Skin care entrepreneur marketing products by catalog to grow beyond Web

Christine Laureano, founder and chief formulator of Ba6 Christine Laureano, founder and chief formulator of Ba6 Botanicals, works on June 23, 2014 in her Hampton Bays studio. Photo Credit: Newsday / Audrey C. Tiernan

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Christine Laureano, founder of Hampton Bays-based Ba6 Botanicals, is competing for a sliver of the $100 billion skin care market.

When she started her business (pronounced basics) 14 years ago, there were far fewer competitors to her handmade, natural lotions and creams.

She launched online sales in 2011, but now with an eye on taking the business to the next level, she's trying to find another sales vehicle that will help her stand out and reach customers directly. Online just isn't enough, says Laureano, 52.

So she's turning to one of the oldest forms of direct-mail marketing: catalogs. "I hope [they'll] help me break through the noise," says Laureano, who recently mailed out a custom 14-page color catalog.

But she has her work cut out for her. Catalogs have been on a decline since their peak in 2007, when 19.6 billion were mailed, according to the Direct Marketing Association. That number fell to 11.9 billion in 2013, according to the DMA.

"Digital media definitely is a factor in the drop," says Jim Tilberry, owner of Tilberry Direct Marketing in Streamwood, Illinois, which helps inventors and small businesses get their products in catalogs. The economic downturn also played a role, he says.

That doesn't mean the catalog medium is going away, but, Tilberry says, "my hunch is it's never going to climb back to where it was."

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Still, Laureano says she herself loves catalogs, and with fewer to compete with, it may be a more personal and direct vehicle to reach customers.

TARGETING MAILINGS

She's keeping her mailing list targeted and tight, initially mailing just 150 to some of her best customers and prospects. So far, 20 percent of the recipients have ordered products, and she's recouped about half of her initial $1,800 investment.

"I have a very qualified list," says Laureano, who also runs a coaching business, Ba6 Business Consulting.

She offers a place on her website where customers can sign up and request a print or downloadable catalog. She also promotes sign-ups through her social media sites.

The catalog sign-up should be more prominently displayed on her Web pages, advises Christopher Ulrich, president of Direct Response Group, a Melville-based Internet marketing strategy firm.

"It should be bigger and more visible," he says. She should also consider offering an incentive to get people to request her catalog, he says.

Laureano says this could be a possibility down the line.

BOOSTING WEB SALES, TOO

Meanwhile, she's trying to grow Internet sales as well and hopes the catalog can help draw people to her website.

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She has experience with Web marketing from running her coaching business, which she started in 2007 in order to stay home with her two young children. At the time, her skin care business had grown too big to continue running out of her kitchen. But putting the children in day care wasn't an option, because in 1995, her 4-month-old daughter had died at day care; state investigators determined her death was due to negligence. "I wanted to do the right thing for my kids," Laureano said.

In 2010, when they were older and she started getting requests again for her skin care products, including from Southampton Hospital's Breast Health Center, she decided to relaunch the business. With her husband's help, they transformed their downstairs into a dedicated Good Manufacturing Practices-compliant production studio following FDA guidelines.

In 2012, she got a lucky break by getting her hydrating cream into gift bags given to Oscar nominees staying at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills, California, confirms Lisa Gal Bianchi, owner of LA-based Hollywood Swag Bag.

"I liked the fact it was a natural product," Bianchi says.

Laureano sells about 30 products including lotions and balms, and hopes to expand her aromatherapy line. She plans to mail out catalogs quarterly.

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Expanding her mailing list will be critical, Tilberry says, noting she has to put some marketing dollars into it, which can be expensive.

Testing is also key.

"She has to test and measure the costs of producing and sending these catalogs and determine how much revenue and profit they generate," Ulrich says.

AT A GLANCE

NAME: Ba6 Botanicals, Hampton Bays

OWNER: Christine Laureano

PRODUCTS: Skin care lotions, balms and other body care products

EMPLOYEES: 2 part-time

ANNUAL REVENUES: $40,000

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