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Basic French Mailer Speaks Recipients' Language

What anti-French backlash?

At least that's what one direct marketer of French lifestyle products is wondering as a direct mail piece sent during the holiday season is still producing results.

“Everybody kept bringing it up with me, but my clientele is pro-French regardless of their politics because they love French products,” said Carol Neiley, president of Basic French, Red Hook, NY. “I would say about 90 percent of my clients are college-educated, and many have traveled to France and are Francophiles.”

Basic French is a direct marketer and retailer of candles, bath products, bags and other French-based items.

Neiley, a former graphic designer, designed the 4.5-by-25.5-inch, four-panel piece containing 22 items. They were clear perforated wafer sealed at the printer and mailed to her house file of 7,000 just before Christmas at a cost around $1 per piece.

The house list is 90 percent female. It includes about 5,000 split evenly between people living within 15 miles of Red Hook and those who travel to the Hudson Valley community on weekends from New York City by train or car. Another 2,000 names are located nationwide.

“I started on Dec. 16, mailing 1,000 per day for a week,” she said. “I sent them First-Class and I, along with my assistants, stamped and labeled them. I pulled a few all-nighters.”

Recipients wishing to place orders could call, fax or e-mail. A total of 81 orders have been placed, with orders continuing to trickle in throughout the spring.

The result is a response rate just over 1 percent, but that statistic is misleading, she said, as the piece became a drawing mechanism for her retail business.

“I would say maybe 200 people have come into the store because they got [the piece] in the mail, and just about all of them bought something,” she said.

The average order was $45 to $60 for those who used the three direct options while the average for the walk-ins was $30 to $50.

Printing expense was $3,900 while postage totaled $2,590. The cost of labels accounted for the rest of the expense.

“I shot all the photos of the items with a digital camera, and I also did the layout and production work and sent it to the printer,” Neiley said. “If I had paid for design and production work, it would have doubled the cost.”

The cover features a photo with an “old world” look that shows people at an outdoor dinner party.

“I found that photo a long time ago, and I knew I would use it one day for something,” she said.

A message on the cover begins, “The thing I love most about France is the style of living. …” and ends, “That's Basic French (a lifestyle thing).”

“I originally had very elaborate ideas regarding the format for the piece, and then I was struck by how expensive other formats would be,” she said. “I considered a series of postcards as well as a different size of the same format that would have required 55 cents postage. I just wanted to make sure I could fit in a lot of pieces and get a lot of bang for my buck.”

Slightly more than half of the piece contains the items for sale, with one panel containing descriptions and prices.

Along with the characteristics of her clientele, Neiley had another reason why the piece continues to produce.

“It's a keeper, and it's a pretty piece,” she said. “If I get a direct mail piece I like, I might keep it for three years and it might just hang around. Also, I purposefully didn't make it too seasonal. These are staples — basic French things that never go out of style. It wasn't just a Christmas promo.”

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