New Catalog's First Mailing Appears to Have Vanished

Starting a catalog is hard enough without nearly 90 percent of an initial mailing vanishing without a trace. But that's what happened, according to the founders of The Caffeination, a new business-to-business catalog of micro-roasted, premium coffee.

The Caffeination, Stoughton, WI, mailed a 5,000-catalog test March 15 that had a delivery window of March 26-29. By April 8, the mailing had yielded one order, and only one catalog had been returned as undeliverable.

The company's projected response rate was 2.5 percent, but even a poor response should have produced at least 0.5 percent, said co-owner Andrew Billmann.

Just as troublesome as the lack of orders is the one returned catalog, he added. Most list companies guarantee deliverability rates of 92 percent to 95 percent. So typically 5 percent to 8 percent would be returned, Billmann said, meaning there would be 250 to 400 returns.

“There is no realistic and possible way for a list of 5,000 names to be 99.8 percent deliverable,” he said.

With the phone lines dead and no increase in Web traffic, The Caffeination randomly called 85 businesses from its mailing list to ask whether they received the catalog. The catalogs were sent to small professional offices of 20 employees or fewer, including law offices, accounting firms, title companies and ad agencies, so it is unlikely any catalogs were lost in the mailroom, Billmann said.

Calls were counted only if the intended recipient was “very sure” about whether the catalog had been received, he said. Eighty intended recipients told The Caffeination that they did not get the catalog.

Roughly 240 to 738 of the 5,000 catalogs that mailed were delivered, according to the company's calculations. This means 4,262 to 4,760 catalogs are unaccounted for nearly a month after they mailed. The company estimates its damages from the lost mailing, including printing, postage, list rental and lost sales, are greater than $10,000.

Joanne Veto, spokeswoman at the U.S. Postal Service, said yesterday that the mailing was received at the post office in Brookfield, WI, and forwarded to the processing and distribution center in Milwaukee. Beyond that, the postal service is still trying to get some answers.

“It was received and recorded twice. We also have record of one call from the catalog company asking about the delivery of the catalog,” Vito said. “Did it all go out and no one likes the [catalog]? Did it all go out and no one likes the coffee? Did it all go out and people threw it in the trash because they had 20 other pieces of mail that day. That I don’t know.”

Since this was the company's first mailing, there's no average response rate to compare it with, said Paul Ercolino, vice president of sales and marketing at mail-monitoring service U.S. Monitor.

Timing could be another issue, Ercolino added. The mailing happened near Easter weekend, when many people weren't in the office when the catalog may have arrived.

“There's a million reasons other than [the catalog] not being delivered” that could explain what happened to The Caffeination's mailing, he said.

Just as significant as the financial loss from the disappearing catalogs is that The Caffeination has “lost the tool to predict what's going to happen next,” Billmann said. The point of the test mailing was to determine whether the company needed to hire more people, what bugs are in its operational systems and to prepare its suppliers — which are small businesses — for how many orders to expect. Now the company is going in blind on its second mailing of 25,000 catalogs, planned for delivery April 18-20.

Chantal Todé covers catalog and retail news and BTB marketing for DM News and DM To keep up with the latest developments in these areas, subscribe to our daily and weekly e-mail newsletters by visiting

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