Fingerhut File Re-Enters Market With Old, New Names

After more than a year's absence from the market, the Fingerhut file is available again for rental of both the old names and additions to the list.

The Fingerhut file was taken off the market in May 2002 as then-owner Federated Department Stores Inc. stopped taking orders and began the process of liquidating the catalog's assets.

Tom Petters and former Fingerhut CEO Ted Deikel acquired those assets, including the list, last summer and relaunched the catalog in November. However, the new and smaller Fingerhut operation had other priorities beyond returning its list to the market.

“We always knew that we were going to put the list back on the market as soon as we could do that, but we truly are a start-up, and before we could really concentrate on marketing the list to the outside world we had to get our own infrastructure in place and stabilized and things up and running,” said Bob Kieffer, senior vice president and general counsel for Fingerhut, Minnetonka, MN.

The first priority regarding the list was simply selecting names to mail the relaunched catalog to, he said. Then, it had to be decided what to do about management of the file.

Prior to the acquisition, the millions of names on the Fingerhut file had always been managed in-house. With the new firm's limited resources, Kieffer said, that didn't make sense.

“The old Fingerhut and its list were still big enough that it was cost-justified to manage it on the inside,” he said. “I don't think there are very many companies still doing that these days, and there was never any thought on our part to do list management inside with the new company.”

After months of fielding daily calls about the list, Fingerhut finally had time in the spring to devote to selecting an outside list manager.

“We were pretty confident that there was a big, pent-up demand for the Fingerhut list,” Kieffer said.

The firm looked seriously at three or four list companies that it had some previous relationship with, he said. While all were qualified, it selected Adrea Rubin Management.

“They had some very creative ideas about how they thought they could market the list and work toward our ultimate goal of making sure the new list is positioned in the best possible way as it grows,” Kieffer said.

Executives at Adrea Rubin offered insight into their views on the Fingerhut file.

“The thing aside from our creativity that helped us win the day was that while Fingerhut is selling merchandise it's a credit-driven file, and I think understanding the credit piece was really very essential,” company CEO Adrea Rubin said.

Further, the list firm plans to leverage that knowledge to market the list to a variety of mailers.

“We really need to go after their secondary and tertiary markets,” Adrea Rubin Management president Linda Sandler said. “Most think of Fingerhut as a cataloger but they are also a credit provider.”

In late July, Adrea Rubin hired sales manager Bill Larason to work on the Fingerhut account. Larason has 10 years of industry experience and most recently served as vice president of marketing at MKTG Services, New York.

Though the current Fingerhut file may have fewer selects than the old list, selections will be added as the file grows, Kieffer said.

What the file does have is 1.5 million 12-month customers from the old catalog and 250,000 customers who have purchased from the relaunched catalog. The old file goes back 48 months while the new names are from November 2002 forward.

The new buyers are really reactivated customers from the old Fingerhut since the new ownership has not even begun prospecting yet. Kieffer said Fingerhut will start testing a little bit but that serious prospecting is some time away.

The company is pleased with response so far, he said.

“We're on target or even a little ahead of target in terms of bringing in the new customer base,” he said.

Another component of the file that Fingerhut hopes to grow is the Hispanic buyers portion.

“In the past Fingerhut actually published Spanish-language catalogs, and we would hope to do that again,” Kieffer said.

For now the firm will add Spanish-speaking customer service representatives and a statement in its books in Spanish giving a toll-free number for a Spanish-speaking operator.

“We hope to reactivate the Hispanic part of the file,” he said.

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