The C&P Telephone Co., searching for new ways to make money, has distributed 500,000 copies of a "catalogue of home communications" featuring an expensive line of telephone equipment and accessories.
The catalogue, the first of its kind in the Bell System, was developed and distributed at a cost of $200,000, which C&P now hopes to pass on to regular telephone customers.
Developed by the same company that has produced catalogues for Gucci and American Express, the C&P booklet consists of 33 glossy, multicolor pages featuring such items as a $28 desk pad with ceramic corners, a $10 set of "Munchy Magnets" and an assortment of designer phones. The telephone pictured on the back cover, for example, has a handpainted handset and a gold-finished case. It sells for $449.
About 400,000 copies of the catalogue were mailed to selected customers in the four jurisdictions in which C&P operates -- the District of Columbia, Virginia, Maryland and West Virginia. "The people selected to get the catalogues were those who had purchased products from us like decorator phones or who were on lists of people who buy from catalogues," said C&P representative Web Chamberlin.
The other 100,000 catalogues were placed in C&P telephone stores.
Some of the merchandise depicted in the booklet is manufactured by Western Electric, a Bell System company. But other items, particularly the telephone accessory items, are made by a variety of vendors, Chamberlin said.
A person ordering from the catalogue can place his order by calling a toll-free number or by mailing an order form to the C&P catalogue department in Ridgely, Md., which is just north of Baltimore. When the order arrives, the department notifies the appropriate manufacturer -- Western Electric or the vendor -- to ship the merchandise to the person requesting it.
C&P will accept payment by check, money order or credit card.
The catalogue venture is a direct response to deregulation of the telephone industry, C&P officials said. Bell System companies face a growing challenge from other equipment manufacturers because of a series of court and regulatory rulings in recent years, they said, and one way to compete is to market their own telephone equipment through retail stores and catalogues.
Chamberlin said that if the C&P catalogue is successful, other Bell System subsidiary companies may introduce catalogues for their areas.
To be a success, the catalogue will have to generate at least $200,000 or more in sales, Chamberlin said.
As for the company's plan to pass the catalogue costs on to telephone customers, Chamberlin said, "The $200,000 is a form of advertising -- it is a cost of doing business and it is charged back to telephone customers."
Chamberlin estimated that it would add less than a nickel a year to a customer's bill.
But the government agencies which regulate C&P could refuse to allow the catalogue costs to be rolled into customer rates, officials said.
People's Counsel Brian Lederer, who represents consumers in cases before the D.C. Public Service Commission, said that the PSC in the past has denied requests from C&P to include promotional advertising costs in customer telephone rates. "And I don't know of any reason why the commission should reverse itself now" and permit costs for a promotional catalogue to be added to customer bills, Lederer said.
The question of who pays for the catalogue may not be resolved for months. In the District of Columbia, the catalogue is only one of the issues in a case in which C&P is seeking a $67.7 million rate increase. A ruling on that request isn't expected until next year.
What happens in Virginia, Maryland and West Virginia will depend on how quickly regulators there choose to act.