Sturbridge Tightens Circulation, Hones Targeting

Postage increases and a weak economy have led to a 20 percent reduction in Sturbridge Yankee Workshop's holiday catalog circulation this year.

The marketer of furniture, wall art, rugs and lighting with “the look and feel of Americana” lowered circulation from last year's 3.3 million to 2.6 million this year. Circulation was 3.6 million in 1999.

“We're trying to pick out those people who will work for us,” said John Alexander, chief financial officer of Sturbridge Yankee Workshop. “I've been trying over the last 2 1/2 years to stop the shotgun approach and go to a targeted approach.”

Alexander is incorporating a ZIP code performance model into his prospecting efforts along with more focused targeting of the house file.

“You're always going to mail your 0- to 24-month file, but you try to make sure that you don't mail the single buyers every catalog, and the zero-to-$100 single buyers are certainly part of the elimination process,” Alexander said. “You try to give people a rest, especially those in the older segments, and generally we don't consistently hit every segment from the house file. We're always looking at the strength of their buying patterns.”

The holiday books are divided into two drops with different covers. The first went out at the end of October with a circulation of 1.8 million and was split 60 percent to 40 percent in favor of prospects. The second drop, which is scheduled to finish arriving in homes this week, will reach 800,000 homes with a 60 percent to 40 percent split favoring the house file.

“The second drop focuses more on the tried-and-true 0- to 24-month buyers,” Alexander said. “We also do quite well when trying to reactivate those who are 61-month-plus buyers.”

Those who request a catalog as well as buyers who place an order from the holiday books will receive a bounce-back catalog, which eventually is expected to reach a circulation of 15,000.

“Maybe they will see something they didn't see before,” Alexander said.

Initial results from the first drop are encouraging, as average order size has increased by about 20 percent compared with last year. Catalog shoppers shifting to the Internet option at are helping to drive the increase. Average order amount is up from $95 last year to $112. Internet shoppers' average amount is up from last year's $120 to $130. Two years ago, both the overall average and Internet average were in the mid-$90 range.

“On the Internet they can browse, and we get add-on sales, just as you would in a grocery store,” Alexander said. “There's also a higher average number of items purchased — 2.4 per order for Internet shoppers as opposed to 1.8 overall.”

The number of orders received so far via fax, e-mail and mail-in order forms was described as negligible. Orders phoned in to the company's call center will account for 85 percent of sales, while the Web site will produce 13 percent, up from last year's 10 percent to 12 percent range and 8 percent to 10 percent two years ago.

The holiday book produced a 1.5 percent response rate in 1999, followed by 1.8 percent to 2 percent last year. Alexander expects this year's effort to produce a response rate in line with last year's level.

The call center — which is in the company's headquarters in Portland, ME — has an average of 10 agents on duty. There also is an off-site center in Maryland designed to handle overflow and calls after business hours.

The per-piece postal cost was 19 cents to 21 cents this year compared with the range of 17 cents to 19 cents last year and in 1999. Per-piece printing and production expenses this year fell to 41 cents from last year's 43 cents and 1999's 45 cents.

The remained the same at 48 pages, and the number of items featured remained constant. The company mails catalogs throughout the year with a total annual circulation of 16 million.

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