Learns Database Lessons From Print Push

Educational toy marketer is in the home stretch of an effort that began in April to evolve from an online-only merchant into an integrated direct marketing firm.

The company was slated to drop postcards this week to customers in its house file for whom SmarterKids at one time had e-mail addresses but for whom those addresses are no longer valid.

“There is a good segment of people on our house file that have not unsubscribed, but their e-mail addresses are no longer valid,” said Kathy Hecht, vice president/general manager of SmarterKids, Monterey, CA. “The change of e-mail address service is just not where it needs to be, so we have no way to promote to these people online.”

Hecht estimated that 8 percent to 9 percent of the e-mail addresses in SmarterKids' customer house file are no longer valid, “and it doesn't make sense to just let them go.” SmarterKids also has an e-mail house file of people who have not made purchases.

The cards offer $10 off any online purchase of $40 or more.

“In a few weeks we'll know whether it was a profitable way to pursue these customers,” Hecht said, adding that she is testing sending the cards to some customers with valid e-mail addresses on file to see whether the resulting lift in purchase activity is worthwhile. “Primarily, though, the purpose of this piece is to see if I can recover any of the names I spent money to get. Presumably if they come back, I get a valid e-mail address.”

The postcard effort follows a 500,000-piece, 24-page catalog drop in mid-November to various lists of parent/teacher prospects and customers. Before the catalog, the company also distributed 200,000 eight-page fliers directly into schools to be given to parents. The flier was intended to support a small direct sales force and pitch the Smarter Discount Rewards program, a loyalty program in which parents, relatives and friends can earn points toward free supplies for a child's school, preschool or child-care program with purchases of $25 or more.

Though the mix is intended to give database fundamentals more emphasis in SmarterKids' marketing tactics, the company is still entrenched in e-commerce. The catalog, for example, offers an extra $5 off orders of $75 or more placed online.

“At 24 pages, it's a sampling of what we have to offer,” Hecht said. “In order to see the whole product line, they've got to go to the site.”

The 24-page prospecting piece is SmarterKids' sole catalog. Whether there will be a SmarterKids big book is not known.

“It will be determined once we pull all the results of this fall together,” Hecht said.

Established as a dot-com in November 1998, SmarterKids categorizes merchandise by seven learning styles: visual, linguistic, physical, musical, mathematical, interpersonal and intrapersonal. It was acquired by LearningStar Corp. in April and combined with LearningStar company EarlyChildhood LLC.

As a result of that deal, SmarterKids transferred fulfillment operations and customer service to EarlyChildhood's center in Monterey. SmarterKids' Mansfield, MA, distribution center was farmed out, and its staff was reduced 60 percent.

In October, LearningStar, Monterey, said it would begin doing business as Excelligence Learning Corp. to avoid confusion with similarly named LearnStar LP, a Dallas developer of educational software. The company plans to officially change its name to Excelligence, subject to stockholder approval, at the company's 2002 annual meeting.

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