TONGANOXIE, KS – Clothing cataloger Peruvian Connection has opened a distribution center in the UK that cuts delivery time in half to customers in the lucrative German market.
Until the center in Goring-on-Themes opened earlier this year, the company shipped its collection of handmade alpaca wool and pima cotton knitwear from its Kansas warehouse directly to Germany.
It entered the German market in February of last year with a drop of 75,000 catalogs and fulfilled its first orders that month. Orders were received at a call center affiliated with Deutsche Post.
They were transmitted to Kansas and packed the next day. Packages were picked up by Deutsche Post, sent to Germany, and then redistributed from the place to which they had been bulk-shipped.
“You can see how that would add up,” said Annie Hurlbut, the company’s president/CEO. Now the company fulfills from Goring-on-Themes, using Deutsche Post and Royal Mail for catalog and parcel deliveries in the UK and Germany.
Peruvian Connection has small call centers with 10 to 15 operators in the US, Germany and Great Britain. In each case employees work in-house.
“It’s very important that the call center operators speak the language of the customers calling to order the merchandise,” said Hurlbut. “But, we go further than that. Every time we have a new catalog, we do an on-site training seminar showing each call center employee each product. We put a lot of effort and expense into it because the better trained they are, the more confident they are, and the more helpful they are going to be to our customers.”
The call centers are hooked up to the distribution centers, allowing overnight electronic order transmission via the Internet. Inventory is updated daily.
Peruvian Connection mails catalogs three times a year and translates the books into German. Design is in-house with Hurlbut acting as the producer.
The catalog offers women’s and men’s alpaca, pima cotton, and merino wool knitwear, as well as coats, blankets, jewelry and other accessories. Sweaters range in price from $100 to $475.
The company markets overseas because Hurlbut believes that Europe has an appreciation for knitwear, in general, and for alpaca wool, in particular.
“Europeans have a long-term appreciation for the luxury fibers that we work in,” said Hurlbut. “In Europe, everyone knows alpaca, whereas in the states, when we started here, people had no clue what alpaca was.”
Hurlbut started the company with her mother, Biddy Hurlbut, in 1976 out of a 100-year-old barn on the family farm, where it is still located.
Annie, a social anthropology student in Peru at the time, brought back a handmade alpaca wool sweater as a 50th birthday present for her mother, and the business took off from there.
Today the company employs 125 people, and sells $25 million worth of knitted goods to 250,000 customers in the US, the UK, Germany and Japan. It ships to Japan via USPS and Deutsche Post.
The Hurlbuts entered Germany after attending a mail-order summit hosted by Deutsche Post two years ago in Munich and Frankfurt during which the Germans laid out the services they could offer American catalogers.
They entered the UK several years before that but worked out of rented quarters without any brick and mortar of their own, something they now have.
In Europe, Peruvian Connection believes it has created a product niche by offering customers products they can’t find anywhere else. Rival US catalogers lack the originality and don’t sell because “people over there have seen that stuff,” Hurlbut said.