Playboy Catalog Makeover Yields Great Figures

Randy Nicolau, senior vice president of marketing and e-commerce at Inc., has achieved his No. 1 goal upon starting his job late last year: make the Playboy catalog profitable.

The spring and summer books, the first produced under his supervision, have been in the black. The summer catalog has produced a 40 percent rise in the response rate compared with summer 2001 as well as an increase in the average order amount to $77, up from last summer's $68 and above this summer's goal of $75.

“For us to see these books grow this year is a feather in our cap,” he said. “The books were unprofitable through all of last year.”

The cover carried an offer of free standard shipping and handling through Oct. 1 on purchases of $75 or more.

“This was an attempt to increase the average order amount,” Nicolau said. “This year our credo was to stick with the best cover offers. They have always included the free shipping and free videos.”

Haggin Marketing Inc., Sausalito, CA, assisted the Playboy catalog team in the creative redesign and advised on marketing improvements.

“We've changed the look and feel of the book,” Nicolau said. “It has been redesigned to look more like the magazine. Last year it was a lifestyle, sleek-looking book.

“When they see a catalog that looks like the magazine, they instantly recognize what it is. It had to look more like our magazine so they could identify it. Last year, your first reaction was not, 'This is from Playboy.' Now it is.”

Another major change from last year was the product mix.

“The catalog used to have more fashion-forward products appealing to younger, trendier buyers,” he said. “We've cut that back to go with the sexier gift-giving items like lingerie and jewelry. Last summer we did not carry the sexy lingerie. Now we're focused more on sheer and sexy.”

Between 800,000 and 900,000 copies of the summer 2002 catalog were mailed. Eighty percent went to Playboy's house file of 3.1 million magazine subscribers, about the same split as last year. The initial drop took place in mid-May, and a second cover was used for a mid-July re-mail to best buyers that accounted for 25 percent of the press run.

Prospect names came from 10 to 15 lists.

“The trick is identifying companies that will rent to us,” he said. “People react to the name Playboy rather than the content. Our lingerie is no different than Victoria's Secret's. We send the catalog out with no wraps or covers and no polybags, just like a Lands' End catalog. We have to work harder, and there are some big lists that do not rent to us, but we get all the names we need.”

The 32 pages is the same as last year, but the number of SKUs rose to about 250 from last year's 200.

“Making better use of space in the book and a better design has allowed us to carry more,” Nicolau said. “In the past, hero shots would take up an entire page, and now we have multiple products across all pages.”

The summer book's hottest items included swimsuits and the Limited Edition Covers Shirt ($65), which the catalog announces “will never be manufactured again.” The shirt is printed with 98 covers from 45 years of the magazine. Company founder Hugh Hefner models the shirt in a photo in which he is accompanied by three women, including the 2002 Playmate of the Year. It was the book's top seller.

“We thought about using a model for that shot, but we realized that would be crazy since Hef personifies the history of Playboy,” Nicolau said.

Also selling well has been Playboy's rhinestone navel ring — a silver-plated, half-inch Rabbit Head charm ($36).

A Playboy Pinball machine sells for $4,495.

“That pinball machine carried its weight on the page,” he said.

Videos, which appear in the middle of the catalog, are among the book's top-selling categories, and discounts are provided for certain multiple purchases. Also, prices for many of the titles are identical for VHS and DVD formats.

“We know the future is DVD, and this year we've seen a huge swing toward DVD,” he said. “We're beyond the early adoption stage, and we don't want to penalize people with higher prices for the DVDs.”

The book will mail four times this year.

“The previous regime mailed the same number of catalogs every quarter,” he said. “Now we take more advantage of seasonality. We will be much more aggressive with our drops leading up to December.”

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