One of the characteristics that often separates large retail marketers from smaller, local retailers is that the big retailers possess a lot of marketing resources, in particular printed and online catalogs and brochures. That fact alone gives the big marketers a competitive advantage over their mom and pop counterparts who have to work around this limitation by using their showroom and personal selling, whereas the big marketers can use their catalog to garner sales.
For a business that sells a wide range of products, a product catalog can be an invaluable marketing tool. When a customer calls you to inquire about your selection of engravable wedding party gifts, it’s much more effective to direct her to your online catalog and let her wander through your “virtual showroom” than it is to try and describe everything you can offer. Likewise, when a customer stops by your business to inquire about crystal corporate awards, you can show him or her a few samples in your showroom and then hand the customer a catalog that illustrates a more extensive range of options that he or she might be interested in. After all, you can’t display everything that is available in your shop and, indeed, you might only stock a fraction of what you offer anyway.
A good quality catalog can also be a fantastic medium for prospecting for new customers. That new medical facility or office building being constructed in your community or the newly remodeled school can be a golden opportunity for catalog marketing. Direct mailing a printed catalog or e-mailing an online catalog to the landlord, administrator or owner of the building that showcases the architectural and ADA signage systems you can offer puts your product directly in the hands of potential customers. And the number of customers who “Google” to find your online sports award catalog on your website and then end up making a purchase is an exciting thought.
In all of these instances, a product catalog helps you provide the customer with a comprehensive range of product choices and better visualization of how to use your products, and that amounts to better customer service, a more satisfied customer and, most likely, more sales and more profitable sales.
“Catalogs give manufacturers a chance to present their entire product line in an organized and easy-to-use format,” says Gerald Singer, President of Classic Medallics, Inc., Mount Vernon, NY. “With the addition of digital catalogs, the ability of retail stores to market products has increased at least one-hundred percent.”
You may be thinking that all this sounds great, but there’s one big caveat. How do you put together an effective product catalog? You could develop a product catalog(s) yourself, but for most small and mid-sized R&I businesses, this really isn’t a viable option. It’s a lot of work to coordinate photography, design, layout and printing, and there’s technical expertise involved in formatting it for online. Unless you or your staff is adept in these areas, you will probably need to hire a professional to produce your catalog, and that can be very costly.
A better option for most R&I retailers is to tap into resources in our own industry and use catalogs provided by industry manufacturers and wholesalers. Many manufacturers offer preprinted catalogs that can be personalized with your own business information as well as online “virtual” catalogs that you can post on your website. Both of these options represent a professional and cost-effective way for you to show customers the various types of products you sell without the time, hassle and expense involved in producing your own sales literature.
It should be clarified that the kind of catalogs we are talking about here are NOT manufacturers’ regular wholesale catalogs, which usually list wholesale prices. Instead, we are talking about catalogs which are produced by the wholesaler/manufacturer but they typically contain retail prices and they don’t include the wholesaler’s contact information. These catalogs depict the wholesaler’s products but their sole purpose is for use by retail dealers to garner orders for the wholesaler’s products.
Options in Dealer Catalogs
There are several options available to you when it comes to using catalogs supplied by wholesalers in your retail business, including printed catalogs, online catalogs and some slight variations of each of those.
A printed catalog is one great way to get your products in front of prospective customers. Printed catalogs are particularly useful and effective for in-store customers and for direct mailing to potential customers.
“Printed catalogs are very portable, can be passed around and can be bookmarked in many different ways to save a page,” says Bruce Wang, Marketing Manager for Topmost World, Inc., Montclair, CA. “In many cases, these catalogs are printed on beautiful, glossy, thick paper stock. Printed catalogs also typically have an index page to make finding that special theme or award category a breeze.”
Actually putting printed literature in your customers’ hands can be a major selling aid. “Although the electronic market is emerging, when it comes down to it unseen is unsold,” says Joseph Cappetta, Vice President of Operations/Director of Marketing for Marco Awards Group, South Windsor, CT. “Literature in the hand is often a better marketing tool than just hoping someone will find your products online.”
Another major benefit of printed dealer catalogs is that the manufacturer incurs the considerable costs involved in producing the catalog, and you get a slick, glossy, full-color, highly professional catalog for a nominal fee or, in some cases, free of charge. Many manufacturers will provide you with a few printed copies for your store at no cost and then charge a small fee for larger quantities. For example, R.S. Owens, Chicago, IL, provides free copies of its Elegance in Awards & Gifts catalog during the initial mailing time at the beginning of the year and charges a fee of $4 for subsequent copies. Classic Medallics offers four different printed dealer catalogs ranging in price from 45 cents to 95 cents apiece.
