LOCAL manufacturers are targets of an aggressive hunt by American catalogue marketers struggling for business in a trade which recently witnessed the demise of the Sears Catalogue, the one-time market leader. ''I'm optimistic about the future of catalogue marketing,'' said Mr Gregory Lerman, executive vice-president of merchandising at Fingerhut Companies. ''People don't have time [to go shopping] these days,'' he said. ''With a catalogue, people can choose nice goods in the home. It is very convenient.'' Catalogue shopping was growing at a faster rate than store shopping, he said. For a yearly growth of two to three per cent in store shopping, the corresponding growth in catalogue shopping was seven to 10 per cent. Sears Roebuck's decision to drop its catalogue did not reflect a poor market but inadequate research on customers, resulting in sales which were not high enough to recoup the high operating and distribution costs, said Mr Lerman. He estimated that Sears had made an annual loss of US$200 million on its catalogue before closing it. ''The most important thing is having right information about customers: it is too expensive to guess,'' he added. Apparently undeterred by the failure of the Sears Catalogue, Fingerhut - the number two US catalogue marketer in terms of sales - plans to fight its way to the top with the help of Hongkong. The company is among US catalogue marketers now trying to solicit former Sears vendors in the territory. Mr Lerman said goods from Hongkong and China were vital to Fingerhut's business, as most of its buyers were middle-income consumers. ''We can produce these [mid-range] products in China and Hongkong. If they were made in the US, they would be so expensive,'' he said. Ceramic goods are among the most popular items from Hongkong and China on the company's catalogue. Mr Lerman acknowledged the industry's difficulties: keen competition and a poor national economy. But the company had record sales last year, he added. Mr Lerman is in Hongkong to meet suppliers and to seek new ones.