A tireless promoter, Gail Baird is out to prove that direct mail is booming overseas. But her creation, Shop the World by Mail -- a catalog of catalogs -- was a tough sell. "It was like trying to go to the moon," she says of her attempts in 1989 to attract U.S. catalogers. Today, though, she carries about 40 American titles in the master catalog she mails to 600,000 English-speaking consumers in Europe, South America, Asia, and Australia.

"Shop the World reaches the elite -- English speakers with a fax and a Visa card. I get orders from every corner of the world," attests Spiro Vassilopoulos of Mary Laura's, a jewelry catalog in Albuquerque.

Even very small U.S. catalogers express interest in international marketing, and services are springing up to help them. Last October the U.S. Department of Commerce launched its American Catalog House in Osaka, Japan. The showcase of consumer catalogs wasn't your usual trade mission. The participants provided product samples and 250 copies of their catalogs, but all 118 catalogers stayed home. Japanese staffers helped customers with bilingual order forms and faxed orders directly to the U.S. companies, along with English-language mailing lists of prospects.

The promise of hassle-free orders drew L.L. Bean and Lands' End as well as such little-known catalogs as the Grizzlies, a teddy-bear maker in Media, Pa. The Grizzlies' Frances Andrews says, "It's the easiest possible way to test a market." And the price to participate, $475 for the three-month event, was right.

USA Catalog Exhibits, in Houston, charges $595 for most shows, and it travels to countries off the beaten trade-show path. September's Vietnam show generated 3,000 trade leads for 87 companies -- mostly industrial marketers.

USA Catalog wins praise for the quality of its leads; attendees complete a detailed registration form. Omniglow, a manufacturer of light sticks for commercial fishing, in Pompton Plains, N.J., sends its brightly colored flyers in lieu of a catalog. Still, Omniglow sales director Bob Savage reports that through the shows, the company has gained distributors in Chile, Australia, Poland, Malaysia, and several other countries.

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Catalogs Going Global
Have you tested or are you actively pursuing international marketing?

Yes 27%

No, but get significant number of international orders, anyway 26%

No, but considering 18%

No, not interested 29%

Source: "The 1995 Catalog Age Report," Cowles Business Media, Stamford, Conn., December 1994