“There’s no financial burden to the retailer associated with collecting and assembling samples, photography, design work for the catalog or printing costs. Plus, retailers don’t have to worry about stocking large amounts of catalogs since they can purchase them as needed,” says Cappetta.
Most of the dealer catalogs available in the industry do not include the wholesale manufacturer’s name but, instead, include a blank space on the cover for retailers to personalize it with their own business name using a stamp or a self-adhesive label without interfering with the design or appearance of the cover. In some cases, you can have the manufacturer print your business information directly on the catalog for you. R.S. Owens does this for a $35 setup fee plus the cost of the catalog. Classic Medallics will personalize catalogs for you with up to six lines of copy and your logo for $1.20-$1.40 for each catalog (depending on the catalog) with a minimum quantity of 250 catalogs.
Today, more consumers are shopping and/or researching purchases online than ever before. One recent study reveals that 83 percent of consumers are shopping online at least weekly. In keeping up with this trend, many of the same companies that provide retailers with printed dealer catalogs are now offering a variety of online catalog services.
Online catalogs have numerous benefits with perhaps the number one advantage being cost. Virtual catalogs are generally offered free of charge to retailers and are much less expensive to produce for manufacturers. “We have reduced the number of catalogs printed to just ten percent of what we did ten years ago, which has dramatically reduced the distribution and print costs of the catalog,” says Dale Larson, co-owner of FRS Industries, Inc., Fargo, ND. It is also much easier, quicker and more cost-efficient to update an online catalog with new information, images and products than it is with a printed version.
“Online catalogs provide a platform where the customer can view products anytime and anywhere with access to a computer with an Internet connection,” explains Topmost’s Bruce Wang. “Specific product pages can be linked to easily through e-mails or online messenger services. With search engine optimization properly set up and configured, the online catalog becomes a marketing tool that draws customers to retailers’ websites on its own.”
One popular and convenient option is to use a link to the manufacturer’s online catalog. You can post a picture of the catalog cover as a link on your website and when your customers click on it, they are directed to a different website address where they can view the online catalog hosted there. The website where the catalog is hosted typically uses a separate domain address so your customers cannot link directly with the manufacturer and, like a printed catalog, there is no contact information for the manufacturer.
“Both of our sites were created to be anonymous and not reference back to Johnson Plastics,” explains Chris Hodapp, Internet Marketing Specialist for Johnson Plastics, Minneapolis, MN. “This allows our customers to link to the site from their own, show product options directly to the customer purchasing the finished product and print out categories. The categories are identical to our physical catalogs, so browsing both sites is simple.”
The newer “page flipping” catalogs are becoming more popular options in online marketing materials. These are in the form of a virtual flip book that provides an intuitive interface for the user to browse through the catalog. The pages in this e-catalog can be flipped in the same way as you flip through the pages of a paper catalog—complete with the “swishing” sound effect of the pages turning—except you are clicking on the page corners or using a navigation panel to turn the pages. The navigation panel also enables you to move to a specific page of the catalog by specifying the page number, zoom in on a product or print any page. (EJ uses the page flip format for our online digital 3D edition. Check it out on our website at www.engraversjournal.com.)
Classic Medallics offers all of its catalogs in flip-book format. You can link to these books from your website and you have the option of linking to Classic Medallics’ main website or a generic page set up without company information. You also have the option of putting the catalogs directly on your website.
Another option available from some suppliers is a downloadable version of a dealer catalog. Condé Systems, Mobile, AL, a supplier of sublimation products and equipment, offers a smaller version of its wholesale catalog for retail use in this format. The Photo Gifts & Awards Catalog contains Condé’s large selection of imprintable dye sub products but omits pages containing printers, inks, heat presses, production software, etc. You can download a pdf version of the catalog from Condé’s website and print it yourself using Adobe Acrobat or Adobe Photoshop. You can also open the catalog using CorelDRAW and edit the catalog anyway you like (the other two options offer limited editing). This is a nice option if you want to add your company information, tweak the product offerings, input your own pricing, etc.
“The ease of changing things around, adding prices, etc., is determined by each customer’s talents within CorelDRAW. We do not know of an easier way to get an editable catalog into the hands of customers that need it,” says Todd Till, Condé’s Marketing Communications Manager. As another option, you can order preprinted versions of the catalog directly from Condé for $1.50 apiece.
Classic Medallics also offers DVDs of all of its catalogs with high or low resolution images, depending on what you want to use them for. The high resolution format is for printing and the low resolution format is intended for use on your website.
