Ten tips for catalogue success 01/16/94

  1. A plan for where the catalogue is going. Unless you’re clairvoyant, a plan for the future is essential.

With proper planning, the chances of success over the catalogue’s first three to five years could be enhanced by a factor of 100.

  1. Adequate financing to sustain the business through the early years.

It’s the same old story. You have to have money to make money–or get money.

The latest statistics indicate that, on the consumer side, only two or three new startups in 10 make it to the third year.  Knowing these statistics, how would you view a new catalogue startup if you were your corporate financial officer ? And, the early years are the critical ones.

  1. A clearly defined niche for your merchandise or its creative.

Nothing is more important than–or can come before–the product. While the catalogue is a blend of presenting the right merchandise to the right target audience, the process must start with the product. And the whole strategy must mesh tightly with the retail store positioning. Never put one channel in competition with another.

  1. Understand who your customers are and what their needs are.

Second only to product and positioning, the most important aspect of your catalogue’s success is knowing who your potential customers are and what they want to buy.

  1. Understand the creative and production subtleties of producing a catalogue.

Because your creative poeple know how to put effective traffic building advertising programs together doesn’t mean they have the skills necessary to produce a successful catalogue. The creative functions cannot be taken for granted, regardless of whether the design, copy and production are being done in-house or outside by a professional freelancer or agency. Just look at this checklist of questions relative to creating your new catalogue:

. Does the design of the catalogue reinforce the market niche you’re trying to own?

. What is your target customer’s aesthetic expectations? And, how do you convey them?

. What is the relative cost of producing the catalogue yourself versus using outside professionals?

. What are realistic in-the-mail costs for the catalogue, including design, layout, copy and production, photography, colour separations, printing, list rentals, merge/purge of the lists to eliminate duplicates, cost of addressing and preparation for mailing? Do you know people who can answer these questions?

. How can you take maximum advantage of postage discounts available from Canada Post?

Theses are just a few of the many important considerations involved in creating an effective catalogue sales tool.

  1. Understand the importance of and the time it takes to build the customer list.

Building the customer list is a major cost element. Some cataloguers find one or two rental lists that do better than break even, or perhaps a space ad that’s profitable in certain magazines, but, generally, there’s a cost involved in obtaining each customer.  Small startups have fewer dollars to devote to aggressive prospecting, and, therefore, use inexpensive media such as small space ads, co-op ads, referrals and public relations in growing their customer list more slowly.

  1. Maximize sales (and profits) from the customer list.

The challenge for retailers new to catalogue marketing is to maximize sales from existing customers. If prospecting means cost to a catalogue, then customer list mailings mean profits. Every mailing to the customer list should produce profitable sales…and drive additional traffic to stores.

  1. Excellent fulfillment and customer service.

Few catalogue startups have systems in place for processing and tracking orders or facilities from which to ship product or receive returns. And yet this activity–closing the loop with the customer–is one of the most improtant ones in building and keeping loyal customers. The activities that a new cataloguer must come to grips with in fulfillment include:

. order receipt (by mail, phone and fax)

. order processing through an appropriate computer system

. establishing the prospect and customer list in a database and maintaining current information on addresses and purchasing activity.

. warehousing, picking, packing and shipping the product

. processing of returns

. credit/payment processing and control

. customer service to answer all types of questions

  1. Sound inventory control.

As well as having a special product selection and the other decisions relative to merchandising, you have to answer these questions:

.Who will be the final judge on the product to be included in the catalogue?

. How will buying, rebuying and inventory control be managed?

. How will product sales results be analyzed?

. How will your dispose of excess inventory?

  1. Adequate financial and analysis skills.

The first catalogue you plan and mail is hardly the end product–it’s the starting point. Always remember that every catalogue builds on the previous one. Effective financial planning up front and,m even more important, effective analysis of program results allows the cataloguer to:

. improve the mechandise mix, product cateogries and price points

. reduce the cost and improve the efficiency of new customer acquisition

. maximize sales from each customer

. improve efficiency and/or reduce costs in fulfillment and customer service, and

. enrich the creative presentation, test new offers and ultimately improve sales per page

Analyzing each catalogue/mailing effort is the most important activity in improving it.

Charles de Gruchy remembers how it was

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