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Friday, February 20, 2009


Based on my 35 years as a list/data broker, I have tried to convey to readers the danger of how junk mailers, and non-junk mail companies, recklessly collect, manipulate, and sell your names and personal data. It is rare that I can digress and talk about a junk mail company other than to criticize.

Vermont Country Store has been around for 64 years doing what most good catalogs do best: unearth the unusual for its customers. But Lyman Orton, the proprietor, resurrected an item recently that is sure to spice up the demure Vermont company, and bring back memories of my catalog days. I’ll explain the resurrected part later.

Lyman, age 64, added sex aids to the pages of his catalog known for selling heavy-duty toenail clippers and pine tar soap, according to an article on MSNBC. Items like pleasure gels, arousal creams and a six-speed vibrator. In case you aren’t familiar, that’s another name for dildo. But six-speeds? And that is where the “resurrected” part comes in.

When I was director of marketing for the Sunset House catalog some 30 years ago, we received a letter from one of our female customers who exclaimed that we had saved her marriage by introducing a six-inch vibrator to our catalog. In over two pages of hand-written copy, she praised this new item as if it saved her life, not her marriage.

The letter was circulated among top executives with everyone, of course, adding their own personal comments. The episode was talked about for a while, then forgotten. That is, until we received a second letter from the same customer. It was much more serious.

She started by thanking us again profusely for selling the six-inch vibrator in our catalog. She even stated that her marriage was still as healthy as before, but she did have a request. She had heard somewhere there was a nine-inch vibrator available. She implored us to please include this new version in our next catalog.

The catalog’s merchandise people had already reviewed the item and it was front-and-center in the next edition. Needlessly to say, we were thanked for coming through again.

It’s nice to write a feel-good story like this, and there will be a follow-up in the future reporting on how Vermont Country Store eliminates junk mail through predictive modeling, a practice that many junk mailers shun. In the meantime, visit their site here.

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