Catalogers & Publishers Get ‘Lucky’ as Their Mail Gets a Valuable Second Life

I recently took a trip to Sonoma County, Calif. While I was there, I learned of an innovation with a firm called REMAG that would have consumers return their used, mailed catalogs and magazines to REMAG-administered kiosks and recycling collection bins in test store locations. By scanning a barcode on the label of a returned catalog or magazine at the kiosk location, the consumer can receive multiple coupons of their choice for a future purchase from a publisher or catalog, a wide variety of store items, or other kiosk marketing sponsor-partner.

I recently took a trip to Sonoma County, Calif., and while the trip involved some sight-seeing among my business goings-on, it also had its share of personal visits to the local grocer, a nearby store called Lucky.

Lucky is part of a store chain owned by a firm called SaveMart, another California-based food retailer. SaveMart operates both Lucky and SaveMart in 243 store locations throughout California.

While I was there, I learned of an innovation with a firm called REMAG that would have consumers return their used, mailed catalogs and magazines to REMAG-administered kiosks and recycling collection bins in test store locations. By scanning a barcode on the label of a returned catalog or magazine at the kiosk location, the consumer can receive multiple coupons of their choice for a future purchase from a publisher or catalog, a wide variety of store items, or other kiosk marketing sponsor-partner. It’s not that much different from returning cans and bottles to a kiosk, except catalogs and magazines don’t come with deposits to be redeemed—consumers instead are rewarded with coupons for recycling.

It struck me how much of a win/win/win this is for everyone, and made me curious as to whether or not REMAG, which is a two-year-old company, is set to take off.

Think about all the benefits that are accrued here among stakeholders:

The consumer gets a handily located recycling kiosk just as they are entering a food retail location for this highly desired grade of recovered paper—old catalogs and magazines (OMG). OMG is highly valued since its fibers are usually long, dense and strong, making it a valuable component of subsequent manufactured recycled paper products. For their efforts, the customers are awarded a discount, coupon or other incentive to purchase from the very companies and brands they frequent.

For the retailer, REMAG kiosks are a great way to attract new customers and reward customer loyalty. The retailer also generates revenue for the valuable OMG that is recovered at the kiosk, alongside the customer purchases made during the store visit. In addition, with five cents of every coupon going to a local charity, the store gets customer “good will” for siting the kiosk and is assisting the local community—always popular for retailers. Lastly, as another recycling station—in this case for OMG paper—the REMAG kiosk is easily integrated into a store’s already-existing recycling collection center (where bottles and cans are collected, and deposits redeemed).

The catalog retailer and magazine publisher also gain from good will, while extending future purchase opportunities to the consumer who is performing the recycling collection task. (Most likely these consumers are already a catalog prospect or customer, or subscriber or casual reader of the magazine.) In turn, by way of incentives, these marketers may receive a new merchandise purchase by way of the coupon, or a new, renewed or gift subscription that otherwise may have gone untapped, or pushed off to another unspecified time. As magazine newsstand sales wane, this innovation could be an important method to attract new customers and remind readers to renew, or to perhaps extend a gift subscription to another.

REMAG gains, too. Whether or not the kiosks carry the REMAG branding, or that of the host store or other marketing partner (publishers, catalogers, recyclers, paper companies, etc.), the company gets to share a percentage of the coupon redemption revenue for every new product order or subscription it generates for its partners, as well as revenue for category sponsorships.

Local recyclers or paper companies with which REMAG does business get to put the collected papers to subsequent productive use—ensuring another life for a valuable fiber and an affordable source for that fiber. Despite the uncertain economy, there is a critical shortage of recovered paper—and all indications are that this commodity will continue to grow in demand globally. Magazine publishers and catalogers have an easy way to show that they are part of the solution.

Think global, act local. I suspect most California consumers, like most Americans, love to recycle, or at least support recycling collection activity as a matter of habit. The key is to make recycling collection easy and convenient. With a financial reward for recycling, both REMAG and SaveMart are excited about the prospects for a successful trial.

According to REMAG’s sustainability consultant David Refkin, the Lucky/SaveMart kiosk placement agreement initially will involve up to 8 stores in the Bay Area and the Central Valley of California for an initial test. If all goes well, it will likely roll out to other Lucky/SaveMart locations, too. One of the pilot location stores will be in San Bruno, very close to San Francisco Airport should you happen to be in the neighborhood.

For REMAG to be successful, many moving parts will have to come together successfully. There will need to be promotion of the participating store drop-off locations, as well as accessibility and awareness to the consumer. The collected material will need to be picked up, transported or distributed to a local or regional recovered fiber user.

The host store locations will hope to see local residents participating cleanly—as they potentially grow business by attracting new customers who happen to learn of the recovery drop-off sites, and choose to use them. And catalog retailers and magazine publishers will need to participate as well, to make sure they are leveraging this new and environmentally friendly “channel” in a smart business way that engages their prospects and customers.

Let’s see what happens in California and REMAG’s test there. We all might stand to get a little bit lucky.