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The pros and cons of the catalog

Retailers have long weighed the pros and cons of a print catalog for their products, -- and the easy lure of posting everything on the Internet these days has only made the decision that much harder.

For my business, the decision to go with a print catalog was been an easy one. It's also been a profitable one.

Let's start with the "easy decision" part. Before the Heart of Iowa Market Place produced a print catalog, people could call or go online to order. But the catalog's results were quickly obvious. People would come into the store, catalog in hand, with various items circled. Or, when calling to place an order, they would provide the item number.

The catalog made their lives easier and their shopping experience more productive and enjoyable, especially for businesses and those individuals who do not like to shop online. So in addition to generating more sales, it generated a positive shopping experience for our customers. 

How do I know it was profitable?

We spent approximately $1.15 per catalog plus postage. While the investment upfront was large, it also allowed for us to have improved photos for our website and advertising purposes. And, for an expenditure to be worth the time, money and effort, I always expect it to bring back at least twice as many dollars. By keeping track of sales directly attributed to the catalog, I knew when we reached and passed that mark.

Where did we send all those catalogs?

Existing customers for starters, of course. A print catalog is an easy way to stay connected with the people who are essential to your company's life and profitability.

We also expanded our business-to-business mailing list by using the Business Record's annual Book of Lists and area chamber of commerce contact lists.

While it's important to be creative and expansive with your contacts, it's equally important to realistically look at your potential market. Catalogs are expensive and you can't afford to throw away money with a scattershot approach. In other words, you have to get your catalog out there, but you have it get it into the right hands.

In addition, the catalog was used in electronic format. It was placed on our website so customers could easily download it (saving postage costs for us). Another bonus: When making marketing calls on businesses, I could easily use my iPad to review product options for my clients or easily email the catalog to the potential client. These are all benefits that sometimes get left out of the cost per catalog equation. 

One more thing: The catalog is part of your company's image and brand. A high-quality catalog sends the clear message that you deliver high-quality products and service. It tells your customers they can trust you.

Catalog customers are a very, very important piece of the Heart of Iowa's business -- and we treat them accordingly. So much so, that I always remember the words of a true pioneer in the catalog business, L.L. Bean, who made his mark with the 100 percent money back guarantee. His philosophy was as powerful as it was simple: "A customer is the most important person ever in the office -- in person or by mail."

Truer words for a successful retail business were never spoken.

-Kelly Sharp

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