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Breakell Boosts Catalog Circ, Trims Space Advertising

A reduction in space advertising during J.H. Breakell & Co.'s spring/summer mailing cycle has coincided with an increase in catalog circulation and a greater emphasis on prospecting that has generated mixed results.

“Print ads are getting more expensive and producing less results,” said vice president Joan Breakell, whose company also produces a catalog in the fall. “We used to do a lot more print ads in Smithsonian, Yankee, New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, Professional Mariner and Coastal Living.”

President Jim Breakell said the Newport, RI, direct marketer of jewelry reduced its space ad budget 30 percent to 40 percent compared with a year ago.

“Through our ad code tracking, we found space advertising was harder to make a buck with,” he said. “It's down to about 25 to 30 percent of the time when we're making money instead of making money all the time on ads the way it used to be.”

Circulation for its current catalog season was raised to 365,000 from 252,000 a year ago, as the number of drops was increased from three to four. This year's drops are: March 5, 98,025 books mailed; 97,996 on April 15; 72,694 on May 28; and 96,088 on July 5.

Last year's 50-50 split between the house file and prospects changed, as 60 percent of the books are going to prospects.

“Our buyer files are pretty small, and we mail to everybody since I'll mail to people I haven't heard from in eight years or longer who are multiple buyers,” Jim Breakell said. “We turn a profit on those segments since they are so small, with some of our older buyer files only consisting of a few thousand names.”

Results so far include a rise in average order from $110 last year to $120, with Joan Breakell reporting an increase in multiple-piece orders. This has been accomplished despite holding the line on the catalog's average price per item, which is $90 for sterling silver pieces while for 14-karat gold it's $300.

“Space ads seem to generate lower average orders, which are less than $100,” Jim Breakell said. “By mailing more books to jewelry buyers, we get higher purchases in terms of dollar amount and more items bought with each purchase.”

Response rates in both years for the house file have ranged from 5 percent for the 12- to 24-month multi-buyer segment down to less than 1 percent for older segments going back as far as 84, 96 and 108 months.

However, on the prospecting side, the traditional response of about 0.8 percent is unlikely to be realized in the current mailing season.

“It's going to be down to 0.5 percent,” he said. “It's a big concern.”

Because of that, Jim Breakell said they were re-modeling for the May mailing and would do the same for July.

Unchanged this year is the even split in the targeting of men and women, a ring sizer on the “How to Order” page, front and back cover changes used for each drop and the total per-piece expense of 45 to 48 cents. Page count is up from 28 to 32, while the number of items offered climbed from 224 to 256.

Only 5 percent of the items in the book are new. The current catalog's hot items are dominated by those with lower price points and include the top-selling Treble Clef Pendant ($40 in sterling silver and $180 in gold), a new item; the Flip Flop Pendant ($35 for silver and $185 in gold); and The Celtic Heart Pendant, a longtime top-seller ($50 for silver and $345 for gold).

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