holiday catalog show an average order amount in the low $80s while it has been in the high $70s in recent years.


Safety of valuables is the theme for page 4 where a Deluxe Neck Wallet and a Deluxe Waist Wallet (each $13.85), Nylon Hidden Wallet ($7.85) and the Leather Currency Belt ($39.85) can be found. Page 5 includes the Door Stop Alarm at $9.85, which is "designed to keep middle-of-the-night intruders from getting in to rob your hotel room after breaking hotel security," McManus said.


Also on page 5 is the Evac-U8 Smoke Hood, described as being for protection from smoke -- the No. 1 cause of fire fatalities.


"The Smoke Hood has sold over 1,000 units since 9-11," said McManus, who described the item as having been popular since the mid-1990s. "The image of the smoke pouring from the [Twin Towers] may be going through a lot of people's minds. It's probably sold four or five times what we would have expected to sell."


Describing the Front Pocket Money Clip on page 8, McManus said travelers should "take money out of their back pockets. We don't want to create a fear on which we base these sales, but we know these things go on."


Five drops are being used to get the catalog out, and about one-half of the slightly less than 1 million total have already arrived in homes. All of the books will be mailed by Dec. 15. The total circulation has remained constant over the past three years. The company's house list receives 80 percent of the mailing. Per-piece postal costs are 33 cents to 35 cents.


The Web site, www.magellans.com, generates 30 percent of sales, while phone-in orders account for just under 70 percent. Volume produced by order forms mailed and faxed in is negligible.


This year's page count is down from the 68 that had been produced the past two years.


"We took some of the historic nonsellers that were too 'nuts and bolts' and eliminated them," said McManus, who described his typical customers as 45 to 65 years old, and "probably 65 percent of the buyers are female."


Magellan's publishes four major books during the year, including spring, summer and fall. Total annual circulation is 10 million, with the spring catalog having the most.


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