Pat Corpora, president & CEO, HCI Direct
...Pat Corpora, president & CEO, HCI Direct
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.
"Consumers don't really like the old, traditional continuity program that says, 'I'm going to ship you stuff when I feel like shipping you stuff.' It's antiquated," reasons Corpora
Indeed, since arriving at HCI Direct
overarching strategy has been to put the customer in control of the Silkies'
continuity program.Along the way, he's
touched and reshaped every facet of HCI's
The Rodale YearsAs a marathon runner and cyclist, Corpora already had an avid interest in health, fitness and nutrition by the time he graduated from Moravian College, a small liberal arts college in Bethlehem, Pa., with a degree in accounting in 1978.After a quick year-and-a-half stint in the accounting department of a local retailer, he was hired by Emmaus, Pa.-based Rodale Inc. as a project accountant in March 1980.
was a natural fit."I thought my personal lifestyle really blended well with what [the company] believed in, and I thought it would be an interesting place to work.It certainly met every expectation I ever had," he
It was at Rodale
received much of his direct marketing education under the tutelage of Direct Marketing Association
Hall of Famer Bob Teufel and publishing whiz John Griffin.
...Corpora worked his way up the ranks to become circulation director of Prevention magazine,Rodale's largest and most profitable magazine at the time.More promotions followed: In 1984, he assumed the responsibility of marketing director and then vice president of marketing for Rodale's book division.In 1990, he was named president of the book division, and in the next 10 years grew Rodale's book business from $30 million to $250 million.
In 1999, he
added Internet responsibilities to his
curriculum vitae as managing director of Rodale's Interactive division.
An Offer Too Good to RefuseAfter 20 years at Rodale, Corpora moved on to America Online (AOL) in 2000, where he spent the better part of three years as senior vice president of marketing.
It was during this brief tenure at AOL
that a recruiter looking for someone to head a direct marketing company in the Philadelphia region approached him.Corpora recalls finding the offer interesting because it was a position that would bring a much broader breadth of responsibilities than he
currently had at AOL
, and be more reminiscent of his
duties at Rodale
.The location was also attractive, as it was close to his
hometown in the Lehigh Valley.Also tempting, notes Corpora, was "the pure direct marketing environment ... and the company was sizeable enough that you can do things, but not too large that it would be overwhelming."
Then came the catch: "They said, 'By the way [the company] sells women's hosiery,'" recalls Corpora
."I had to think about that a little bit."Corpora
did a fair amount of due diligence on the company."I came in with my eyes wide open that there were a lot of issues to deal with, but I thought it was worth the challenge. ...There were enough key assets that the company could be successful."Among HCI's
assets, says Corpora
, were strong customer and employee bases, and a good direct marketing infrastructure that could eventually expand beyond pantyhose.Corpora
bags, moved back to the Lehigh Valley and assumed the helm of HCI Direct
in February 2003.
Mapping Out a Course of Action
arrived at HCI Direct
set about reworking a company in decline.
The next few months, Corpora
spent much of his
time holding detailed operating review meetings with all the major areas and functions of the company.
also brought in reinforcements, surrounding himself with a management team of skilled direct marketing professionals.Karen Arbegast and Bob Keppel, both of whom had previously worked at AOL and Rodale, joined Corpora as vice president of marketing and vice president of international, respectively.
...Having skilled direct marketing professionals has been a key focus for Corpora, who has complemented existing managerial staff with additional recruits from Franklin Mint, Lenox and other direct marketing companies.In his first 12 months as president and CEO, Corpora also started putting together a three-year plan for the company.
The first order was stabilizing the core business through new acquisition efforts, most notably by: increasing mail frequency from two to three large drops a year to monthly hotline mailings; retention changes, including win-back and customer save programs; outsourcing of its list and insert business to list services company Direct Media; improved collection efforts; increased package insert catalog business; and negotiation of a new credit facility with PNC bank
also set about to change the company culture, by establishing corporate goals, business reviews, incentive plans and management training.
As Karen Arbegast recalls: "Pat
really defined the company as a direct marketing company serving the women's market."
To get at the root cause of customer dissatisfaction with the Silkies
program, the management team enlisted the help of global management consulting firm, Kurt Salmon Associates
to conduct an extensive, quantitative phone survey of its customers,many of whom are women 50 and older who are "more North Carolina, than California," says Corpora
describes: "If you joined Silkies pantyhose several years ago, you'd get a free pair of control top pantyhose.
The customers had changed over the years for a number of reasons, and the Silkies pantyhose program hadn't," says Corpora
, who decided a major overhaul of the company's hosiery continuity program was imperative for HCI's survival and growth.
To run a successful direct marketing business, Corpora reasons, managers need to be active direct response consumers themselves.So, he
suggested both upper and middle-level managers join the Gevalia Kaffe coffee club, and expense it.Says Corpora
: "I'm not shy to say that to some degree we've modeled a lot of the things we did after Gevalia.
...Referring to direct marketing copywriter and former Target Marketing Editor in Chief, Denny Hatch, Corpora explains: "I've always been a big believer that, and Denny Hatch has always said, 'good direct marketers know how to steal smart.' We're not inventing something that's never been done here.
Because customers might switch from monthly to quarterly shipments, Corpora
explains, it took a while to read the test.
Even though it took two years, Corpora
insisted everything be tested before it rolled out the program.
Testing is one of the "benefits and crutches of direct marketing," says Corpora
"There are several hundred thousand people now who actively manage their account online," points out Corpora
.Indeed, the site, which averages 400,000 hits per day, marked $1 million in shipped sales in June.Says Corpora
: "The Internet, for us and for any continuity marketer, is a valuable tool."
An equally important part of Corpora's
plan to stabilize the business has been to turn the company's lack of investment in customer service on its head.In the past, HCI
notoriously had been difficult to contact, resulting in customer frustration, cancellations and the threat of legal action.The toll-free number rarely was published on invoices or late notices, recalls Corpora, adding that the only way to find it was to dig out a customer service piece or call the telephone directory service.
According to Corpora
, previous management considered customer service as an expense."I just thought that was a very antiquated way of thinking, especially today," he
"The whole theme has really been 'put the customer in control,' because if we don't we're not going to be in business in the next 10 years, or even the next five years," Corpora
As employees make business decisions and contemplate new initiatives, Arbegast says Corpora
reminds them to ask themselves: "Would I recommend Silkies to a friend?"
But when they can't get a hold of you, they call the state attorney general or the better business bureau, and that's when you really create problems," stresses Corpora
To stop Silkies'