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Anthrax alters dealers' plans for direct mail

Staff Reporter Donna Harris can be reached at or 540-668-7295.

It is the time of year when many dealers mail to prospective customers offers of turkey giveaways. But fears that terrorists have tainted mail with deadly anthrax have quashed the holiday mood.

Dealers are canceling or rethinking their direct mail campaigns. Advertising agencies that serve dealers report that their direct mail business is off 30 percent to 70 percent.

"Dealers have taken the dollars and put them into newspaper and radio," said Herb Connors, founder of Ad America, a dealer ad agency in Escondido, Calif. "Some just plain don't want to spend any money," said Connors, adding that 25 percent of his business comes from direct mail campaigns.

Dealers worry that prospects are throwing out mail promotions, and their fears are legitimate. A survey by Forrester Research Inc. in Cambridge, Mass., shows 25 percent of consumers are not opening direct mail because of the anthrax scare. As a result, ad agencies are offering to send postcard mailers because recipients might worry about the contents of an envelope.

Advantage Direct Mail Service of Pompano Beach, Fla., is still sending promotions in envelopes, but the envelopes feature an American flag and the message: "Keep America Rolling." The company also has started printing its return address on the envelopes because the United States Postal Service has instructed consumers to toss mail without a return address in response to the anthrax scare.

Said Connors: "A lot of mail is going into the round file right now."

In other retail news:

  • Asbury Automotive Group of Stamford, Conn., has acquired Tom Wimberley Auto World Lincoln-Mercury and Chrysler-Jeep in Jackson, Miss., and Kelly Pontiac-GMC in Jacksonville, Fla., for an undisclosed sum.

  • UnitedAuto Group Inc., a publicly held dealership group in Detroit, has acquired BMW of San Diego for an undisclosed amount. The BMW dealership has annual revenues of $90 million.
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