Blog Post – Wednesday, October 20, 2021
Posted by Denny Hatch
Venture Capitalists Turn A Great
Direct Marketer into a Spammer
My last blog post described how I have shrunk over the years. My wardrobe looked like hell on me, so we bought a couple of handsome jackets and slacks—summer & winter.
For many years—back when I was editor and publisher of Target Marketing magazine—I dressed up for meetings, conventions, calls on advertisers and grand three-martini lunches at upmarket ginmills.
My shirt vendor of choice was the Paul Frederick catalog that delivered good quality non-iron utilitarian shirts off-the-rack in my precise size (17” neck, 33” sleeves). I was a customer for many years. Every couple of years shirts would wear thin and I would replace them.
In the 2004 I called Paul Fredrick Sacher, told him I was a customer and would like to do a cover story for Target Marketing magazine. He called back and we spent a good hour on the phone.
My cover profile of Paul Fredrick ran in the May 2004 Target Marketing. I recently re-read my piece and discovered the fascinating story of a very bright, hard-working young guy who stumbled into the shirt business and learned direct mail to build a thriving menswear catalog business à la Lillian Vernon, John Peterman, Richard (Sharper Image) Thalheimer and Patricia and Mel (Banana Republic) Ziegler.
The candid information he shared with me — about direct marketing… about being an entrepreneur… about launching and growing a business… was priceless!
Seventeen years later I was absolutely comfortable going back to Paul Fredrick and ordering his shirts.
When I googled www.PaulFredrick.com, his selection of shirts looked as good as ever, albeit pricier than the $39 I paid years ago. I ordered a non-iron white dress shirt and a handsome checked casual one. Order confirmed.
These are the two shirts I selected—
A modest, conservative test order.
A Litany of Greed
The very next day, I started getting a series junk emails from Paul Fredrick.com.
This from my Yahoo inbox that first 2-1/2 days:
Paul Fredrick was blitzing my life with junk emails starting at zero hour+20 minutes of his receiving my order—throwing shit against my wall hoping some of it will stick
What arrived in my in-box were e-offers for yes, more white and light blue dress shirts, but also garish, gawdawful polka-dot and flowered short-and-long-sleeved shirts plus suits, jackets, trousers, shoes, belts, cuff links and ties—hundreds of items!
How dare they start glutting my inbox with e-junk a full 8 days before my shirts were delivered, so I had the courtesy of evaluating the merchandise I ordered!
Could these emails really be coming from the elegant Paul Fredrick Sacher I knew?
I went back to my 17-year-old story to see Paul’s philosophy.
From my copy:
Paul Fredrick Sacher Offers the
Following Tips for Catalog Success:
• Advertise in the same media as your competitors. Many fledgling entrepreneurs believe the best place to advertise is where the competition isn’t. When he first started out, Sacher put his offer in publications that have off-the-page advertising and where his competitors were cashing in. Such a practice has paid off handsomely for his catalog.
• Be careful with whom you partner. Says Sacher: “Thankfully I didn’t take on any venture capital deals that required unrealistically rapid growth.”
• Expand your scope. Originally, Paul Fredrick MenStyle sold just three products: shirts, ties and cuff links. But changing lifestyles and work dress codes forced the company to expand its product scope. The company now offers a full line of casual shirts, trousers, sports coats, suits and shoes. Also, it recently launched a custom shirt business.
• Invest in e-commerce. Allen Abbott, vice president of marketing, says, “It’s difficult to survive today without a sophisticated presence on the Web.”
• When in doubt, do the obvious. When asked who designed the highly professional and complete catalog order form, Sacher said that he did. “I studied what everybody else was doing and did what they did,” he notes.
My conclusion these mailings did not come from the Paul Sacher I knew. The guy knew too much about direct mail… and the fact that it is what Stan Rapp calls “intimate advertising.” I envisioned two scenarios:
1. Sacher had hired an ignorant millennial digital marketing kid looking to score points with the boss (and maybe commissions for himself) by generating instant add-on business.
