Direct Marketer of the Year Pat Corpora, president & CEO,
Every workday, Pat Corpora comes into the office at 7:30 a.m. and heads for the mailroom, where he sifts through the orders that have come in overnight. This physical connection with the mail, says Corpora, gives him “a sense of the business.” As president and CEO of HCI Direct, Corpora’s business for the past three years has been putting the customer in control of the Bensalem, Pa.-based company’s Silkies hosiery continuity program.
With nearly 25 years of direct marketing experience, Corpora is well suited for this challenge. And a challenge it is: When Corpora took over the helm of HCI Direct in February 2003, the direct marketer of women’s hosiery products had just emerged from Chapter 11.
The company was burdened with a number of both external and internal challenges.
Sales in the U.S. hosiery market dwindled 39 percent from 1997 to 2002, according to market research company Mintel Group. Fueling this downward spiral were new lycra technology that increased hosiery fiber strength, retailers cutting back shelf space in reaction to depressed sales, and the simple fact that women are wearing less pantyhose due to casual dress codes and the acceptance of pants and bare legs in the workplace.
Aggressive prospecting and rapid geographic expansion further left the company in distress. Customer service was virtually nonexistent, and the few reps and telephone lines the company did have were viewed as a cost center. Customers were joining the Silkies program, but were steadily cancelling, which meant HCI had to spend even more to acquire new customers. With no retention strategy in place, the business began to slide when its prospecting budget was cut in 2002.
The Continuity Challenge
Until the early 1990s, the traditional continuity program model made sense. Program members received monthly shipments until they canceled. The goal: To get as many customers as possible to pay for as many shipments as possible. It was marketing by inertia. The Internet, however, either has put continuities out of business, or, like HCI, forced them to rethink their business model.