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Irish Firms Offer US Catalogers Novel Way to Test in Europe

DUBLIN — Fortress Europe and the Open Sky catalog are offering US catalogers a chance to test their products on five million passengers who every year fly Ryanair into seven European countries.

The first issue – an 84 page book – was slipped into seat jackets on all Ryanair flights in late October. Passengers can take the catalogs home or order in-flight from plane phones through a toll-free number.

Organizers are looking for a 1 percent response rate for offers in the catalog that include ladies fashions, glassware, jewelry, sports wear, cosmetics and perfumes.

In addition to items for sale the catalog carries regular advertisements usually found in airline magazines like Jamison's whiskey and Rothman cigarettes. It also features a restaurant and hotel guide.

All three companies involved are Irish. Ryanair has been flying for the last ten years and now has service into the UK, Ireland, France, Belgium, Italy, Norway and Sweden.

It has been growing at a 30 percent a year clip.

Open Sky is an Irish company based in Manchester, the UK. Fortress Europe is a Dublin-based DM firm that offers call center and fulfillment services. It is owned by the German Post Office.

While no US catalogers are represented in the first issue, Fortress Europe sees the catalog as a way to bring more Americans to Europe by offering them a cheap or even cost-free way to test.

A US firm can buy one, four or ten pages in the catalog to showcase its wares, Fortress Europe's Michael Sweeney said. Or it can take pages without paying for them directly.

“You just pay on what your sell,” Sweeney explained, “but you must pay Open Sky a commission on what you sell and a fee to Fortress Europe for taking orders and performing other service functions.”

Initial US reaction based on phone calls Sweeney made to a cross-section of American catalogers has been positive. His company is preparing a small mailing to a targeted list explaining how the catalog can work for them.

US catalogers were not represented in the first book because of technical glitches in format – US and European sizes differ – and because of legal difficulties.

“We had to reject some ads in the book because they wouldn't comply with European law. An offer of two for the price of one is common in the US but it can get you into big trouble with European regulators.”

Catalogs include an order form with a pan-European toll-free number. The form can be torn out, folded into a business envelope with prepaid postage and mailed to Open Sky offices in Manchester.

Phone orders are handled at Fortress Europe's multi-lingual call center north of Dublin. Callers are answered in their native language by native speakers – a now expected call center service.

A currency conversion table next to the order form allows purchasers to figure out exactly what they would have to pay in Belgian francs or Italian lira for goods denominated in pounds sterling.

Payment is in local currencies by check or credit card with no actual conversion of money involved. Customers pay the price in francs or liras on the conversion chart and are not inconvenienced by follow-up transaction charges.

Plans call for inserting catalogs into several other European airlines with a combined annual passenger total of 100 million. “We're still negotiating,” Sweeny said, “but expect to add other airlines early next year.”

Initially Open Sky and Fortress Europe will limit catalog insertions to pan-European flights but plan to go after the lucrative trans-Atlantic trade some time in the near future.

Industry analysts saw the catalog launch as another step the Deutsche Post AG has taken in becoming a global postal player. The Germans have spent vast sums modernizing their facilities (see DM News International, October 12, 1998, page 1).

With goods warehoused in the Dublin area, the Germans will pick up packages and bring them to the UK or Belgium for insertion into the national mail stream. If the catalog takes off, the analysts said, the Germans could gain a lot of new business.

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