A Cataloger's Next Realm
Why bother with the Web when you have a thriving $1 million catalog business and a niche market practically all to yourself?
Selina Yoon, president of Master Communications Inc. and creator of the Asia for Kids Web site, might have asked herself that question. But the former Procter & Gamble Co. marketing executive knew better.
"It's one of the distribution channels that cannot be ignored," says Yoon. As she tried to expand her Cincinnati-based mail-order company -- which sells books, videos, posters, and dolls celebrating Asian culture -- she took a good look at her market of high income, computer-savvy customers, mostly Asian-American families, adoptive parents, and educators.
Since 1996, Yoon's online commitment has evolved gradually, from a simple informational site on America Online to its fourth incarnation into a fully functional E-commerce business. "It's been a journey," says Yoon. Her newly upgraded site, now in beta testing, is easier to navigate and shop on than her previous site.
Yoon's Web adventures have included missteps, such as hiring a less-than-competent Web consultant, and anguishing over which technology to purchase. The move to the Web has also put new demands on her staff. "You have to respond to all the E-mails and process all the orders," says Yoon, explaining that online, people demand quicker responses.
Still, even as Yoon gears up to spend $100,000 this year for a three-person Web consulting team and one full-time Web employee who is updating their database, she doesn't dare neglect her catalog business.
Web sales represent less than 1% of her total. And, she realizes, many of her customers still like reading a print catalog.
But Yoon wants to induce more of these catalog customers to complete their transactions online to reduce telephone expenses. On her last catalog mailing, her Web address was prominently displayed, resulting in a flood of new orders over the Web. The Asia for Kids Web site is also a great laboratory for trying out new products that were too late or too risky to make it into the 64-page print catalog.
Her advice to other companies moving online? Figure everything will take you twice as long and cost twice as much as you expected.
By James Ott
This article was originally published in the May 24, 1999 print edition of Business Week's frontier. To subscribe, please see our subscription policy.
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