2. Sacher was bought out by a VC desperate to get some instant maximum ROI.
ClearLight Partners Invests in Paul Fredrick
January 02, 2018 12:00 PM Eastern Standard Time
NEWPORT BEACH, Calif.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Private equity firm ClearLight Partners announced today that it has made a majority investment in Paul Fredrick, a leading designer and direct-to-consumer retailer of men's apparel and related accessories. Terms of the transaction were not disclosed. Paul Fredrick was advised by KSCA | Investment Banking (www.ksca.com). ClearLight was advised by DANU Capital Group (www.danucapital.com).
ClearLight Partners' Portfolio
Clearly I was dealing with a venture capitalist running the following businesses: fitness centers, ice cream makers, automotive leather, landscaping, tactical systems and—TAH-DAH—the one business that’s in the same ballpark as direct marketer Paul Fredrick Sacher:
Clearly ClearLight Partners have no other direct marketing properties and don’t know squat about how to treat direct marketing customers. Instead, the word went out to the Paul Fredrick team to generate a lot of add-on business orders quick to maximize their ROI.
Paul Fredrick joined the ranks of the great catalogers that sold out to venture capitalist vultures: Lillian Vernon (Ripplewood Holdings, Sun Capital Partners, Taylor Corporation), Sharper Image (Camelot Venture Group), Brooks Brothers (Authentic Brands Group and SPARC Group LLC), Brookstone (Chinese-owned Sailing Capital and Sanpower), Talbots (Sycamore Partners).
The ClearLight Partners’ shirts finally arrived; they are glorious—the best shirts by far that I have ever owned. They fit beautifully and make me look like a classy dude for the first time in years. I'm 86. I don't wear dress shirts often. These two shirts will last me for the rest of my life.
What I don't need for the rest of my life are two (or more) emails a day from shirt importer Paul Fredrick. What was once valuable information has become common spam that irritates the hell out of me and reminds me of my mortality.
I told the Paul Fredrick stooges to take my name off their lists and never contact me again. By return email (on a Sunday morning) I received the following:
Takeaways to Consider
marketing is intimate advertising.”
• "Direct marketing is not advertising in an envelope."
• “To be
successful in direct marketing you have to get inside the heads and under the
skin of the person you are contacting: think how he thinks, feel what she feels
and become that person, just like a Method Actor becomes the
character being portrayed.”
• Just because e-marketing and e-mail are essentially free, it’s imperative to treat customers and prospects with respect.
• “The consumer
isn’t a moron. She is your wife.
• “I eat three meals a day. I can't eat four."
• “Do unto
others as you would have them do unto you.”
—Jesus of Nazareth, Sermon on the Mount, AD 30
Word Count: 1296
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A little off-topic, but I love supporting public television, EXCEPT, almost before my donation has been deposited, I started receiving solicitations for more money, requests to renew my membership, etc. I didn’t keep track, but I’m convinced they spent more money on those mailings than I gave. I stopped my membership.ReplyDelete
Joody, Joody, Joody…Delete
My take: The hotshot kids and V.C.s today were never mentored by seasoned direct marketers who understand blizzards of mail, spam, and the old saw about the kid who said to his boss at the book club: “Hey, if Book-of-the-Month is so profitable, how about we test Book-of-the-Week… or maybe Book-of-the-Day.”
Do keep in touch.
Believe it or not, emailing your customer every day is considered "best practices" nowadays. But there's a caveat: The emails have to be good!ReplyDelete
I hate the term “Best Practices.” Especially the word” practice.”
Why do doctors PRACTICE medicine? I don’t want a guy “practicing” on me! (Why do they PRACTICE medicine and PERFORM surgery?
Great musicians get duded up in classy dresses and black or white tie and PERFORM symphonies, Bach Partitas, Beethoven Quartets. They practice wearing sweats in seedy halls and rooms.
