New England Mail Order Association Fall 2008 Conference

Last month four of us at Hodges’ traveled up to Burlington, Vermont for the New England Mail Order Association (NEMOA) 2008 Fall Conference. This a great group for small mailers to learn from and network with. It was also the perfect place for a conference dedicated to “Growing Green” – Business and environmental sustainability in today’s market… Burlington was beautiful, and with the hotel right across from Lake Champlain you woke to an awesome view where the leaves were just starting to turn.

It was a great conference. The goal was to introduce members to other catalogers who have a “Green” program going and show us what they are doing to make it work. We learned a lot in 3 days and met some interesting people from all kinds of catalog companies.

The conference started with a panel of catalogers, Brian McGovern from Timberland, David Hay from Plow & Hearthand Nancy Fischman from L.L.Bean showing us what they do and what we can do. They definitely have a grasp on what can be done and why it’s important. It was impressive.

At Hodges we are already trying to get the message out that we are starting to go green and it’s important to be environmentally conscious. We are spreading the word that our ribbon products are biodegradable and our catalogs are printed at a certified environmentally friendly printer now. It’s a small start but this conference gave us more ideas. We are even starting a “green team” to look around the company for places were green improvements can be made as well.

Don Libey’s 102 Questions

If you run a busines,  espeically a mail order business, see how you do with this list.  Spend some time on it!

These 102 questions come from Don Libey of

  1. Who really runs this business and why?
  2. Where are we in serious trouble?
  3. What changes and advances in our products and markets are we not keeping up with?
  4. What is the primary problem with our operating system
  5. Do we have positive or negative leadership?
  6. How clean are the warehouse and the office?
  7. Is our policy on education requirements for employees relevant?
  8. Who cares about the “Mission Statement”?
  9. Is anyone looking at Amazon for a clue?
  10. Who is the problem, and why won’t I get rid of it?
  11. What is the real threat to the business?
  12. If I suddenly need $4 million, where will I get it?
  13. What does the industry think about our company?
  14. Do we beneficially participate in the industry?
  15. What should we stop doing?
  16. What should we do more of?
  17. What part of the grill needs more charcoal?
  18. What is our “Density Profile”
  19. When is the last time we had an original idea?
  20. Who do we rely on for good advice?
  21. Are we an old business or a new business?
  22. What is our most valuable asset?
  23. Will our distribution model be cost-effective over the next five years?
  24. Are we seriously looking at “Cloud Computing as an alternative to our rising data costs?
  25. If we were to revolutionize the packing component of our fulfillment, what would we do to be on the absolute, lowest cost, leading edge?
  26. Why are we pushing so much paper around?
  27. Why are we not 100% EDI?
  28. How do we justify not being 100% bar code capable?
  29. Who is responsible for Big Pictures?
  30. Is there one person who completely and thoroughly understands all of our processes?
  31. When is the last time we took a walking tour of the grounds?
  32. What are we going to do about the cost of health insurance?
  33. Given the increasingly fragile nature of security, are we totally backed up and can we operate in weather, terrorist, or systems emergencies?
  34. Are we organized right?
  35. Why do we fly as much as we do?
  36. What is our primary strategy for growth?
  • More products
  • More customers
  • More Markets
  • International expansion
  • Acquisitions
  1. Given our primary strategy for growth, where do the catalog and the online channels line up?
  2. What is our end-game?
  3. What’s our “Weakest Link”?
  4. On a scale of 1 low to 4 high, how much customer input is there in our business – really?
  5. What is our chosen road?
  6. Do we have any fun?
  7. What are our merchandising strengths?
  8. What are our marketing strengths?
  9. What is the primary thing that got us to where we are today?
  10. When was the last time I personally talked with 25 customers?
  11. What percentage of sales are we loosing to “Net Gnats”?
  12. For our company, what is the truth: are in house analytic systems better or are third party, outsourced analytic systems better?
  13. Do we do nice things for our employees?
  14. Who is controlling the changes in our market?
  15. Can’t we get it all done in 8 hours a day?
  16. Do we require perfection or do we get stuff done?
  17. Has any outside thinking or influence been imported to our company?
  18. Does our CFO have way too much power?
  19. Are we preparing for European-like environmental and “green” regulations?
  20. If our business is based on quality and high customer regard, do our operating policies reflect that foundation?
  21. Are we overdue for a creative makeover?
  22. Are we highly skilled at detail, or are we highly skilled at shooting from the hip?
  23. How’s our lighting?
  24. Do we really need to grow?
  25. How much “shrink” do we have?
  26. Are we good enough to be a brand?
  27. Do we have effective merchandising forecasting systems?
  28. Is there anyone who actually looks at the orders on a daily basis and has a feel for what the customers are buying?
  29. Why don’t we do public relations?
  30. Is our photography any good?
  31. When did we last look at what we pay telephone sales reps?
  32. What does our returns processing look like?
  33. Is our circulation planning up-to-the-minute, or is it a reflection of past years?
  34. Are we selling to the federal, state and local governments?
  35. Do we have an effective image management system integrated with the catalog and web production systems?
  36. What are we doing to avoid ossification?
  37. What is the value of our “soft assets”?
  38. What are three things about this business that I believe in above all else?
  39. Have I surrounded myself with people who agree with me, or with people who are smarter than I am?
  40. During the last year, did we make at least three great discoveries, giant leaps, competitive trims, or huge improvements?
  41. Have I developed the type of trust, respect, and rapport with my counterparts in the industry so that I get to hear about and see the best opportunities first?
  42. Are we good at hiring?
  43. Do our employees- at all levels – talk to each other?
  44. How do we reach decisions?
  45. How much cash reserve do we have?
  46. How much do we know about the future of our SIC focus?
  47. What is our market share?
  48. What are we doing about paper prices?
  49. What is my definition of success?
  50. How much of our earnings is influenced by our location?
  51. Are we a multichannel marketing company, or an SIC focused company?
  52. On my senior management team, who is the thinker, who is the analytic, who is the dreamer, who is the pragmatist, and who is the sheep?
  53. Is our SIC industry fragmented or consolidated?
  54. Which of the Five Cardinal Financial Elements are our strengths and which are our weaknesses?
  55. If by tomorrow at 5pm I had to find $5,000 of savings, where would I go to get it?
  56. If I could have one person on my board, who would that be?
  57. What is it that makes this business more meaningful than just selling widgets?
  58. What is my definition of “Big Money”?
  59. What is our ratio of catalog and online sales in each of the last 10 years?
  60. How does it smell in here?
  61. How much time, attention and opportunity are we giving the “bright-up-and-comers’ on the teams?
  62. Cam I turn this business off in my head?
  63. Why don’t we use more of the 256 known types of direct marketing merchandising offers?
  64. What has been my greatest accomplishment for the business and for my life?
  65. Which 10 of the above 100 questions do I believe are the most significant for my company now and in the future.
  66. Bonus: What if I gave this to everyone?


