Vermont Country Store Catalog Onslaught!

Vermont Country Store Catalogs
Greetings from inside the SEOigloo!

I ask pardon for the sarcasm contained in the following post, but I feel the need to let out a little roar. Chances are, you’ve heard of the Vermont Country Store, that popular old-timey business that sells everything from Habitant Pea Soup to retro candy to alarming implements designed for trimming one’s nose hair. They’ve positioned themselves as America’s best-known general store, and they’ve won me as a repeat customer because they are literally the last place I can find in the wide world selling cotton knee highs, but – OH MY STARS – they are driving me bananas with their marketing efforts.

Over the past six weeks, I have received not one, not two, but FIVE catalogs from these folks. And, these are not five different catalogs, though each one has a different cover. The interior contents are about 98% identical, across the board. Perhaps each one has a couple of new items, such as their New Sweet Potato Casserole (friends and family will never know you just opened a can), but overall, the items in all the catalogs are identical. Having been the bewildered recipient of, perhaps, ten catalogs this year from this company, I am left wondering what their marketers are telling them.

Do they think I immediately threw out catalog #6, so they’d better send me #7 three days later? Do they think I’m careless, and have misplaced the last four catalogs that are sitting in a stack on my windowsill for Fall, Hallowe’en, Thanksgiving, All Saints Day, National Telephone Repairman’s Day, or whatever else it is that these catalogs are meant to pertain to? Last week, because I ordered those knee highs I mentioned, my mailbox contained not only the package of socks with catalog included, but also a second catalog, sitting right on top!

Sure, it’s important to remind your customers that you exist and that you’ve got inventory. But annoying your clientele is hardly what I’d call a clever marketing plan. I think it’s the unwarranted republication of the same contents with different, cheery covers that bugs me the most about what The Vermont Country store is doing. The moment anyone gets past the cover art, they will be met with those same tablecloths, that same electric typewriter, that same picture of the woman holding all those pieces of toast. I just saw all of these offers 3 days ago. My head still works pretty good, ya know…I haven’t forgotten the products. SEOs can easily relate to my sentiments here when I say that this is a little bit like seeing those Meta Keywords discussions crop up once a week on your favorite forums. Do you dive right in, eager to discuss, or do you pass right over those threads, yawning, “old hat.”

The Vermont Country Store’s catalog marketing plan is making me think of their inventory as old hat. The first time I flipped through their publication, I was entertained and interested by all the queer and quaint little goodies they stock – 3 years and dozens of catalogs later, I feel bored.
Add to this that they seem to be unconcerned about the number of trees they must be cutting down to produce THIS MANY catalogs and there arises a potential to alienate customers who have come to feel duped by the changing cover art ploy, bored by repetition, and unimpressed by anything resembling environmental sensitivity in this company’s policies.

I’m not looking at their bottom line, of course, trying to figure out how to sell more bottles of Bay Rum Aftershave (refreshing and invigorating), yet I can’t help but wonder if the Vermont Country Store shouldn’t start making more use of the fact that they’ve got a website. Sure, there may still be some Internet-deprived folks living up in the mountains, trotting out to the mailbox every day with fingers crossed that they’ll get yet another print catalog, but times, they are a-changing. To the folks at Vermont Country Store: would you guys really go belly-up if you cut down to a 4-season plan, and focused more on keeping your website updated with those couple of new products you add a year? How about going the SM route and developing profiles on Facebook and such as my friendly general store owner? Offer old-time wisdom about dealing with bunions, unsightly toenails, sour milk or blocked storm drains? Sell-sell-sell is getting tiresome.

The thing is…I still like this company’s inventory. I’d be happy to hear from them once in awhile. If they sent me a catalog each season, I’d likely look through it with pleasure. But now, my only option is to pick up the phone and cut ties with these folks altogether, because I’ve determined I have enough advertising from them sitting on my windowsill to last a lifetime. I tried giving them a call today, but no one answered. No doubt, they are all in the shipping department, feverishly stapling new covers onto last week’s catalogs, getting ready to send me another fine surprise.

4 Responses to “Vermont Country Store Catalog Onslaught!”

  1. on 02 Nov 2007 at 5:14 pm David Mihm

    Ummm, maybe marketers should get their own ‘Action Day’ –instead of buying Carbon credits they can buy Arbor credits to replace all the trees they senselessly waste sending out these catalogs!! :) Needless to say I agree with this post wholeheartedly, though Vermont Country Store is far from alone in this offense.

  2. on 02 Nov 2007 at 5:51 pm admin

    David – I have to say, I love your Arbor credit idea…in fact, it would be a great way to celebrate Arbor Day :)

    Thanks for the Sphinn, by the way. I just sphunn your post over there, too.


  3. on 07 Nov 2007 at 11:55 am Cindy

    Glad to hear that you were initially “entertained and interested by all the queer and quaint little goodies” we stock, because we do work hard to be the “purveyors of the practical and hard-to-find.” Just wanted to comment about some of your observations.

    I’m sure you noticed that we print two separate catalogues (yes, that’s our queer and quaint way of spelling!), the black-and-white newsprint Voice of the Mountains and Goods & Wares, color and on different stock. We alternate the mailing of these two catalogues.

    Since you are in the biz, you know that we, like pretty much all of the catalogue industry, have statistical models that identify both our best customers and how often we should mail them. Christmas is, of course, a big season for us, and so we mail more catalogues deeper into our list than only our best customers. Most people get only one of the catalogues, but it seems like you were lucky enough to get both.

    We are aware that we have a high product cross-over between the black and white and color catalogue, but we do offer new products in both catalogues, especially season to season. The new items in each of these catalogues are, for the most part, unique to the catalogue. For Christmas, we had over 100 new items in Voice of the Mountains and over 100 in Goods & Wares. As general merchandisers, however, we do have a lot of best-selling items that our customers love and expect to see in each book. You’d be surprised at the calls we get when we “rest” an item too long.

    Sorry to hear you opted out of getting the catalogues—we do have some interesting new products in our winter books. We’d be more than happy to make sure you only get one catalogue per season. So give us a call—we’ll stop stapling long enough to make sure you’re all set!

    Feel free to contact me directly, after all, I am the one at The Vermont Country Store who is responsible for our marketing efforts.

  4. on 07 Nov 2007 at 1:58 pm admin

    Dear Cindy,
    I’m so glad you stopped by, and bloggers like me applaud the reputation monitoring that companies like yours have started doing to keep in touch with public opinion. I appreciate you taking the time to come and comment here.

    Yes, as David says, above, your company is doing what many companies do who print catalogs. You have your data that tells you what an effective strategy will be with this, but since I printed this article, I’ve heard from several folks, off-line, who share my bewilderment over the number of catalogs they receive from the Vermont Country Store.

    In the words of my mother, in particular,

    “No, not another one!”

    I am really delighted that you are offering to send me one catalog a season. I will pass the word around that you’d be willing to do this, and I think it’s a very smart way of handling this situation. 4 a year would be great and I’ll look forward to them, that way.

    Thanks for stocking those great knee highs, and thanks for stopping by the SEOigloo!

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