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The lifeblood of S&S Activewear is its annual catalog, filled with imprintable sportswear ranging from polo shirts and baseball caps to baby onesies.

S&S' key customers are advertising specialty companies and others that buy the sportswear and either screen-print or embroider corporate logos or other marketing images on it. The main goal of a direct response program that S&S kicked off earlier this year was to get those customers to order from the catalog on a weekly basis, instead of a few times a year.

S&S and agency McKinney Advertising & Public Relations, Chicago, last spring began a program of weekly mailings to a portion of the 25,000 customers on S&S' existing and prospective customer mailing lists. Mailings consisted either of a reminder postcard or a four- to eight-page booklet that featured a special promotional offering from one of the dozen or so suppliers represented by S&S.

"Our choice was to either run trade ads or to do more direct mailings, and frankly, I felt that a direct mail campaign would be far more effective . . . since the prospects I want to reach are specific," said Keith Shannon, marketing director at Bolingbrook, Ill.-based S&S. "I don't need to run a national trade ad that some executive in California might see . . . because that person is not going to place an order with me.

"This is a very regionalized business, and we are selling a commodity. To get the most out of our modest marketing budget, direct mailings seemed to be a more straightforward approach."

Terry Morrison, account supervisor for McKinney, said the mailings are designed to reflect the look and feel of S&S' catalog.

"It's a way of tying into the main catalog," she said, "to pull out special features and target those features to specific customers and to keep the S&S name before customers on a regular basis."

The company budgets less than $200,000 a year for direct mail, and the latest push of weekly mailings has paid off. S&S has seen an increase not only in the number of new customer accounts by some 50%, but a gain in business of more than 20% from new and existing accounts, Mr. Shannon said.

"It's not that I don't believe in advertising," he explained, "but I really am now convinced that our company does best when we keep our name in front of our

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