In short, there ain’t no “best practices.” Only great performances.
Do keep in touch.
I much enjoyed this blog. I learned about direct marketing starting around 1980. For a time, I worked with a French woman who had worked for the Franklin Mint in PA, where she became fluent in English. She and I visited Winterthur insurance in Switzerland to plug my insurance company's product. We spoke English, of course, since I knew little French. After a brief period in which she and the guy spoke French, she laughed out loud. The Winterthur guy, figuring her as an American, had complimented her on her excellent FRENCH!ReplyDelete
Of great interest to all: Denny and I both wore 17" necks, although I was a 35" sleeve. I bought a Brooks Bros white shirt nearly 10 years ago--still in the wrapper. I loved Brooks Bros' leather pocket calendars, which included world maps and which they embossed with my initials.
More important than all this is that Denny and I both married extremely well.
Great hearing from you.
Love hearing tales and experiences from the workplace.
Do keep in touch.
Very true Denny. Since mailboxes are so full it's easy to forget these principles and copy everyone's bulk mailing practices. And thereby lose your customer's respect.ReplyDelete
Great hearing from you. It stroked my ego when a reader agrees with me. I love it when they disagree. E.g., in the good ole days I used to love irritating the hell out of readers by using the term “junk mail.” Some purists would go off on screeds about how I was diminishing our great industry.
You’ll be amused at my Junk (Junque) Mail post awhile back.
Do keep in touch.
I’d be fascinated to hear your Solo Stove story.
Do keep in touch.
I think I’ll forward this to Solo Stove’s marketing department.ReplyDelete
Dear Mr. Hatch—ReplyDelete
Thank you for another great column. I look forward to your wisdom and tales from your life of direct marketing adventures each week. A few years back I was hired as a contract copywriter for a major direct marketer of flowers, among other gift items and one of my jobs was to write the daily sales emails. My first day there, I looked at the schedule of mailings and was a little confused by their quantity (several a day), so I assumed they were going to different segments of their emailing lists. Nope! Everything went to everybody. A prospective buyer could get an email offering 30% off anything in the morning, 25% off everything around noon and 15% off other stuff in the evening. It was a moving target and a great way to put buyers off. I asked the marketer in charge to explain the strategy for these mailings were (assuming I was missing something BIG) and the response I got was a blank stare. Here I go, sounding like a grumpy old man, but this would never have flown in the days before dirt cheap email and web promotions when every contact had to earn and prove its “keep.” Maybe if the media was a little more “dear,” we’d have to return to real marketing. Just a thought
Dear Jack McCarthy,Delete
Your tale of different discount offers going out to the same customer on the same day is horrific. You hit the nail squarely on the head:
“THIS WOULD NEVER HAVE FLOWN IN THE DAYS BEFORE DIRT CHEAP EMAIL AND WEB PROMOTIONS WHEN EVERY CONTACT HAD TO EARN AND PROVE ITS ‘KEEP.’”
I have a minor nit to pick with you. Your line: “… in the days before dirt cheap email and web promotions…”
If this idiocy was going out to house names (not rented names) these promotions were not “dirt cheap.” They were FREE!
The discipline of direct mail—the huge cost-per-thousand—kept us all honest and profitable. And kept customers happy.
This is nuts… but I suspect very common.
(And the hotshot kids today call us geezers/direct mailers fuddy-duddies. Duh.)
Do keep in touch!
Nothing like the old days when direct marketers knew how to speak to people. Too many marketers now think volume will win for them. It doesn't. Years ago I belonged to the NRA. I purchased items from their magazines from time to time. Big mistake. They endlessly sent fund raising solicitations, so many that I cancelled my membership. They may still have support but we don't hear much from them given their chicanery and financial difficulties. Clearly for the best.ReplyDelete
Fascinating post! Thank You.
