Welcome to The Idea Factory

Welcome to the Idea Factory for April 13, 2004, a Target Marketing Group publication from the editors of Catalog Success magazine. Every other week we’ll bring you tips and strategies to help you achieve cataloging success.

Catalog Circulation: Take a Critical Look at Your House File Maintenance

Your house file is your biggest asset. How well you maintain those data is critical to your success. Yet often catalogers don’t validate or re-examine their processes that were initially set up with their service bureaus. As your business evolves, be sure that what you set up years ago still meets your needs.

When you take an active role in your file maintenance, you’ll discover some surprises, which may compel you to devise improvements. A great way to get started is to plan bi-annual meetings with your service bureau to review in detail how the two of you are handling every step and segment of your file. Some key questions to ask both yourself and your service bureau include:

  • Is your do-not-mail/do-not-rent process really working? Track customers from your database through the service bureau process to ensure that the end result is correct. Also, be sure you’re suppressing all do-not-mails in your merge so these records don’t inadvertently get mailed from a rental list.
  • Are you processing more records than necessary? Since most steps at the service bureau are based on how many records you pass, archive inactive records to save money.
  • Can any steps in the process be combined or eliminated to reduce costs?
  • Are there any new products (e.g., address hygiene tools) on the market that will improve the integrity of your data/addresses?
  • When you review both the clean and duplicate listings generated by your merge, are you satisfied with the results?
  • Do your NCOA results warrant running this process more or less often?
  • When was the last time you looked up sample customers in your system to be sure the number of orders and dollar information match the post-update data?
  • If you look at your segmentation strategy, does it still make sense or can it be improved somehow?
  • Are there audits in place to ensure that data you sent to the service bureau are being captured accurately and in full? Specifically, are all records sent to your service bureau accounted for? Do the total records, orders and dollars (post update) match what you sent to be updated? There will be some record consolidation in the update process. But there should be an accounting of what went in, what was consolidated and what came out.
  • In this same vein, are you comparing new update counts to prior update counts? If there are unusual swings, there may be a problem. Finally, check the results of your update to the results of your mailings for reasonableness. For example, do your 0-6 month one-time buyers closely match your new-buyer counts for the same period?


While this is just a sampling of questions to ask your staff and service bureau, it’ll get you started. As you become more proactive in your catalog’s circulation processes, the communication between you and your service bureau will improve. It’s likely your service bureau’s personnel also will become more proactive with suggestions and new ideas