Direct Mail: An Effective Traffic Builder






Image1Mary Ann Everett has presided over Toy Collection Catalog and consulted with catalogers for 19 years. Contact her for more information about catalog marketing at See a sample specialty toy catalog at

Picking up from where I left off on Friday, my thoughts turn to why retailers use direct mail promotions. These effective promotions are most often used by independent toy stores as traffic-building catalogs, rather than direct-response catalogs used by national catalogers. They usually are mailed within about a 10 mile radius of the store’s location and most purchases are made at the store with the added support of its knowledgeable sales staff. The catalogs often compliment other community “buy local” campaigns. Retailers using catalogs and flyers often include a coupon offer to encourage and track response. Response rates of 3% to 8% are typical, depending on the season and type of mailing list used. This rate is much higher than the average 2% response for national catalogers. Store owners are also able to track response to their promotions informally, as when they see a steady stream of customers arrive in their stores clutching catalogs right after the mailing hits.

Choosing direct mail is not without challenges. Even with digital design and printing innovations, it can be a time consuming and expensive endeavor for a small business owner. There is also a need to rent, build, or maintain a quality mailing list. Specialty toy retailers are extremely fortunate to have group catalog options that are convenient and affordable, allowing them to order a reasonable number of copies and get a full holiday catalog in the mail for about 80 cents per piece. Group programs such as The Good Toy Group, Toy Collection Catalog, and franchisors such as Learning Express and Brilliant Sky all provide marketing support with print promotions. Even the ASTRA organization offers its members a printed flyer to promote the winning “Best Toys For Kids.”  Other large stores have the resources to select their own merchandise and promotions for fully custom catalogs, often leaning on vendor ad allowances to help with production costs.  

With postage accounting for 25%-50% of the cost of any direct mail promotion, having a quality mailing list is crucial. Retailers find their own customer file is the most responsive, but since kids do age out of toys it is always a good idea to “prospect” to potential new customers as well. A list compiler can supply targeted rental names that fit the demographic profile of their customer base: high-income families living close to their store, for instance. The store list is a valuable asset and is worth the effort to maintain. A “clean” mailing list starts at the point of entry, usually when a purchase is made, and should include a date field and use standard address abbreviations. Store files should be updated annually with NCOA (National Change of Address) service to find customers that may have moved. A reliable mailing house can remove duplicates and standardize list files for optimal delivery and postal discounts.

Recognizing the need to boost business mail, the US Post Office has recently introduced an innovative new program. “Every Door Direct” removes many of the barriers for small businesses to use direct mail. With no mailing list or postal permit, store owners can mail postcards, flyers or even catalogs into mailboxes of the neighborhoods they select at a reduced postage rate. The “Every Door Direct” program also provides a method of delivering smaller flyers flat, instead of folded and tabbed closed- as is now required in targeted mailing. This service is likely to be an especially popular option for stores that may have abandoned their physical address list, opting only to collect their customers email addresses. Image1

Trends in marketing come and go, but like blocks for a two year old, some time tested methods never go out of style. For many successful specialty toy stores, the response generated from their catalog and flyer promotions is the profit they take to the bank. It’s the marketing that aligns with the lifestyles of their busy customers and provides the upscale look to match their store and the brands they sell. Most importantly, direct mail promotions are able to speak to kids, the ultimate consumers of specialty toys.  


3 thoughts

  1. I think it’s very important to continually prospect and refine your current mailing lists as the data can get out of date fairly quickly for some industries. As you mention above; anything aimed at a specific age group tends to need more work but can provide far better results!

  2. Nice Post, Hoy can win with direct mailing but ( as you said) you have to be on the ball of this , Everything must be spot on. FOr Business this will be too much and there will be little rewards for this. Smart people will stick with what works

  3. Wow!! I am impressed to read the news. I definitely support your speak that direct mail promotion is an effective Traffic Builder. It is absolutely true that direct mail promotion knows the kids want, which is specially toys they serve. Thanks for the nice posting.

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