London Lace Draws a Curtain on Lists

London Lace, a direct marketer and retailer of Scottish lace window coverings, has never used a rented list in 24 years of business, relying instead on ads in home decorating magazines and publicity generated through newspaper articles to draw new names to its catalog.

“My customers are not casual,” company president Diane Loesch Jones said. “They've always called us, so I don't buy lists. I've never thought of doing it. We have such a very specific product, and, as a consumer myself, I resent getting catalogs through some other catalog.”

The approach is working as the catalog's performance has been consistent in recent years, including an average order of $200 and 20 percent response rate. The average item in the book is priced at $80.

In another departure from most catalogers, London Lace mails a new book only every 12 to 18 months with frequency based on the need to add merchandise to the catalog. Her most recent issue was produced in early 2002.

“I don't want to spend the money to do them more frequently, and there's not that much that changes,” Jones said. “I just add a few more items with each new catalog, and maybe take a few things out.”

The current London Lace book has mailed about 20,000 copies, including 5,000 to the company's house file when the book was printed with the others going to requesters over the past 18 months.

About 80 percent of her business is produced via the catalog while the rest is generated at her Boston retail location. The store also serves to drive catalog sales.

“Many people come into the store, pick up the catalog and order when they get back home,” she said. “The economy has affected my retail because people don't want to travel as much as they used to. They're not coming into my shop as much to buy, but people are ordering from home more.”

The 28-page book places only one or two images on each page.

“I need the space to have a clear image, which wouldn't be the case if I tried to squeeze them onto pages and produce a smaller book,” Jones said. “I'm not sure saving a few dollars would be worth it. This is a very important item for a home, and you want the pattern to be clear.”

Recipients are informed throughout the book that they can take advantage of a customizing service in which curtains and yardages can be adjusted. These notices are done in script and look like personalized notes included in the catalog.

About 80 percent of her clientele is female and upper middle class. Most live in New York, Illinois, Texas, California, Georgia, New Jersey and Connecticut.

The book's per-piece cost is 72 cents, excluding postage. The house file mailing went out bulk rate at 33 cents per piece while requesters receive the catalog via First Class mail at a cost of 83 cents.

About 70 percent of catalog-generated sales come via phone while produces about 25 percent.

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