Sovietski Collection House File Sees Holiday Sales Chill

The Sovietski Collection, a marketer of Russian, Soviet and Eastern European collectibles, experienced a decline in the response rate for its house file during the holiday season after reducing the number of catalogs it mailed.

The response rate among prospects was on par with the previous year's 1 percent, but the house file's rate was 2 percent, down from 3 percent the previous holiday season.

“We were in survival mode,” said Mitch Siegler, president/CEO of Sovietski Collection, San Diego. “I knew September would be a disaster, and we started slow in October. We knew it wouldn't be a great season for our customers in the New York area. They are a meaningful percentage of our house file, and they weren't thinking about gifts and collectibles since they had other things on their minds.”

The four drops included 500,000 copies of the late fall 2001 book, which mailed in early October after being pushed back from Sept. 25; 800,000 copies of the holiday preview 2001 catalog, which arrived in homes Nov. 8; 125,000 copies of the holiday 2001 book in homes Nov. 25; and the winter 2002 catalog that arrived in 165,000 homes Dec. 26.

“Prospects were included in the first two drops, and the last two were essentially house file,” he said. “In response to Sept. 11, we slashed [late-fall] circulation, delayed it and shifted quite a bit of the circulation into the mailing of Nov. 8.”

Overall, Sovietski's circulation was down 300,000 for the holiday season compared to 2000.

“It was supposed to be flat,” Siegler said, “but we cut it after Sept. 11 because of the uncertainty and fear of continued softness in the economy.”

The average order size for the holiday season was $90 to $95. The previous year's average was $95. The catalog's main demographic is male, ages 40 to 55 with an annual household income of $50,000 to $75,000. Prospecting lists included history enthusiasts and “guy- and gear-type lists,” he said.

“We made a concerted effort to reduce our page density this year since we were pushing too hard on some of our page layouts and designs,” he said.

Each book made different promotional offers: free shipping on orders of $75 or more for the first mailing; discounts for achieving various purchase levels for the second; a free second-day FedEx upgrade for the third; and a chance to save up to 50 percent on items listed on a New Year's sale insert for the fourth.

“I didn't want to look over my shoulder and see everyone else [offering promotions], so we thought we should go out with both guns blazing and maintain response rates as much as possible,” Siegler said. “We did essentially maintain average order value, and, as a result, we basically made our plan for the holiday season.”

Phoned orders accounted for half the book's business while mailed order forms produced 25 percent of volume in the holiday season. Orders through are up 5 percent from a year ago, accounting for 20 percent to 25 percent of sales. Average units per order remained at 2.5. The book's median price point is $40, but items range from $6.45 to $3,750 for a pair of “big-eye” binoculars “identical to those found on Russian battleships.”

Communist I.D. booklets ($29.95) catch the attention of shoppers who read that “McCarthy would roll over in his grave.” For $895, shoppers can pick up The Order of Lenin that “includes 1 oz. of .900 pure gold and 3.5 grams of pure platinum. Lenin's profile, in relief, is accented with a wreath of wheat and the hammer and sickle insignia.”

“I have a partner in Russia who works with the producers, and we have agents in Eastern Europe,” he said. “Not too many Americans have battleships, but many have yachts, and the American or German equivalent of the big-eye binoculars costs $12,000, but we sell it for $3,750. And they sell! The big-eye binoculars gives the book cachet.”

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