Organic Firewood

by Bill LaPierre on August 24, 2014

I’ve always wanted to play a joke on my small home town here in New Hampshire, testing the reaction I would get to an advertisement in the local newspaper for “organic firewood”, selling for twice the rate of a regular cord of wood. Would my “back-to-nature, buy local, grass-fed only” loving neighbors think that organic firewood was the next really cool thing to buy? I’m betting they would.  (In case you don’t get the joke, all firewood is organic to begin with).

So what does this have to do with catalogs?

My wife and I recently visited the local farmer’s market in Lancaster, NH, another small town in the northern part of the state, about 40 miles from the Canadian border.  As we walked among the booths, all of which were from small farms or local crafts people (meaning that Pillsbury and General Foods were not there), I noticed that almost every booth had a sign mentioning some link to “social media”.

There were QR codes to Facebook…


There were URLs…



There were requests for following on Facebook and Instagram. (And really, where else have you had the chance to tag someone on Instagram, and win a chicken?)


The promise of social media. I’m sure that each one of these booth owners thinks that the world is going to beat a path to their respective door for their brand of strawberry jam, goat milk soap, or organic wool. They will at last have “engagement” with all their customers.

But so will every other booth at every other farmer’s market and street fair, around the country. The question then becomes, how do you stand out against the sea of jam and organic soap from Ohio or Texas?   Well, you may stand out with the people that live near you that want to buy your local “stuff”. But, you’ll probably be lost in a huge sea of thousands of other small local vendors nationwide. In my opinion, it’s no different than before social media.

Unless you have something really, really unique. This is the same for catalogs. If you simply have the same products that everyone else has (yet another kid’s catalog full of pink backpacks), then all the social media engagement in the world is not going help you generate sales.  Participating in social media without having truly unique merchandise is like spilling coffee in your lap while wearing a dark pair of pants – it gives you a warm feeling, but no one else notices.

So, what did the organic firewood joke have to do with catalogs? I thought the idea for “organic firewood” was so absurd, that no one would ever try to sell it. But I was wrong! Not only are there at least a dozen website sites selling it, but I found hundreds of images of signs for organic firewood. This just proves my point that even those things we think are unique and/or absurd, already have a home on the web. It’s tough to be unique.


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by Bill LaPierre

VP – Business Intelligence and Analytics

Datamann – 800-451-4263 x235


Tell Them You Hate It and Move On

by Bill LaPierre on August 17, 2014

As you are coming down the home stretch preparing your final Holiday catalogs, and approving those final designs, keep this story in mind.

There’s a controversy growing in Washington DC that you may have missed. Here’s the short story – in 1999, Congress created the Eisenhower Memorial Commission, to locate, design and fund the creation of a lasting memorial in Washington DC to Dwight D. Eisenhower. After 15 years, and spending over $41 million, the Commission is coming under heavy criticism because they have chosen a design for the memorial that no one likes. The final design depicts Eisenhower as a young boy from Kansas, and features gigantic, eight-story metal screens of Kansas corn fields.


This is supposed to be our nation’s tribute to WWII’s Supreme Allied Commander, and our 34th President. The Eisenhower family doesn’t like it, Congress doesn’t like it, and most people that have seen the design (click here) don’t like it. About the only group that has endorsed it is the City Council of Eisenhower’s boyhood home town of Abilene, KS. But the Commission is sticking by their design. How did we get here?

We got here because no one was willing to say anywhere along the line “I hate this”. To me, the design is not only ugly, stupid, and disrespectful to the memory of Eisenhower, it symbolizes a problem that I see in many catalogs.  No one is ever willing to say “this stinks, it’s going in the wrong direction, stop now and let’s see something else”. Instead, people offer constructive criticism, hoping that the designer will intuitively know, maybe through osmosis or mind reading, what the other person really wants. The designer doesn’t realize that they are being told that their design “doesn’t work” because no one tells them such in so many words. The sugar-coated comments offered simply avoid hurting anyone’s feelings. And then you are stuck.

So, a bad catalog design simply gets reworked a little, and usually becomes even worse. Products that should not even be in the book get prominence on a page. Propping that is completely inappropriate to the products and overall design get emphasized. Product density is either too high or too low.

Remember, it’s hard to miss the message in “I hate it.” Yes, it will stop conversation. It may even ruffle some feathers. But you have merchanside to sell. Don’t allow Creative to hijack your products, or your catalog. Don’t allow a bad catalog design to move forward.  In our overly-sensitive, politically correct world, we could avoid a lot of problems, and increase a lot of sales, by simply being direct and blunt with our comments, without being personal, and moving on.

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by Bill LaPierre

VP – Business Intelligence and Analytics

Datamann – 800-451-4263 x235


Holiday Jitters – Time to Reassess?

August 10, 2014

It doesn’t take much of a change to the stock market to get clients calling and asking what this means for Holiday response. And that is exactly what has happened over the past 10 days. The Dow Average has dropped 4% since July 16 (when it hit an all-time record high), and now catalogers are […]

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What Are You Selling? A Question for Merchandise Analytics

August 3, 2014

I critiqued one of my client’s catalogs this week, which had a spread that screamed “cooking with kids” and showed all kinds of cooking utensils being used by a mother and her kids. But here’s the kicker – it was an apparel spread. The cloths were for sale, but not the utensils. That got me […]

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There Are No Bad Products, Only Bad Prices

July 27, 2014

A few weeks ago, I took Terry’s Village to task (click here) for doing a sale catalog which had full copy blocks for individual items that had been marked down from $7 to $4. Worse, there were full copy blocks for every item in the catalog. That is the old-school approach to a sale catalog, […]

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We Are Focusing Too Much Time and Energy on Page One

July 20, 2014

Where have you heard this before: “We are not moving with enough urgency!”? I’m not going to bore you with the details of how many newspapers I read – suffice it to say, I subscribe to and read several papers daily, including the Wall Street Journal. As such, I was delighted several years ago when […]

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Summer Catalog Observations 2014 – Part 2

July 13, 2014

Cupcakes and Yoga Pants Every 4th of July, my wife and I climb a small mountain near our home, which we had to delay a day this year because of Hurricane Arthur’s rain in New Hampshire. Although this mountain is in a fairly rural part of the state, it is a popular climb. While we […]

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Robust Techno Babble

July 6, 2014

Since many of you are on vacation this week, or at least just enjoyed a nice three day weekend, I’m going to keep this short and sweet today. My 14 year old son is a big fan of Dilbert, and Scott Adam’s (Dilbert’s creator) dry, acerbic wit. (My son and I get along great!) Whenever […]

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Motorcycles, Averages, Assumptions and Catalogs

June 29, 2014

There are three huge motorcycle events in the US each year – Daytona, Sturgis (SD) and Laconia, NH. I’m not a motorcycle owner or rider – but it is hard to ignore the influx of riders into my home state of New Hampshire during Motorcycle Week, which just concluded last week. The local media reported […]

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Summer Observations 2014 – Part 1

June 22, 2014

Let’s see what the mail man has brought lately, and see how good a job you are doing at motivating customers to buy. Improvements Summer Mailing Oh, I do so love a cover test that proves nothing!  I received these two covers this past week from Improvements. They each feature the same 30% offer on […]

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