Tuesday, November 29, 2005

In the Mailbag

In the Mailbag

About this time of year, the volume of direct mail advertising increases noticeably.

While we get plenty of mail order catalogs, we also get tons of mail from "local" businesses.

At my house, we got ads from the following businesses:

  • Globe Drug / Cherokee Station Business District
  • Schnucks
  • Rent A Center
  • Big Lots
  • Verizon Wireless "EasyPay"
  • RentWay
  • Family Dollar
  • Aldi
  • Church's Chicken
  • Hardee's
  • Lee's Famous Recipe Chicken
  • Popeyes Chicken and Biscuits
  • KFC
  • Pizza Hut
  • Central Cash Advance, 6637 Manchester Ave.
  • MattressFirm
  • Midas
  • CarX
  • Elicia's Pizza
  • Shop N Save
  • Dalco Home Remodeling
  • Save A Lot
  • BCK Communications
  • Papa John's Pizza

    With the significant exception of the Cherokee Station mailer that is full of independent businesses, this selection of mailers targeted to the 63118 ZIP code is skewed toward low-end retail, and fast food. Notice how many fried chicken places, pizza places, rent-to-own stores and discount grocery stores are represented.

    Of course, I guess I can't really complain - I shop at many of these places, or similar chains. I probably spend more, unfortunately, at dollar stores than I do at independently-owned local businesses.

    These ads reflect the perceived buying power of my neighborhood's demographics - as opposed to, say, the Arch City Chronicle's target market.

    I like to think I'm a "bridge" between -- both highly educated, and lower-income! I guess that's the trouble with being in grad school - or, for that matter, being a low-level bureaucrat. You get champagne schooling, but still get Busch beer money. Or, in my case, sparkling apple cider tastes, but root beer money. ;-)

    According to 2000 Census data for the City of St. Louis, in Benton Park West:

  • Median Household and Median Family Income was about $24,400 -- several thousand dollars less than the Citywide median...
  • But because of the high population density, the "Income Density" was actually higher than Citywide: $75 million per square mile for BPW; $68 million per square mile citywide.
  • Still, about one-third the population was considered to be in poverty, nearly 19% of households received public assistance, and more than 20% of the workforce was unemployed.
  • More positively, over 20% of the working population commuted via public transportation; and over 19% carpooled. Both figures are considerably higher than the respective Citywide figures of 10% and 13%. While Citywide, workers driving alone made up 69% of commuters, in BPW they're only about 52%. There should be many people willing to walk to stores in the area, because they already walk to the bus stops.

    So, there certainly are opportunities for independent businesses like those on Cherokee to take advantage of the community's buying power. That's why places like the South Side Outlet and Black Bear Bakery are great. Admittedly, the first comes from a more institutional point-of-view, a social entreprenership initiative of nearby SSDN; while the latter comes from the anarchist view promoted at other nearby places like CAMP and StL-IMC. It's a fascinating contrast. Combine those with mainstays like the two Globe Drug locations, the Casa Loma Ballroom, and Southside TV & Video; plus the array of Hispanic-owned businesses, and Cherokee Station is really a fascinating microcosm of the diversity of today's South St. Louis. One new biz is Tension Head, a punk/metal music store.

    The next step is to try to gradually replace some of the check-cashing places and rent-to-own stores with independent businesses, or maybe even a few more mainstream franchises. While permanent shifts in retail mean that JCPenney, Woolworth's, Walgreens, etc will never return to Cherokee Station, they can be replaced by local businesses instead.

    Although, as noted by Steven Fitzpatrick Smith, there may need to be some attitude adjustments for things to happen faster.

    Benton Park West businesses
    have a bright future! I'm sure of it.

    Claire Nowak-Boyd said...

    Interesting post. We get the same kind of crap, with a couple of extra coupons from Lowe's thrown in because we just moved. (I still haven't gotten around to mailing those back to those eminent domainin' chumps yet....I don't want the dang things.) Since we just bought the place, we also get a lot of official-looking letters designed to trick us into thinking that they're from our mortgage lender. They're from companies who want to sell us life insurance based on our mortgage. I discard the letters, but send back the "POSTAGE PAID" envelopes empty to charge the companies postage for wasting my time.

    In addition to that kind of stuff, we got a lot of religion-related junk mail when we lived in the Adams Grove section of Forest Park Southeast. We think that most of it was a result of our apartment's previous tenant, since a portion of those mailings came addressed to her. Still, I have to wonder if some of it was just targeted at us because we were in a very poor, predominantly black area. "Sorry we missed you! Call us!" handwritten notes from a local Catholic service organization regularly popped up in our mailbox, and the man from the Christian mission on our corner was forever trying to get us to come to his church by offering us a meal. Were those mailers also targeting us based on where we lived? I don't know for sure, but it wouldn't surprise me at all.

    The single most offensive junk mail we received, though, was mail sent to us by Rudman & Smith LLC, a law firm that operates a hotline 24/7. The letter began, "Dear Prospective Client: It is our understanding through public records that a criminal charge may have been filed against you. Therefore, the threat of a conviction, accompanying fine and/or jail time is real." (Those words were actually bold in the letter. That is their emphasis.) OF ALL THE GARBAGE, all the offensive assumptions, these guys sent us mail assuming that because we lived in a very poor, mostly black neighborhood, there'd be a good chance we would have had criminal charges filed against us! I guess ambulance-chasing alone doesn't pay enough for Rudman & Smith, so they have to aggressively send out confusing mailers based on racial stereotypes to make their money. What an upstanding company!

    Anonymous said...

    Over in more middle-income SW City, the indies have their own mailing, the "South City Shopper." But otherwise, the glossy mailed ads are mostly chains too, just more big box stores, and many without any City location.

    Joe said...

    Yeah, I've seen the South City Shopper. I wonder why they don't distribute it to areas east of Grand though? Several businesses located on Grand or east of Grand advertise in it.

    I guess it's a matter of maximizing return on ad investments.

    Umar Lee said...

    I spend a lot of time shopping at low-end retail because I am trying to save money. I do believe in supporting indie business, but cannot always afford to do so, and that sucks but that’s how it is. When you have more money you can be more ideological about your spending habits.

    Joe said...

    I really appreciate everybody's insightful comments!

    One way to support small business AND get low prices is to shop at Soulard Market. We're trying to do that more, and it's amazing how much variety and diversity there is at the Market on a Saturday morning.

    Trouble is, the Market is very much a "destination" shopping experience. If I need to just pick up a few things, I'll most likely stop at the Walgreens, Schnucks or Family Dollar on Grand.

    I should probably try Globe Drug, though. I understand they're open until 8 weeknights, and it's much closer to my house.