So which way should you go: printed or online? Many retailers find it beneficial to use both formats to market their products. According to Classic Medallics’ Singer, “Offering both types of catalogs provides the opportunity to make contact with the customer multiple times. Many end users still like to have printed catalogs and they assign a certain higher value to the store that offers them. When you add a printed catalog and a digital catalog to your offering, it makes an enormous impression on the end user. The customer feels like they are dealing with a brick and mortar business and not just an Internet marketer.”
Themes & Pricing
There are a variety of printed and online catalogs available from industry suppliers, so you have plenty of themes to choose from. Some catalogs feature the supplier’s entire product line (or most of it). For example, R.S. Owens’ catalog shows custom award capabilities and the company’s entire collection of award products and gifts. Johnson Plastics’ Engraving Products Catalog features engraving materials, name badges, engravable products, sign frames, etc.
There are also more specialized catalogs available that can be useful for customers who have a more specific need. For example, the Love of the Links catalog from Marco Awards Group highlights awards for golf tournaments and events. Marco also has a catalog devoted to acrylic awards, another that features glass and crystal, and a general awards catalog with products such as medals, resins, ribbons and certificates. Classic Medallics has a sports catalog, a corporate/government catalog, an academic catalog and a custom catalog. Johnson Plastics has a catalog specifically for dye sublimation products.
When choosing a catalog, keep in mind that different suppliers offer different pricing schemes. Some suppliers offer catalogs with suggested retail pricing, some offer catalogs with no pricing at all and some give you the option of either one. Some also offer separate price lists. You can request a retail price list or use a customizable price list template from Gravograph, Duluth, GA, for example, and Marco Awards Group includes a tear out price list in its catalogs.
“These are multi-purpose types of catalogs,” explains Don D’Antonio, President of Innovative Plastics. “The retailer can give these to customers who come to them with projects requiring certain types of engraving materials. These help the customer understand the possible material choices, colors and looks that are readily available.”
Downloadable images are another marketing option. Some suppliers offer free images including photos of products, catalog pages, logos, artwork, etc., that you can use as an inexpensive and quick way to jazz up your website or create professional looking flyers, brochures and catalogs on your own if you do decide to go that route. These images can be sent to you through e-mail, mailed to you on a disk or downloaded directly from the supplier’s website.
As mentioned, linking to a supplier website that hosts an online catalog is a very popular option. In addition to this, some manufacturers offer these websites for use as your own retail website if you don’t have one. JDS Industries has two retail websites (one for corporate awards and one for sports awards) that you can connect to as a link to your own website or to use as your own actual site.
Do You Need a Catalog?
There are plenty of choices available when it comes to manufacturer-supplied dealer catalogs. The question is, do you really need one? In short answer, “Yes.” Catalogs can offer you substantial benefits when it comes to selling your products.
There’s a reason why catalogs have been around as long as they have: Whether in hand or online, they are a proven sales tool. If your customer is looking for an award for a sports tournament, you can say, “Turn to page 42 of our sports catalog for some great options in your price range.”
A good quality catalog is a page turner that can draw attention to products that otherwise could easily be overlooked. “When a dealer gives a catalog to a client, the client can thumb through it at their leisure and study it to make more informed decisions. They will almost always see something that they would not have seen in the store,” says Mark Avenson, VP Marketing for R.S. Owens.
Dealer catalogs also provide a fantastic opportunity for you to step up to the big league in marketing and really compete. As much as catalogs are informational tools, they also need to be designed creatively. A retailer could have all of their products and services listed in their catalogs, but if it isn’t easy on the eyes it likely won’t make any sales. Larger businesses have the money and resources to put behind their marketing efforts and produce their own high-quality, professional product catalogs. By using dealer catalogs from wholesalers, you get that quality and professionalism without having a big marketing budget.
Catalogs that highlight a variety of product offerings also provide you with the potential to add to your product line without spending extra money or taking up inventory space. A customer may choose a product from a catalog that you never offered before and that product could be ideal for another customer in the future. You could even inadvertently tap into a profitable niche market that you didn’t even know existed.
If you are going to use dealer catalogs, you will quickly realize that they can be a great addition to your business. However, it is important to keep a few tips in mind to make sure you leave customers with a high-quality, professional impression.
Remember that your website and everything on it, including catalogs, are one cohesive package. If you have a high-quality supplier catalog on your website, the rest of your site should look equally as professional. If you have a high resolution photo of a catalog as a link, the other images on your site should also be high resolution. In some cases, it may be worth it to spend a few extra dollars and hire some professional help to either create a new website or improve upon your existing one if need be.
This same concept also holds true when it comes to printed pieces. If you decide to use a business card or price sheet with the catalogs, or perhaps mail them with a cover letter to potential customers, try to match the style and print quality as closely as you can to the quality of the dealer catalog.
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