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Russians find joys in junk

Junk mail drives most westerners mad. But if a Russian gets a personally addressed letter on his birthday offering a tempting gift at half price he might be so pleased he will include a thank-you note with his order.

Pascal Clement, a 33-year-old Frenchman, set up PPE in his bedroom in 1996 and nurtured it into the $120 million a year powerhouse that today dominates Russia's $300 million a year direct-marketing sector.

In 70 years of communism the only personalized letters people received carried bad news, so the appeal is understandable. "We have calls from people complaining, saying their neighbour got a letter and a free gift, but they hadn't received one," says Clement. In the west the reply rate to a direct mail shot is a few fractions of a per cent, but in Russia the reply rate can reach 20% to 30%.

PPE has several divisions. Core company Pokupki Na Dom (Buy at Home), started out with hard-to-find western pharmaceuticals, but has expanded into clothes, books and consumer electronics.

"It is a myth that the Russian post doesn't work," says Clement. "In a country as big as this it was one of the few things that worked really well.

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