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Bill’s Notes on The New England Mail Order Association Spring Conference


We think you’ll enjoy Bill Lapierre’s frank comments about this venerable association’s annual spring conference:

Here’s Bill!

This is my 100th posting for Datamann’s blog on catalog trends and catalog survival.   I don’t know how Keven Hillstrom manages to do his blog daily, but writing a weekly blog has proven far easier than I expected, and has been very beneficial for Datamann.   I think it fortuitous that this 100th posting coincides with my annual comments on the NEMOA conference, which has become by default the largest catalog conference left in the US.

Here are some random observations:

Recognition:  I really appreciate all of you that told me how much you enjoy reading my comments and postings, whether you were a Datamann client or not. I’m glad to know you all find it useful. I especially enjoyed the guy who told me I was an “Internet Icon”. Amy Africa would split a seam if she ever heard me referred to in such a way. She’ll remind you of how I once called the internet a fad, no different than CB radios (but that was 1994, when there were about 20 commercial websites – so cut me some slack).

Sales Are Tough: Sales for most of our clients have been soft so far this year, and I heard that echoed at NEMOA from the mailers with whom I spoke.  A few mailers reported some recent improvement, but apparel sales remains soft. I don’t expect the lost demand to come back once the weather finally warms up.

Mea Culpa: One attendee at NEMOA took issue with my posting last week where I took the catalog to task for being so inept. I stated that “it had to have been produced by an agency that was out of touch with reality”. It turns out the situation was worse than I portrayed – the catalog was produced in-house!  My God! What a perfect example of poorly directed group thinking! My apologies to the creative agencies that are in-touch with reality.

Brookstone: Jim Speltz, CEO of Brookstone was the opening keynote, and gave no hint to the fact that Brookstone is close to bankruptcy. Like any CEO giving a keynote address, he pointed out all the wonderful things they are doing. However, to his credit, he did point out some mistakes they’ve made. Another Brookstone alumni attending pointed out that a quick scan of their website reveals that almost 80% of their products are now electronic (this was not the case when I worked there). Such a heavy reliance on electronics exposes Brookstone to scores of customer service issues, low margins, and intense competition. As that person said, “it’s going to take more that a walking/talking iPad to saving them at this point.”

Frank Oliver: I didn’t catch all the sessions, but the best presentation I saw was by far, Frank Oliver’s session on merchandising. First, Frank puts on a show when he speaks (you should try being in a meeting with him). But Frank’s approach to merchandising is all about common sense. Over the years, he has taught me more than anyone about merchandising and product selection. There’s no discussion of “customer engagement with omnichannel synergies”, it’s nuts and bolts practical advice. As Frank says, “there are no bad products, only bad prices”.

The Magnificent Seven: I was remiss in not acknowledging it at the time, but I loved Kevin Hillstrom’s posting immediately after (click here) the announcement by the USPS that they would be delivering packages on Sunday for Amazon. He was the only person in the industry to point out that the USPS had just pissed all over the catalog industry. The catalog industry pays millions in postage to mail billions of catalogs. That postage pays for the salaries of all the postage officials. Amazon pays no equivalent postage because they mail no catalogs. Amazon does obtain sales from the catalogs that you mail, at your expense. So, as Kevin rightly pointed out, the USPS rewarded you by delivering packages for your biggest competitors on Sundays. And I haven’t heard anyone say one word about it.  In the movie The Magnificent Seven, Eli Wallach (the bad guy) says to Yul Brenner (the good guy) of the villagers he is terrorizing “If God didn’t want them sheared, he would not have made them sheep.”

It Happens At Every Conference: I have discovered a fundamental truth about PowerPoint presentations. The more “high-tech” the company that is presenting, the smaller the font on their PowerPoint slides. Moreover, if they are “high-tech” and “cutting edge”, the schematic PowerPoint slides are more complicated than something NASA would use, with absolutely tiny fonts, usually in gray. Doesn’t anyone look at these presentations before they leave the office?

My Most Important Take Away: I learned that TL;DR stands for “too long; didn’t read”. That’s why I try to keep all these postings under 1,000 words.

It Was A Delight: NEMOA has certainly been large in my life. I have been attending the spring conference continuously since 1987, and have spoken at NEMOA on over 12 occasions. Although my wife Shari has come with me a few times over the years, this was the first time she was attending as a registrant in her official capacity as President of the Vermont / New Hampshire Marketing Group. It was a delight to have her along so she could meet all the people I’ve been telling her stories about for years.


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by Bill LaPierre

VP – Business Intelligence and Analytics

Datamann – 800-451-4263 x235

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