Multimedia Strategy Helps Sure Fit

Multimedia Strategy Helps Sure FitByline: BETH NEGUS VIVEIROS

A multimedia effort combining print, television, catalogs and retail promotion has helped slipcover maker Sure Fit brand its own products so that they now contribute 75% of its revenue.

Founded in 1914, the company mostly sold Fieldcrest and Cannon products until only two years ago. And it sold mostly by retail, said Amy Tissot, direct marketing program director, speaking at the New England Mail Order Association's recent fall conference.

Sure Fit's first 16-page catalog effort was mailed in the fall of 1996 to 10,000 names. Its first print ad ran the following spring in Country Living magazine. A Web site was launched in 1999, and by 2001 the company expanded to four annual catalogs and television advertising.

The New York firm, which posted $55 million in sales last year, has a 2003 catalog budget of $15 million. Its general advertising budget is $11 million.

And that spending has paid off. Sure Fit now has 7 million names on its database, including 450,000 last-12-month buyers. Some 1.5 million subscribers receive its e-mail newsletter.

But the firm does face some channel conflict: Some retailers that carry Sure Fit products aren't crazy about the company selling direct. But the catalog does drive retail sales, and vice versa, noted Tissot.

The catalog's average order is $150.

Meanwhile, the company has retained a new ad agency, Lloyd & Co., which will begin a general campaign early next year.

Sure Fit's top publications for space ads include Better Homes & Gardens, Country Living and Good Housekeeping. FSIs in newspapers are currently being tested.

And television has performed well for Sure Fit. The Learning Channel, HGTV and Discovery are the top stations, and it had great luck placing spots on TLC's "Trading Spaces." Thanks to the show's runaway success, however, it's now out of Sure Fit's price range: rates went from a reasonable $6,000 to a pricey $90,000.

In addition, Sure Fit has milked public relations opportunities on TV, including an annual "Ugly Couch Contest." The winner, who receives $5,000, is announced on "Live With Regis & Kelly." The competition has generated more than 30,000 catalog requests.

Radio has been tested too, but did not do well, likely because the product needs to be displayed visually to pique customer curiosity, Tissot said.

One of the company's main challenges is to change the perception that slipcovers are old-fashioned, she noted.