Search Heats Up Catalog Conference

ORLANDO, FL — Florida was the perfect excuse for catalogers and direct marketers to wear polo T-shirts and pastel cottons to show off the suntans – and sunburns — earned over the weekend before the catalog conference began its three-day run here.

Those who made it to the exhibit hall yesterday at the sprawling Gaylord Palms Resort had their pick of 261 direct marketing services suppliers. Available were not only traditional direct services — call centers, print production, fulfillment, database marketing and agencies — but also offerings from the white-hot search field.

Foot traffic on the floor was moderate while educational sessions took place, but picked up during breaks. The buzz and excitement palpable at online-oriented tradeshows like Ad:tech, eTail and was missing. But the catalog business is more established and needs less handholding.

Exhibitors mostly made an all-out effort to woo the thousands of attendees to their side of the aisle. Here's a snapshot of the news, words and actions:

* Video Builder: A division of Coast Video Inc. This Torrance, CA-based producer of videos is making its debut at the show. The company is targeting direct marketers with three new products.

The first is a terminal-swipable CD gift card that combines video with the product catalog and rewards program. It will launch next month. It has also introduced DVD authoring that allows clients to customize DVDs based on video content stored in the archives. The final product is a two- to four-minute mini-movie/advertisement that contains clues to a riddle that users can solve. VideoRiddle is its name.

These innovations are meant to help clients “increase response rates [and] make it more visually entertaining,” said Steven Johnson, president of VideoBuilder.

* Walsworth Publishing Co. The Marceline, MO, full-service book and catalog printer recently opened a second plant in Omaha, NE, specifically geared to heatset web, mailing and the entire gamut of the print production and fulfillment process.

“Omaha is centrally located, so we're getting clients from the East Coast and the West Coast,” said Rick Denbow, sales representative at Walsworth's commercial division in Abilene, TX.

The company is a mid-sized printer, claiming flexibility regarding the demands and delivery dates of its clients. The emphasis on e-commerce has not decreased the need for printing catalogs, Denbow said while pointing to new clients Aquatic Eco-Systems Inc. and Ellett Brothers. Perhaps online-oriented companies can learn something from Walsworth.

“The newest member of our customer service department has been there for 10 years,” Denbow said. “The company sees that as an advantage.”

* WebSideStory. The Web analytics company recently integrated its Atomz Search acquisition. This is its first time at the catalog show and it was concerned with its desolate location in the exhibit hall: the dull, last aisle with no big names and no reason for visitors to cross that path unless it was time to lunch at the nearby tables.

“We opened yesterday and had four people come by,” said James Burke, Orlando-based senior account executive at WebSideStory. “I was looking for show management people to drive people here. [But] I'm pleased this morning. We're a global company with a small marketing budget. If we can drive business from this show, we'll be back.”

* Hamilton. This Aurora, NE-based contact center services provider recently expanded its Columbus, NE, location from 60 call-center seats to 84. The company's total capacity now is 350 seats across Nebraska, Louisiana and Wisconsin.

“We've had an increased demand from our business-to-business clients, primarily sales programs from clients and also data collection,” said Angela Morris, vice president of contact center services at Hamilton.

Hamilton's booth was in tradeshow Siberia, across the aisle from WebSideStory's. As a two-time exhibitor, it felt deserving of better treatment from the show organizers.

“We got moved three times,” Morris said. “People that have come here for the first time have got better locations than us.”

* Citipost. The British firm is expanding its Citipost name in the United States, offering fulfillment and delivery of BTB catalogs, directories, publications and mail products. AMP bought Citipost in November. The first-time presence under the Citipost brand represents a chance to appeal directly to its core cataloger audience.

“Traffic's been OK,” said an executive from Britain. “Last night [May 23] was better than today.”

* BellSouth. So what was this Baby Bell doing at a catalog show? The telecommunications firm was offering database products. Clients of BellSouth Interconnection Services can check their customer names, addresses and telephone numbers against the BellSouth database.

“With our product, we felt that catalogs undelivered costs a tremendous amount of money to the cataloging industry,” said Scott Kunze, national account manager for wholesale information solutions at BellSouth, Birmingham, AL.

It was distributing mood rings as giveaways at its first catalog show.

* Seaside, FL. Yes, a town chose to exhibit at the show. This beach town of about 30 year-round residents and 400 picture-book cottages for second-homeowners is an hour from Pensacola and an hour by plane from Atlanta. This is its first time at the catalog show, tailgating catalog clients who attend this event. The Seaside Cottage Rental Agency wants catalogers to shoot photos and campaigns in the town. Those who have already done so include Lands' End, Pottery Barn, Talbots, Eddie Bauer, Hunter Douglas and Tommy Hilfiger. Even “The Truman Show” movie with Jim Carrey was shot here.

“I expect to get new clients for print catalogs and film commercials,” said Pam Thompson, director of sales at Seaside's management company. “I expect these people will collect collateral and take it back.”

Catalog Marketing Services. This St. Paul, MN, firm offers list processing, database, analytical, marketing consulting and e-commerce services. It launched a contact frequency optimization engine called Horizontal Marketing on May 23. The new product tackles total customer contact and saturation among multiple dates, titles and channels to help clients create a contact strategy.

Ross-Gage Inc. The Indianapolis indexing specialist — it indexes books with tabs and cuts — is riding the wave of technology affecting traditional direct marketing practices. The company recently switched to Mecland, a Swedish computer-numeric-controlled machine with speeds up to 1,200 books per hour.

“In the past, a lot of this was done by hand process — very labor intensive,” said William H. Main, director of operations at Ross-Gage. “So we're always moving towards automated processes to reduce lead times.”

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