CASE STUDY: Personal approach blossoms in Spring Hill nursery catalogs

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Personalized catalogs are growing, along with flowers, at Spring Hill Nurseries.

The 151-year-old nursery has been personalizing its catalogs for almost a decade, for example by putting a name on an order form or coupon. But developing technology is allowing Spring Hill to go further. For spring 2000, 20 million of the 24 million catalogs it sends out will contain personalized information addressing the recipient and for the first time providing planting suggestions spe- cific to their geographic region.

"The first kind of personalization was pretty limited, but right now we've got such tremendous opportunities based on fairly recent technology," said Jim Paauwe, senior VP-advertising at Spring Hill parent Foster & Gallagher. "It looks a lot better than it did before."

The spring catalog really consists of several personalized versions. A version for preferred customers will include a spring- summer gardening calendar. The geographically targeted calendar gives month-by-month gardening tips as well as suggestions for gardening-related activities.

Several million Spring Hill customers will receive a 32-page Select catalog, featuring rare and limited quantity plants, inserted in the standard spring book.

"We have gotten a little bit more targeted with it, especially with the house customers where we have a history with the customer and have a better idea what products to promote," Mr. Paauwe said.

The personalized catalogs can cost as much as $50 more per 1,000 to produce, but Mr. Paauwe said the increased sales they generate -- from 5% to 20% over past catalogs -- far outweigh the additional costs.

"It's not just the personalization that makes this work," he said. "The work is product driven. We use the personalization to call attention to the product."

Pierre Passavant, director of New York University's Center for Direct Marketing, thinks Internet-style marketing focusing more on one-to-one techniques will cause traditional catalogers to further personalize and target their products.

"The key really is the recommendation that the marketer is making be helpful and useful," he said. "It's not just slapping the person's name on; it's trying to make the message relevant. Providing geographical information and planting information is likely what is going to make the catalog seem more relevant."

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