Queensboro Shirt: No E-Mail Address, No Service

Don't try to place an order with Queensboro Shirt Co. unless you are willing to give your e-mail address. That and Internet-only prospecting have made the company a pioneer in business-to-business direct marketing, though few others have followed its path, according to the company's top executive.

“It was probably in the year 2000 that we said that we're not going to take an order from a new customer without an e-mail address,” said Fred Meyers, president/founder of Queensboro Shirt Co., Wilmington, NC, a BTB marketer of custom-embroidered logo shirts and hats.

But it wasn't always that way. Meyers started the company in 1982 and did all prospecting through space ads and in the back of publications like airline magazines, The New Yorker and the Wall Street Journal.

“The ads were designed to get a phone call,” he said. “Our goal was to get a prospect name that we would then send a direct mailing to. It developed into a catalog, but we never used a catalog for prospecting.”

By 1991 or so, the company split its acquisition efforts 50/50 between space ads and direct mail and went to all direct mail prospecting to response lists a year or two later. The company is approaching 10 years online, having launched its first Web site in 1997.

When the company enacted its e-mail requirement in 2000 it was still sending out sewn embroidery samples, a very expensive process. By 2003, Queensboro was able to convert the logo approval process online, saving time and money, Meyers said.

Queensboro has an e-mail database of 60,000 active addresses, both buyers and prospects, available for rental through MeritDirect, White Plains, NY. MeritDirect also brokers for Queensboro.

Despite attempts at offline prospecting last year, all of the company's prospecting now is done online through e-mail and pay-per-click search engine marketing on Google.

“Last year we did a couple of postcard mailings and No. 10 envelope mailings, but one of the challenges of using those to drive people to the Web is the tracking is more elusive than it was when you were sending out coded order forms,” Meyers said. “So, it's possible that the offline tests that we did performed better than the numbers reflected but it was costing us three to four times what it costs us to acquire customers on the Web.”

As for Queensboro's approach to e-mail prospecting, Meyers said the goal was to gain names that the company could continue to prospect to rather than orders. In other words, the selling process is two step, the first being an inquiry and the second being a sale.

Queensboro e-mails its house prospect file weekly with a fresh promotion.

“We get about a 2 to 3 percent click-through rate, and then from the people clicking through we get a 3 to 6 percent order rate,” Meyers said. “The response rates on the outside prospect files can vary a lot. There's such disparate quality in these lists that there's no such thing as a typical response. The prices are just as varied as the response rates so you have to have a pretty good system for analyzing results.”

Meanwhile, finding e-mail names to mail for acquisition in the first place is not easy. In terms of availability of prospecting names, Meyers said, “it's kind of like the Wild West out there.”

He estimated that 99 percent of BTB marketers don't have their e-mail names on the market, and he lamented the lack of a large cooperative e-mail database.

“It's a tiny fraction that do, and a lot of BTB marketers are still not doing e-mail prospecting themselves,” Meyers said. “Once they start doing it, they will realize why they have to put their e-mail lists up for rent.” This won't happen “until they understand the value and the need to cooperate like it happened with postal lists.”

In turn, he added, there have been few takers renting Queensboro's e-mail file.

“It's a shame that people are still reluctant because there are so many advantages of marketing online,” he said.

Kristen Bremner covers list news, insert media, privacy and fundraising for DM News and DMNews.com. To keep up with the latest developments in these areas, subscribe to our daily and weekly e-mail newsletters by visiting www.dmnews.com/newsletters

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