James Cook: Catalogers Lost Their ‘Merchant Prince’

I have learned of the death June 6 of James T. Cook, who along with his wife, Joan, founded the Joan Cook Catalog in the mid-’60s. Jim was truly a pioneer in the catalog industry. His understanding of mail-order techniques, RFM and merchandising was remarkable. His circle of friends and associates in the New England Mail Order Association called him the “Merchant Prince.”

He along with Joan built the company up from the kitchen table to a driving force within the specialty catalog marketplace. At its height, the company mailed in excess of 30 million catalogs and had more than 450,000 12-month customers whose names were sought after by every other catalog. The Joan Cook list had a reputation of being one of the best-responsive lists you could rent.

Jim and Joan sold their business in the late ’80s and left it in 1991. They remained active in the industry, consulting with people like Orvis. You would always see Jim lurking the halls of the New York Gift Show, trying to uncover the gem that was hidden under the table.

I had the pleasure of working for Jim for more than 20 years. He took a rough 18-year-old who knew a little about numbers and taught me just about everything I know about the direct mail business. However, the one thing that he told me time and time again was to “treat your customers like gold and you will be successful.” That is as true today as it was 30 years ago. Unfortunately, I never had the opportunity to get his views on the dot-com world, but his advice would still be the same.

Jim will be missed for his business prowess, his dry sense of humor and his tenacity at finding that next big seller.

Stewart Haslam, Vice president marketing and finance, Year One Inc., Atlanta

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