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Mail Order To The Stars

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Love Of Sci-Fi Spawns Multimillion Dollar Business

If you're the kind of person who feels compelled to buy a set of Spock ears at 3 a.m. or you simply cannot live another day without adding to your collection of Star Wars memorabilia, David Blaise wants to hear from you. The 25 telephones at his Reading, Pa.-based national mail order company, 800-Trekker, Inc., are ready to fulfill your oddball whims around the clock, seven days a week.

In March 1994, the former eastern Pennsylvania radio personality stumbled onto the idea that science fiction merchandise should sell well by mail order. Time quickly proved him right — and rocketed his idea into a $4 million a year business. His company currently mails two catalogs: 800-Trekker, a sci-fi products book which derives its name from Star Trek but which also sells items from the X-Files, Dr. Who and Star Wars, among others, and Brainstorms, a catalog he acquired last summer that sells a mix of science-and humor-related products.

Blaise formerly mailed the official catalog of USA Network's Sci-Fi Channel and a catalog called Soitenly Stooges, which sold Three Stooges memorabilia and videos. He recently gave up the rights to Soitenly Stooges to the Three Stooges' heirs.

Acquiring the Brainstorms catalog, which had a circulation of about 7 million when he purchased it, made perfect sense, Blaise said, because his current lineup "is known for selling some strange and off-the-wall products," and so is Brainstorms. The new catalog also adds greater stability to the company.

"I view each catalog as spokes on a wheel, and the more spokes we have, the smoother the ride," Blaise said. "When we only had one spoke, it was pretty bumpy"

The 37-year-old company president can attribute the company's success to several factors: He is a sci-fi fan and is only slightly older than most of his customers, who are predominately men between the ages of 18 and 34, so he understands the market. He has few real competitors in the United States; fan clubs and a few other catalogs sell science fiction merchandise, but none carries as extensive a line or sells as much. And he has developed licensing agreements for products which keep customers calling back.

Faithful customers like Frank Colosimo, a 22-year-old computer technician and salesperson from Independence, Ohio, have helped smooth the way for Blaise. A die-hard fan of the British sci-fi series, Dr. Who, Colosimo has purchased 64 items from 800-Trekker, mostly books and videos. He counts on the company to supply him with hard-to-find items.

"They've always been the only provider of that merchandise in the U.S," Colosimo said. "They're the most reliable, and the biggest supplier. I couldn't be without my Dr. Who stuff."

Success didn't come easily for Blaise. An only child, he watched his mother support him and herself on income from a mail order swimwear business. Although he had a taste for science fiction, young David had his heart set on going into radio and never imagined that he might someday be selling science fiction merchandise for a living.

He landed his first radio job at 15, and while he was still in high school Blaise was an on-air personality at small, local radio stations. After high school, he quickly worked his way up to the most plum on-air time slots, then became program director. But by the ripe age of 20, he believed he had conquered almost everything radio had to offer. He enrolled in the communications program at Northwestern University and earned a bachelor's degree in 1985.

Despite his desire to leave his radio career behind him, after graduation Blaise took a job as a production director at a jazz station in Philadelphia. When the whole staff was fired a year later, he vowed to divorce himself from the industry.

"If my career was going to take a nosedive again, it was going to be because of my own doing rather than the whims of someone else," he said.

Between 1986 and 1989, Blaise owned and ran an audio production company, doing radio commercials for regional clients. He also produced telephone "hold" messages, and his voice can still be heard telling callers to be patient while awaiting service at the Berks County Chamber of Commerce and Reading-Berks AAA. But the business floundered because, Blaise said, while he had the technical skills necessary to do the job, he did not have the business know-how to keep the venture afloat.

"It's a tragic flaw of many people who start their own business," he said. "After that revelation, I began educating myself."

His next business, Design House International, planted the seed for 800-Trekker. The promotional products company got a licensing agreement with the BBC and began selling Dr. Who mugs, first wholesaling them to the public television station, then retailing them to fans. When Blaise decided to publish a newsletter of Dr. Who merchandise, he got 10,000 names of potential customers from the BBC — a gold mine.

While the newsletter proved successful, Blaise thought that a catalog might work better. The first catalog, which sold the same merchandise as the newsletter, got four times the response as the newsletter. That success led Blaise to sell Star Trek merchandise, and quickly the business entered a new galaxy. 800-Trekker was incorporated in 1994, and DHI was sold last July.

Blaise came up with a clever way to market 800-Trekker: Have the toll-free telephone number match the name of the business. When his long distance carrier told him the number was not available because someone else was using it, he eventually tracked it to a small Illinois company. When Blaise discovered that the company president was a science fiction fan, he started bargaining to have the number transferred to him.

"I told his secretary that I'd get him a Star Trek communicator pin if we could wrap up the deal in the next half-hour," he said. "I said if we could wrap it up more quickly, I'd get him one that makes noise. He called back and we had the number transferred. I was so grateful that I sent him two pins."

800-Trekker got a big boost in 1997 with the 20th anniversary movie theater re-release of the Star Wars trilogy. Sales soared the first week of the re-release as hungry fans called for merchandise and collectibles.

The momentum pushed Blaise into finding bigger digs for the company and its 18 employees, based in Reading, a city of 80,000 in eastern Pennsylvania.

"Reading is a perfect place for a company like ours," Blaise said. "We're close to all the major metropolitan areas, and the cost of living is good here. My family and my wife Claire's family are from this area. With a business like ours, it doesn't matter where we're located."

Despite the long hours he puts in, Blaise isn't all business. His office is decorated with Star Trek and Stooges lithographs, and a 6-foot Dalek from Dr. Who watches over his shoulder as he works. The boss isn't above donning a Star Trek outfit on Halloween. And at home, with his wife and two young children, Blaise rushes to get dibs on the Star Trek phaser remote control, which makes a blasting noise when the channel is changed.

"It's cool and useful," Blaise said with boyish glee.

Caption: David Blaise's 800-Trekker and Brainstorms catalogs

Plenty Of Room in Booming Market

There seems to be a catalog for everything imaginable. Despite this apparent glut, experts say there's room for new entrants in the $290 billion (yes, that billion with a B) mail order industry, which grew 7 percent from 1995 to 1996 alone. John Schulte, chairman of the National Mail Order Association in Minneapolis, Minn., says even the smallest companies can use the power of technology to sell products to a global market, just like the big guys.

While large mail order companies typically carry a wide variety of items — Sears made an institution, of its general-interest catalog — smaller companies like 800-Trekker are staking their claims in niche markets overlooked by big players.

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  • APA 6th ed.: Rohland, Pamela (November 1998). Mail Order To The Stars. Income Opportunities p. 38.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Rohland, Pamela. "Mail Order To The Stars." Income Opportunities [add city] November 1998, 38. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Rohland, Pamela. "Mail Order To The Stars." Income Opportunities, edition, sec., November 1998
  • Turabian: Rohland, Pamela. "Mail Order To The Stars." Income Opportunities, November 1998, section, 38 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=Mail Order To The Stars | url= | work=Income Opportunities | pages=38 | date=November 1998 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=18 April 2024 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=Mail Order To The Stars | url= | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=18 April 2024}}</ref>