The Cincinnati-based Joseph-Beth Group is kicking off spring by introducing corporate gift cards and redesigned Web sites for its six stores in Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee.

According to Michele Sulka, the group's v-p for marketing, the two changes are interrelated, since the gift cards are available for purchase online as well as at each store. Previously, there was a single site for the Joseph-Beth stores in Lexington, Cincinnati and Cleveland, and another one for the Davis-Kidd stores in Nashville, Jackson and Memphis. Now each store has its own distinct site (accessible through, with space earmarked for local content. "The gift cards are advertised prominently on the sites' home pages and, given our past success in selling gift certificates online, we're confident their sales will be brisk also," Sulka told PW.

Gift certificates, both Book Sense's and Joseph-Beth's own, have not been discontinued. However, Sulka expects they will eventually be phased out. She explained, "We plan to keep them at least through the end of the school year, since they are popular among students for gifts to teachers, and for some reason they prefer to buy something on paper rather than cards. But hopefully they will gradually learn that our new card works just as well as the certificates do." The cards are redeemable at all group locations.

"We do all the design work on the cards here, so we can create card holders for specific gift occasions, such as Valentine's Day, Graduation, Mother's and Father's Day and so forth, right on through Christmas," said Sulka. "The card artwork dovetails with custom-designed displays at our registers. We're also creating card displays for gift tables and other spaces. Having that kind of flexibility is wonderful from a marketing standpoint."

After beta-testing at the Cincinnati store in February, the card is being rolled out with promotional fanfare at all five remaining stores later this month. Although Cincinnati customer interest was not immediate, it built steadily. After a month, purchases grew by a gratifying 40%. "Once they become familiar with the card, our customers seem to really like them," said Sulka.

Planning for the site makeovers began well over a year ago "We wanted to add new features and capabilities to the sites, such as the ability for customers to check if our stores have a book on their shelves, with directions for special ordering if they don't," said Sulka. "After numerous delays for technical and other reasons, the sites were up and running by late March. We had initially hoped to have the cards available for last year's Christmas season and were disappointed when that didn't work out. So actually the cards and expanded sites were two different processes, but the dovetailing of their debuts this spring has turned out to be a happy coincidence."