War Flattens Response for Bakers Book

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The Baker's Catalogue projects a single-digit percentage decline in response rate for its April catalog compared with last year as its performance failed to achieve an anticipated lift in the final week of March.


One factor is the war with Iraq, which began March 19 just as the 600,000 copies of the catalog were hitting homes. The following week was expected to produce the catalog's peak performance.


"We didn't see the peak that we historically realize with our catalogs in the second week," said Sandy Sapp, vice president of operations at The Baker's Catalogue, Norwich, VT. "It should have been 25 to 30 percent busier than the first week, but it was really closer to flat due, in part, to the war. Everyone has been distracted. Hopefully, as that lessens, we will recoup some of that."


The cataloger of tools, equipment and ingredients for the home baker provided a cover offer for a free mix of ingredients with orders placed through April 11. The offer was not part of the April 2002 book, which was also 56 pages.


"Our expectation is that [the cover offer] would have boosted response, but April has been somewhat of an anomaly," she said. "We've seen less-than-expected response from this book." The April 2002 book produced a 3.56 percent response rate while this year "it's trending toward the low 3s."


Moving upward, however, has been April's average order amount, driven by "upselling that we're doing on the phone and the Web site," Sapp said. "It's a nice surprise. It has been the trend for well over a year, and it's managed to stay above the prior year."


The April book's average order has been in the low $50s, up 5.9 percent from the April 2002 catalog. Web customers have produced an average order 6 percent above the overall average. Customers mailing in order forms produced orders 25 percent below the average. Those calling in their orders are consistent with the average.


Circulation rose about 4 percent from a year ago, due mainly to the growth in the company's house file as the level of prospecting has stayed constant. About two-thirds of recipients are from the house file.


"We've been focusing on lists that have been working best for us and cutting back on testing," she said. "This year we pulled prospects from seven lists and multiple models within two cooperative databases. Last year we used nine outside lists and the same number of models with two cooperative databases."


Web orders placed at bakerscatalogue.com account for about 30 percent of April catalog orders while mailed-in order forms have generated 14.5 percent of business, with the rest produced via its toll-free number. The Web channel has stayed constant compared with a year ago while this year has seen an uptick in phone orders and a drop in the mailed-in forms.


The company's customer base is 66 percent female. The company publishes a catalog monthly, and this year projects an annual circulation of about 7.5 million, up roughly 10 percent from last year.


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