Patagonia is able to ignore the fundamental precepts of direct-mail marketing because it is not a mail-order business. Its success is due to a highly dedicated and fiercely loyal backbone of more than 200 specialty dealers. Mail-order sales make up only a small percentage of total revenues. The catalog was not designed as a mail-order catalog per se, but rather as a conventional tool to assist the dealer in selling Patagonia products. It does that job very well, as dealers will attest. A true mail-order catalog would do them more harm than good by encouraging customers to order the products direct.

So it would be unwise for anyone to try to start up a mail-order business on the Patagonia model, ignoring all the rules. If you do, you will almost certainly go broke.


You may recall a column Paul Hawken wrote for us a few months back on the subject of problems in business. Businesses will always have problems, he argued, so you shouldn't even try to eliminate them because you can't. Rather, the goal should be to make sure your company has good problems as opposed to bad ones.

Well, this month, we have a good problem: too many thoughtful letters from readers. That's certainly better than having too few, but it is definitely a problem in that we don't have room to publish all we'd like to. Instead, we'll have to settle for a sample, with apologies to those writers we don't mention.

What surprised us most was the overwhelming response to three articles in our April issue. We often get flooded with mail about one piece -- Jim Koch's "Portrait of the CEO as Salesman" in March, for example. But seldom do we have two articles, let alone three, that strike a letter-writing chord among large numbers of readers. It was also interesting to note how different was the response to each article. Our cover story, "Heartbreak Hill," clearly touched deep emotions, eliciting some of the most passionate letters we have ever received. We've decided to feature them in our new Focus section (below). In the future, we will be using this section each month to conduct a dialogue with readers about a specific issue raised in letters to the editor.

Unfortunately, we'll have to save most of the other letters for another time. We would like to publish two, however, that gave us pause. One came in response to Paul B. Brown's article on Patagonia Inc., "The Anti-Marketers," in the March issue.