Retail Wisdom Is Always Interesting

Just before Father’s Day, he sent a survey to the wives of his customers. He asked them to “fill out the enclosed self-addressed stamped survey and enclosed a 10-dollar gift certificate to be used before the upcoming Father’s Day.

With the survey he enclosed a personal letter explaining he wanted to know more about his customers so he could serve them better.

His letter begins:

“I’ll give you more than a penny for your thoughts…nine dollars and 99 cents more, in fact.

Knowing your husband values your opinion, we’d like to determine the extent of your participation in his wardrobe selection. I would sincerely appreciate your taking one minute to compete the enclosed survey…”

He mailed 2,677 letters.

And 524 responded–or a 20 percent return.

The results astonished him. Here they are:

Wives select clothing regularly 52 percent

Wives select furnishing 73 percent

Wives select sportswear 76 percent

Or: in three out of four cases, Max had been mailing to the wrong customer!

The wives were not only making decisions but were also responsible for the buying.

The before-Father’s-Day timing for the gift certificate worked well. Sales from the 10-dollar gift certificate: $9,808.

Would any of those sales be made anyway? Yes, sir.

Would all of those sales be made anyway? No, sir.

Grassfield examined the surveys carefully. He wanted to know why the wives were doing the overwhelming majority of the shopping. The comment section on the survey told him:

“My husband hates to shop.”

“I have to drag him in to buy a suit.”

“I even buy his shoes.”

“He trusts my judgment.”

Now, if all this was true–and certainly most of it was–how could he use all this just-received information?

Grassfield already had an accurate data base of each and every customer. As soon as a man made his first purchase, a salesperson was assigned to that specific customer. He captured not only the basics–name, address at home and work, telephone, birthday, wife’s name–but also a complete list of sizes and sales history. When they buy what for how much. And now, thanks to the survey, he can identify which wives participate in their husband’s clothing purchases.

“My Iowa heritage tells me databased marketing is like a never depleted field of corn,” says Max, “It’s there to be harvested throughout the year. The information is always ready to be picked. The only trick is “when.” Timing is crucial. The more information you have, the more opportunities there are to harvest appropriate segments. Not only will the presentation be more accomplished but substantially more cost effective as well. Database marketing is truly a ‘Field of Dreams.'”

But wait, there’s more…

What about the 80 percent of the wives that did NOT respond?

He followed up by sending them a self-mailer imprinting the wife’s name, address and tracking code directly on the mailing piece (“No ugly labels”). He received a 10 percent response this second time around.

Armed with all this data and aware of who really controlled the purse strings, Grassfield wrote a letter before the Christmas holidays to the wives offering a special charge account in their name.

He also told the wives the name of the salesperson in charge of their husband’s purchases so they had a specific person to speak to with all the data on their husband’s purchases and sizes. He included a $20 gift certificate redeemable on a purchase of $100 or more.

He mailed out 3,084 letters and did $36,010 in sales. Says Max, “I was pleased.”

Why not? His sales increased by more than 11 percent in a not-so-exciting holiday season for retailers across the country.

But wait, there’s more…

His next promotion was for a New Year’s Day sale which he read about in this column and the success we had in our shops with this promotion over the past three decades. He mailed a simple post-card offering his mailing list “First Dibs” on winter clothing for New Year’s Day only and only for customers on his mailing list.

Results: “We did more than $13,000!”

OK, as they say in retailing, “What’s the bottom line?”

After discovering who their customer was and targeting mailings to these wives Max says, “We’ve experienced a 20 percent increase in business.”

What had Max done? (And what does all this mean to YOUR business?) He decided that basic assumptions and conventional wisdom are not always true. You have to constantly think new thoughts and be willing to go in new directions. Expectations might not be the same as reality.

And it all began when a buyer came to him one day and said, “I just read this article that says women buy most of men’s clothing.”

Murray Raphel developed Gordon’s Alley, a multimillion-dollar pedestrian mall in Atlantic City. One of the major reasons for his success: direct mail. He has been telling the retail direct mail story as a columnist in Direct Marketing for more than 30 years, and travels throughout the world giving direct mail seminars and serves as a consultant to major corporations throughout the world.

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