Catalog maverick Paul Hawken cautions, "There are no benchmarks," about the optimal number of catalogs to mail before giving up on a prospect. "It's all a value call." When looking at mailing costs, catalog businesses have to consider their average order and how customers behave once they come aboard. "What's the lifetime value of the customer? That determines whether you should spend more or less," says the founder of Smith & Hawken, in Mill Valley, Calif.

Catalogs Sent to Prospects Before Giving Up
(by percentage of catalog businesses)
1 to 2 catalogs 33%

3 to 4 catalogs 37%

5 to 6 catalogs 13%

More than 6 catalogs 17%

Source: "1992 Catalog Age Report" on catalog businesses, 43% with sales of less than $1 million; Stamford, Conn.