May 12, 2014

An Open Letter To Catalog CEOs From Don Libey

Recall yesterday's post (click here). I asked for email feedback. If you have valid and interesting feedback, even if your feeeback 100% disagrees with my thesis, please forward it to me (kevinh@minethatdata.com). If the response is well written and offers reasonable and new insights, I will reprint it on this blog.

One of the responses came from Mr. Don Libey. With his permission, I am reprinting this for you to read.



Dear Catalog CEO:

I have been an advocate for you—the catalog entrepreneur—for over 35 years. I’ve managed or owned over 30 different catalog brands; made contributions to education with the former DMA of “the day” that benefited your ability to grow and prosper; taught over 30,000 people worldwide through my NCOF, DMB and private seminars on catalog marketing, RFM and strategic planning; was a founder of the American Catalog Mailers Association (ACMA) and even had the pleasure of naming the organization; sat on the boards of dozens of large catalog companies in the US and Europe; written 17 books and hundreds of articles for the catalog industry; created a couple thousand successful catalog products; and been an advisor and M&A intermediary for hundreds of catalog companies and a lot of deals. I am an experienced, wily, catalog silverback who is still advising and growing companies because I care about them.

After all of that catalog experience, I have read—for the first time ever—the most rational and common-sense solution to the enormous problem that Kevin Hillstrom has so accurately diagnosed. I was there when the co-op databases were born and the handwriting was on the wall from day one: you—the catalog owner and CEO—would wind up with a greatly weakened customer database and you would pay dearly over time for diminishing performance. Everything Kevin Hillstrom has said in his prescient article of May 12, 2014 is absolutely accurate and true. Deny the validity of his futurist vision and you will surely experience further margin erosion and the end of your era.

Hillstrom has presented a solution: a cooperative solution putting you in control. It is the first innovative, common sense solution I have seen since the 1990s when a few catalog people began thinking about how to influence the postal “partner” and the force that was to ultimately become the ACMA was given birth. The great weakness of our catalog industry has always been our independence and our inability to create our own “special interests” to benefit our catalogs.  It takes time, energy and a lot of money to have a place at the American business table.  The catalogers have always been 20,000 individual, small businesses operating alone and in secret; now, you are far fewer in number and you are weak.  What you have reaped is the result of that insular history and innate cheapness.

Don’t shoot the messenger, however. I have no relationship or business interest with Hillstrom, but I do know the truth when it is described by someone with honest vision, and I also recognize the BS when “trusted partners” speak. Whether you or any of the “trusted partners” that are using you for their survival have the cojones to admit it or not, Hillstrom has clearly seen the inevitable future and is the only one I know—anywhere in the world—who is willing to tell you the truth and sound the alarm.  Either you change your business model and reclaim your advantage or you are doomed to irrelevance. Your “trusted partners” are already picking your bones.

Don Libey
Catalog Advisor and Intermediary
Libey LLC
Ocala, Florida