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Garden Botanika Eyes Direct for Makeover

Undeterred by its failure as a store-based brand, bath and beauty products seller Garden Botanika is turning to catalogs and e-commerce under a new owner determined to recapture past success.

The Redmond, WA, company in October changed its catalog, direct mail, Web site, packaging and design and also streamlined its product lineup to boost the Garden Botanika house file beyond 1 million customers.

“We were in the midst of a relaunch throughout the fall and so had only a limited gift offering,” marketing manager Teresa Bergstrom Rodriguez said. “We were pleased with our results and hope to build on them in the future.”

The brand was represented from 1989 through early 2001 by 300 stores, but the company's plant, customer list, recipes and other assets were sold in bankruptcy court in March 2001. The buyer was privately held Schroeder & Tremayne, a St. Louis maker of private-label bath and body products for Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Target Corp.

With the help of Petaluma, CA-based Multimedia Live's e-commerce platform, the retailer's site at gardenbotanika.com is now more attuned to meet the brand's merchandising strategy for upgraded discounting and customer service functions.

Prior to Multimedia Live's assignment, Garden Botanika's site was more of a brochure to serve the stores. E-commerce was an afterthought in the form of a small tab on the site. Today, more than 50 percent of orders originate from the site.

“We believe these are primarily driven by the catalog,” Bergstrom Rodriguez said. “We believe the catalog is the foundation for brand positioning and product sell, and the e-mail program drives immediate response to the Web site with special offers.”

But the road to that was hard to navigate. A skeletal crew of executives had to make a series of changes. Brand positioning was tweaked to focus more on women ages 35 to 55 as opposed to the former approach of selling to anyone older than 18.

“We've positioned ourselves as above mass, but below department-store prestige,” Bergstrom Rodriguez said.

Next, a branded product line was introduced. When the stores operated, it did not matter if the SKUs looked different. But to sell online and in the catalog, it became essential to have the same look and feel as well as better navigation.

Similarly, the product structure lineup had to be clearly defined. Items had to be listed in the pertinent department. Uniquely in its case, Garden Botanika has the same SKU for each item.

In this makeover, the catalog was critical. Mailings have risen from seven yearly to 10. Summer gets a pass because business is slow during vacation time.

“We've significantly increased our prospecting this year,” Bergstrom Rodriguez said. “Twenty-five percent of our mailings will be to new potential Garden Botanika purchasers.”

Little attention has been paid to prospecting online. But that will change this year.

“I think that our efforts will be placed a little bit on some search engine work just to make sure that we both come up appropriately in the search engines and while people are looking in a qualified fashion so they can find us,” Bergstrom Rodriguez said.

“I think we'll also be looking to do some partnerships that may make sense with retailers or people with similar demographics while we find out which lists are working in the catalog world,” she said. “It'll help define with whom we should partner perhaps in the online world, either through co-promotions or e-mail exchanges.”

Also, the company begins an extensive trial program in March and April. For a nominal fee, customers can try different Garden Botanika collections. This supports an existing Garden Club loyalty program that offers discounts for a $10 annual fee.

“We believe this trial program will also help our prospecting efforts, enabling new purchasers to try our products for little to no risk so that we can turn them into loyal Garden Botanika customers,” she said.

Retention efforts will continue through e-mails to the opted-in house file.

Offline, the catalog's page count remains between 28 and 36 depending on the month and what is being launched. It lists 300 SKUs, while the site has another 200 due to clearance items. The paper stock is the same, except for the cover.

“We moved to a matte cover stock from a glossy,” Bergstrom Rodriguez said. “We had a tremendous customer response to that. It's more in keeping with the brand character and seems to stand out from the rest of the crowd.”

The catalog has a much higher use of color, while the site has a cleaner, whiter feel for usability purposes.

Garden Botanika's appeal lies in its approach to cosmetics. Products and ingredients are developed without animal testing. Though the products are naturally based, they are not certified organic.

Bergstrom Rodriguez said the customer base was significantly larger when the company had stores compared with just direct commerce. The new management wants to have a presence in regional specialty store chains by summer or fall of this year.

“We're also looking at how we can get some kind of retail presence again,” she said. “We don't have any stores of our own, and we're looking at what we can do to have people see and try our products.

“Unfortunately, the direct business is excellent for replenishment of our product, but it's very difficult to order a fragrance or a color cosmetic without having touched or interacted with it in some way.”

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