CATALOGERS REVEAL DEARTH OF PLANNING FOR THE FUTURE

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[new york] Catalogers are short on strategic planning, even as the future is looking more specialized, with products narrowly personalized to individual consumers.

That lack of planning was a stark finding from the Dean Report's annual catalog survey, results of which were released at the recent Catalog Conference & Exhibition co-sponsored by the Direct Marketing Association.

"People aren't planning for the future," warned Bill Dean, president of W.A. Dean & Associates.

In the 1995 survey, 61% of responding catalogers had no written three-year or longer strategic plan, he said.

And it wasn't necessarily the smaller catalogers that lacked a plan-60% of respondents with sales of less than $10 million had no plan, but 50% of respondents with sales of more than $10 million and about 53% of respondents over $50 million also had no strategic plan.

`SEAT OF THE PANTS'

"For many catalogers, the daily `to do' list seems to be a more familiar document than the annual plan, and the multiyear strategic plan rarely drives the business. Catalog management is often more seat of the pants rather than deliberate, and strategic decisions are being made without an overall strategy," said June's Dean Report, distributed at the session.

In other results: 51% of respondents did not measure customer satisfaction, about 33% did not track back-order rates and about 26% did not track order fulfillment rates.

Also, about 79% of overall respondents did not calculate lifetime value of customers, which is "shocking," Mr. Dean said.

The inattention to the future comes as personalized, individualized catalogs are gaining importance.

The personalized approach has helped Viking Office Products increase sales from about $15 million in 1983 to more than $1 billion in 1996, all through catalog sales, said Chairman-CEO Irwin Helford.

Viking's international sales grew to 56% of total business in 1995, vs. 1991, when 82% of total business was done in the U.S.

INDIVIDUALIZED CATALOGS

"Create a different catalog for every customer-through digital technology we can do it," Mr. Helford said. "Ultimately, we will develop each customer's own catalog."

Also at the conference, DMA President-CEO Jonah Gitlitz said catalogers last year generated $69.9 billion in sales, according to a study WEFA Group conducted for DMA.

Catalog sales will increase nearly 7% to about $74 billion this year, with $46 billion in consumer catalog sales and $28 billion in business catalog sales.

In five years, catalog sales are projected to top $100 billion. Of that, $62 billion will be consumer catalog sales and $40 billion business catalog sales, Mr. Gitlitz said.

About 59% of adults bought merchandise from a catalog last year, according to Simmons Market Research Bureau data. About 113 million consumers made at least one catalog purchase in 1995.

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