New Catalogs

I am really excited about some new catalogs that we are mailing soon.  I just finished proof reading a copy of our upcoming Athletic catalog.  We have changed formats, and this book will show up in the new “slim jim” format that is post office friendly.  Sue (our art director) has gone to town with new photography, new products and a host of other improvements that everyone is bound  to love.  For example, the longer format of the slim jim really helps to show off ribbons – which are long and skinny to begin with.

In addition, we have done new photography for almost the entire book.  The medals look classier and everything really ‘pops’.  I hope that our customer’s love the catalog.

I get to see the new school catalog in a couple of days.  I hope that the results are similarly encouraging!


Merit Direct B2B Conference

I had the great fortune of being invited to the 9th annual Merit Direct B2B conference in Westchester, NY last week.  I got to leave the office and spend a couple of days thinking about how one should be running a business during times that are really not very good for the US economy.  Just to rub it in, while I was there, the RI Public Utilities Commission raised electricity rates 21.4%.  Ugh.

There were about 175 people there representing all sizes of B2B companies, all involved in direct mail.  Many of the subjects were similar to the topics that we discuss at NEMOA, but given the B2B focus of everyone in the room, the focus was a little different – and there were all kinds of new companies to meet.

Don Libey gave a great speech on day 2, focusing on the view from 35,000′ – or where he sees the catalog industry heading.  He was clear to point out that he sees no fall off in globalization.  Companies will get better at shipping internationally (because they have to) and trade will increasingly bypass the middle man.  As if to make the point, we lost an order for drug free ribbons to China today (our first ever), but we have a european supplier who wants us to ship ribbons directly to Finland – bypassing his warehouse in Sweden.

One observation I made is that there were few (if any) manufacturers in the room and that vertical markets are the exception rather than the rule.  Most companies were making less than 5% of what they sell.  Also most catalogs were broad shot amalgamations of products.  Carefully calculated to get the most shopping bang for the buck.  Does this work?  We tried it once and it didn’t work well at all.  All that means is that it doesn’t work for us.

A number of pleas were heard for catalogers to join the ACMA (American Catalog Mailer’s Association).  This little group has already saved the cataloging industry over $150,000,000 (that’s 150 million dollars folks) on postage through their lobbying efforts.  Please pay your share, and pony up some money to help with the lobbying efforts.  We did.