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Team Blonde Goes Back to Drawing Board for Second Catalog

Budding direct mailers Heidi Vance and Jayne Ertel learned the hard way that the quality of a catalog's photographs can have a big impact on sales.

When the college friends ventured into jewelry design six years ago, they sold their wares at art shows in and around Chicago. As sales grew, the pair decided to create a catalog that was introduced in November 2002. The name of their business, Team Blonde, is the moniker given to the duo by a college friend.

Twenty thousand copies of the 24-page premiere edition were printed with 15,000 mailed to prospects, targeting women in the Chicago suburbs who owned their homes and had annual household income exceeding $100,000. The remaining 5,000 went to people who had signed up to be on the Team Blonde mailing list. A Web site, teamblonde.com, was launched concurrently.

Results from that initial effort were nearly nonexistent, except from the in-house list. Vance and Ertel had to determine what went wrong. After repeatedly hearing that their jewelry looked so different in person than it did in the catalog, they realized the problem might have been the photography.

For their second catalog, which mailed in April, they took more care in choosing a photographer. Instead of simply looking at samples of photographers' work, they asked candidates to shoot pictures of their jewelry and chose the one whose work they thought best showcased it.

“Now we have a lot of people who didn't know about us before who are buying [based only on seeing the catalog],” Ertel said. The key “is the better photography.”

The new photography has an earthy feel, similar to what you might see in the Sundance catalog, Ertel said. Backgrounds in earth tones and props such as feathers, driftwood and seashells complement Team Blonde's jewelry, which is handcrafted using sterling silver, Swarovski crystal, freshwater pearls and semi-precious stones. Nothing in the catalog is priced more than $100.

Team Blonde also offers custom bridal jewelry. A bride can work with the company's designers to create jewelry for herself and/or her bridal party, or hold a party at which the bridesmaids each can make their own jewelry from a selection of predetermined components.

The catalog went up on the company's Web site in April. Web sales are a small percentage of overall sales, but they have risen 40 percent since putting the new catalog on the site, Ertel said.

Between the first and second catalogs, Vance and Ertel opened a Team Blonde store in Forest Park, IL, in December 2003.

The second catalog was also 24 pages, but this time Team Blonde printed just 5,000 copies. Of those, 1,500 were mailed to current customers. The rest were or will be handed out at art shows.

The pair learned other lessons about producing a catalog, including the importance of shopping around for vendors. Ertel estimates they paid five times more for graphic design on the first catalog than for the second one, three times more for photography and twice as much for printing.

“We needed to manage the process more closely,” she said.

The pair did no prospecting for the second mailing since virtually no new customers were acquired from the first. But with the improved photography, they are considering prospecting again for their third catalog, which will mail in March 2005.

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