Chocolates Cataloger Thinks Slimmer Circulation Will Fatten Profits

A marketer of all-natural chocolates hopes customers fatten up on its product during the holidays even as it trimmed circulation for the season.

Lake Champlain Chocolates, Burlington, VT, reduced the number of house file names that will receive its catalog Oct. 17 and Nov. 21 by 15 percent compared with the same period last year.

“We sharpened our pencils,” said Chris Middings, the company's marketing and communications director. “Last year we mailed less than 10,000 catalogs. We're looking for better performance.”

He placed last year's response rate “between 5 and 10 percent, closer to 5.” He hopes to push it closer to 10 percent in 2003.

The company always targeted requesters who had never ordered. That has changed.

“The percentage should definitely improve by not mailing to that segment,” Middings said. “Those who have never ordered — if they inquired a year ago and never bought — have been knocked off.”

Recipients were described as living mainly in New England, 80 percent female and affluent gift buyers. No resistance is expected regarding the increase in the book's year-to-year average price per item from $18 to $20.

Also expected is a rise in average order from last year's $50-$60 range to $60-$70. New products, price increases and upsell efforts online are expected to produce the increase.

“Our goal was to go higher end, higher priced,” Middings said. “With mail order, people may buy one thing, and with too many lower-priced items in the book it can hurt you.”

He noted that six of the book's 20 pages, the same size as last year, contain new items. Small World Chocolates is a new product line that includes Small World Truffles (15 pieces for $16 or four pieces for $5.50), Small World Sensations (11 pieces for $11) and Select-Origin Chocolates (24 pieces for $12). Also new is the Hot Chocolate ($7) and the Simon Pearce Dessert Bowl ($60 with Select-Origin Chocolates, or $50 without chocolates).

Once again the cover mentions a gift. Its details appear on the order form: For orders of $95 or more, customers receive an eight-piece box of Chocolates of Vermont; those spending $195 or more get a nine-piece box of truffles.

A year ago about 50 percent of orders were obtained via This year Middings hopes that will reach 65 percent, with 30 percent coming by phone and the rest as a combination of mail and fax. The call center's four reps will rise to seven taking calls in December.

No prospecting is occurring since “we've never had any luck with it.” It has two retail locations in Burlington and one in Waterbury Center, VT.

The catalog's width stayed at 6 1/8 inches, though the company went “a little taller,” from 8 3/4 inches to 9 3/8 inches.

“We wanted the pictures to be as big as possible,” he said. “It's hard enough selling chocolate without them tasting it, so the bigger the image the better they can see it. We didn't spend more money. The printing and postage was the same. But going just two inches higher would've cost more money.

“We also went to a tinted varnish background from pure white, making it look richer with a nicer contrast with the chocolate rather than a stark white background.”

The catalog's per-piece cost included 81 cents for design, printing, photography and other creative services along with postage of 22 cents and 8 cents for mailing house expenses.

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