Crutchfield Lowers Volume on Prospecting

Audio/video and car stereo cataloger Crutchfield's plan to increase sales by “strong single digits” on a percentage basis this year includes changes in its catalog marketing strategy.

Crutchfield cut back on prospect mailing for its Winter/Spring 2002 book, for example, which began mailing the last week of December and will have regional drops each week through February. Six covers have been produced, which are targeted to recipients based on their product affinity. The book will go out to 6.8 million people, including 3 million from the house file.

The reduced use of rental names has resulted in a “low single-digit percentage decrease” in catalogs mailed compared to last year, said Alan Rimm-Kaufman, vice president of marketing at Crutchfield, Charlottesville, VA.

“We're mailing as deeply to our house file, including both buyers and requesters,” he said. “We have concerns about the economy, so we are sticking to the basics. The third-party rental lists are clearly less effective than our house names, so when we tighten up, that's where we tighten up first. Focussing more on our requesters and buyers will give us increased profitability.”

About 90 percent of recipients are male. Their interests include do-it-yourself, automobiles, electronics, sports, the outdoors, hunting, fishing and biking.

“Those are the affinities that we do well with,” Rimm-Kaufman said. “Our buyers tend to be younger, have higher incomes, are more likely to have children, computers and pets compared to the average buyer across the catalog industry.”

The number of SKUs in the Winter/Spring 2002 book is essentially unchanged from a year ago while the 148 pages also remains unchanged. The catalog devotes considerable space to product features, descriptions and specs as well as “What to Look For” elements.

“We're putting more emphasis on the 'Why shop Crutchfield message,' ” Rimm-Kaufman said. “The best way for us to go to market is to explain to the customer why they should shop with us. We find that's been the most effective strategy for us. We sell with information and service.

“We have extensive product databases. If you want to delve into every technical detail, we can go there with you. If you want to call us up and say, 'This is what I want to buy,' we can help you. We can help both the novice and the enthusiast. We can sell up and down the sophistication spectrum, but this information is important in establishing our credibility and it helps people shop.”

The book's average item is priced more than $300. A pair of Blaupunkt 3 1/2-in. speakers, sells for $29.95 while a Sony widescreen 65-in. HDTV goes for $5,999.95.

XM satellite radio tuners and accessories as well as DVD players have been the book's big sellers so far.

“The bulk of our sales come from recently released technology,” he said. “Our buyers view the catalog almost as a magazine because it's where people go to find out what's going on in consumer electronics. Our catalogs sometimes will generate orders two years after the mailing date.”

The company operates call centers in Charlottesville and Norton, VA, where approximately 100 staff members handling sales, customer service and technical support calls are on duty at any given time.

“We provide eight weeks of training for those who work in our call center,” he said. “This includes product information and selling technique, and they have to pass exams before they go on the phone.”

The company mails seven catalogs per year, including full books during the summer and fall as well as the Winter/Spring catalog. Four smaller catalogs that are about 50 pages each are also produced during the year.

The company's total sales exceeded $190 million last year.

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