Pop quiz: when was the last time the words “Restoration Hardware” crossed your mind? For most of us, the answer would probably be not lately – at least, not until we read the morning headlines. There, it turns out, we find at least half a dozen stories, including this prominent, much-cited New Yorker piece, questioning the wisdom of going all in on old-school direct mail.
Now, I’m not at all averse to direct mail. It has a role to play, and we can’t argue with the fact that consumers consistently buy more products when they have a physical catalog to leaf through compared with a digital only presentation of merchandise. That being said, it’s hard to overlook the environmental impact and significant production costs of a 3,300 page catalog. Factor in the understanding that direct mail at best generates a 4-5 % conversion rate and, as an added bonus, Restoration Hardware’s catalog does not contain product dimensions – a fairly critical consideration for the home improvement set! –and you find yourself in a position where it’s not exactly clear how this marketing decision makes sense.
And yet…there Restoration Hardware is, in The New Yorker. If we look at the New Yorker’s readership and Restoration Hardware’s target market, we’ll find considerable overlap among the two groups. I wouldn’t be surprised if at least a few New Yorker readers went in search of the Restoration Hardware catalog specifically because they wanted to see what all the fuss is about; these are likely to be the high-income buyers who won’t mind dropping a few thousand on the casually-deconstructed wing chair everyone’s talking about.
What appeared at first glance to be a nonsensically grandiose gesture may in fact be a very strategic marketing decision by Restoration Hardware. Could this be the tangible equivalent of a Super Bowl ad, where a huge investment in creating buzz pays dividends over the long term? Only time will tell – but as business owners, we should be watching.