Fences Make Good Sellers for Premier 1

A marketer of fence-related products designed for farms and ranches improved its average order after increasing the page count more than 15 percent for its annual catalog.

Premier Sheep Supplies Ltd., Washington, IA, which produces the Premier 1 catalog, pushed the page count from 84 to 100 for its 2004 edition. But the SKU total remained at 500.

“The reason behind [the increase] was to make the pictures larger because people like to see what the fence will look like in their pasture, and we found that people like the pictures,” graphics manager Jody Seeley said. “Our biggest concern was the postage. We knew it would cost a little more, but it was one of those things we thought we needed.”

Not including postage, this year's book incurred a per-piece cost of 80 cents, up from 66 cents last year. With postage, per-piece expense rose from $1.08 to $1.28.

The move is paying off for the catalog, which mails in March exclusively to a house file of customers who bought from the book in the past two years. With circulation unchanged from last year's 100,000, the average order of $240 produced in 2003 has risen to $260 this year, which is the projected level.

“We don't do a square-inch analysis since it's the end-user photos that sell the product,” said Seeley, who noted that requesters will account for another 5,000 books mailed throughout the year. “We don't have a lot of product on each page, and some don't have product, but we feel that the photos and information we provide are selling the product. [The photography] lends credibility to our fence systems.”

Buyers include owners of cattle, sheep and horses. They are commercial ranchers and farmers as well as those with what Seeley called “small hobby farms.” Many are in states known for agricultural production, including Iowa, Minnesota and Missouri. Other revenue-generating areas include the Northeast, California and the Pacific Northwest.

The book is on track to reach its target of repeating last year's 8 percent response rate. So far — including what are described in the catalog as the busy months of April, May and June — the rate has reached 3 percent.

Taking up some of the added space this year is a new, two-page product index that immediately precedes the order form, which is in the middle of the catalog.

“We had a debate internally on how big [the product index] should be,” Seeley said. “But we decided that if the book is 100 pages, we should have an index. Also, our salespeople were telling us that some customers couldn't find things in last year's smaller book. We didn't want to use the hot spots for the index, so we put it next to the order blank. So far, the salespeople have said it helps.”

The index reveals price points from a $639 energizer, a product used in conjunction with an electric fence, down to 13 cents for items in the Insulators and Clips category.

Merchandising involves little effort since less than 5 percent of items in the book are new.

Premier's call center, staffed by six to eight sales representatives, accounts for 60 percent of the book's sales. The fax and e-mail options produce in the single digits each. Internet orders are up this year, from under 20 percent a year ago to 25 percent.

“I think people ordering fence supplies have become more comfortable ordering over the Web, and that provides more time for our salespeople in the call center to explain the benefits of our products,” Seeley said.

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