With the NRA, you’ve introduced a whole new dimension into this debate on blitzing the marketplace with messages. This is not about shirts and ties… the NRA is THE GUT ISSUE to many in the US of A:
“Hey, Gun Owners! They’re gonna come and take your guns away from you — the National Guard is gonna raid your house and confiscate the one thing that keeps your family safe from marauding Mexican rapists. Russian robbers and Chinese con artists! Don’t let this happen to you and your family! Give now to the NRA! Give tomorrow! Give a lot! Give often! What good is a bank account when your family is about to be maimed and killed and you have no way to stop it! GIVE! GIVE! GIVE!”
Thank goodness for the NRA’s “chicanery and financial difficulties.” Otherwise, there would be no stopping them or school shootings and mass murders.
Remember, the Seven Emotional Hot Buttons That Make People Act: FEAR-GREED-GUILT-ANGER-EXCLUSIVITY-SALAVATION-FLATTERY. The greatest of these is FEAR.
Here’s the current BIG FEAR BANDWAGON no one has figgered out: “YOU AND YOUR FAMILY ARE GONNA DIE IF YOU DON’T GET VACCINATED!!!!” The number dead as of today from Covid-19 is: 732,000. That’s seven-hundred-thirty-two-thousand souls—one out of every 437 Americans (thus far). GIVE! GIVE! GIVE! To VAXNOW!
NOTE 1: VAXNOW!’ is a (fictional) conglomerate of concerned direct marketing production companies who believe in calling attention to the desperate need for COVID-19 vaccinations for everyone! VAXNOW!s business model: PUBLICITY!—calling attention to this excruciating problem. We are raising money to make mailings that raise money to make mailings to raise money to make mailings… ad infinitum.
NOTE 2: (To my recollection & knowledge) only one legitimate fund raiser has made a huge success by using this technique: M.A.D.D. — Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Their entire business model: sending out mailings to raise money to make mailings to raise money to make mailings. The Emotional Hot Button: FEAR!
This legit (and worthwhile!) Ponzi scheme sends out gazillions of personalized return address labels that recipients can use on their personal envelopes that will be seen by everybody in the mail stream to remind them not to drive drunk and get designated teetotalling drivers to attend their boozy gatherings, parties and sporting events. Mom-‘n’-Pops Everywhere: Use these labels to save lives and make America a better, safer place! The main program is creating mailngs.
According to Charity Navigator: Salary of Key Persons: Adam Vanek, CEO, $211,564 (0.62% of Total Expenses); Vicki Knox, Interim CEO, COO $208,840 (0.31 of Total Expenses).
NOTE: Bob Blinick gave me the okay to run his email to me in this Comment Section. Thank you, Bob!ReplyDelete
About a gazillion years ago when I did some work with a magazine publisher, I learned about “renew at birth” (and other arcane) solicitations that try to get new subscribers to extend the term of their subscription, and/or to buy additional subs as gifts for friends, family and colleagues. With a “…Just say ‘YES’ and we’ll bill you later” initial promotion, the ‘renewal’ attempt would frequently accompany the invoice for the initial subscription.
Are Paul Fredrick’s tactics simply an example of the renew at birth concept run amok? Or the logical end game of RFM thinking where the frequency of re-mailing becomes asymptotic to 1 day based on 1 order? (BTW, my experience is that politicians and their organizations are some of the most egregious violators of WAY too much frequency of contact, and they exacerbate their transgressions by telling me that if I don’t contribute, the world may really spin off its axis and we will all be doomed.)
Enjoy your new shirts. I’m sure you look spiffy and elegant in them.
Robert (Bob) Blinick
Great letter. Thank you, thank you for taking the time to write.
My late boss and mentor, Walter Weintz, (of Reader’s Digest penny letter fame) used the term “Renewal at Birth” all the time. You stirred up a lot of memories!
May I have your permission to run it in the Comment Section to expand the debate.
Of course, I’ll say you gave me the okay to use it.
Hope all goes well.
Do keep in touch.
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