Cataloger Fattened Book, Circulation for Holidays

Wolferman's approach to the 2003 holiday season was simple: mail more catalogs in an improving economy and total up the additional sales.

The gourmet-food cataloger boosted circulation for its 2003 gift book by 1.5 million, to 8.2 million. The increase included a rise in the number of prospects from 1.5 million to 2.5 million.

“The economy got better [in 2003], and we decided to take advantage of it,” said John Butorac, divisional vice president at Wolferman's, Lenexa, KS, a division of Williams Foods Inc. “We decided to significantly increase our mail plan to reach more prospects and hit our customers more frequently.

“We had a very good holiday season, with double-digit growth in sales to go along with double-digit growth in circulation.”

Sales growth did not come at the expense of customers' wallets as the book's average price per item stayed at $25 to $35.

Butorac didn't reveal specific numbers but said that the improved sales totals were driven mainly by the circulation boost. There also was a single-digit percentage increase in the response rate. The average order was unchanged between 2002's books and the 2003 catalogs.

“Prospecting [increased] because that's how you grow your business,” said Butorac, who described his customers as mostly female, older than 35, with average annual household income exceeding $55,000. “We've been testing lists over the past three years, and we felt that … [with] the economy getting better, this was the year to take the plunge, and it was extremely successful.

“This year we went deeper into lists we've used during the last few years. The lists we've used have come from other gift catalogers. If you've never shopped from a catalog before, it will be tough to get you to make a purchase from my catalog.”

Elements unchanged from 2002 included the number of items available, the use of 40 pages and six drops leading into the holidays with each containing changes in the first four and final four pages, including the covers. In-home dates were late August; late September; late October; the second week of November; the week after Thanksgiving and the second week of December.

“Our past-12-month buyers get all six,” he said, “while our one- to three-year customers receive three catalogs and prospects get one — the fourth, which also includes some house file names. That was basically what we did last year.

“But this year we believed that people would wait to do last-minute shopping on the Web, and we wanted to take advantage of that phenomenon by increasing the targeting of our house file on the sixth drop.

“We hit the house file multiple times. You need them not to get the same-looking catalog every time you drop the book. When they open the front cover or the back cover, you need to have them see something they may not have seen before.”

Improving the look of the book, Butorac said, meant increasing its size, from 10 1/2-by-7 inches in 2002 to 10 1/2 by 8 in 2003.

“It was a substantial change since we combined the increase in size with some new photography that was shot to make the food look more inviting,” he said. “The pictures are larger, brighter and you can see everything better.”

The company limited to about 10 percent the increased printing cost resulting from the larger format and higher circulation. Per-piece postal costs were unchanged despite the larger size.

Constant versus 2002 was the percentage of sales generated by fax and mailed-in order forms, at 5 percent and 10 percent, respectively. Orders placed via increased to 30 percent from the prior-year level of 25 percent as the percentage of business phoned in saw a corresponding decrease.

The different cover offers included: 20 percent off orders of $75 or more placed by Sept. 30; half off shipping on orders of $50 or more before the end of the year; 10 percent off orders of $75 or more by Nov. 18; and half off shipping on orders of $60 or more placed by Dec. 9.

“The last few drops do not have offers since the offers are primarily to incent people to order early or for the first time,” Butorac said.

Best-selling items included: Breakfast Tower ($32.95); Ultimate Breakfast Tower ($79.95); Best of Wolferman's Basket ($29.95, or $19.95 without the basket); Holiday Greetings Gift Tin ($26.95); and the Holly Berry Basket ($49.95). The “Create Your Own Gift” spread occupying pages 10 and 11 also included top sellers.

The company also mails catalogs coinciding with St. Valentine's Day, Easter and Mother's Day.

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