By Jeffrey Dobkin
The FIRST place I always recommend to inventors to sell their product is the catalog industry. Some catalogs have hugh circulation – 20, 40, 60 million catalogs a year. Imagine if your product was offered in 20 million catalogs? Wow, home run! No easy task, but it can happen.
Here are six steps to get your products in catalogs. Six simple steps. One: select the product. Two: find the correct catalogs whose audience will have and interest in, and purchase your products. Three: price your products correctly for catalog merchandising. Four: pitch your product well. In every conceivable way look like you will consistently be a good company to deal with, and will supply a great product, delivered on time, every time. Five: supply a sample they can examine. Six: be able to show you can produce products and ship to their demand. Let’s take a closer look.
One: Select the product.
Throughout my 25-year career in marketing I’ve had hundreds of people call me and ask where to find products. Where to find products? Heck, take a look around – there are products everywhere. Best places to look: Trade shows are my first choice. There are over 10,000 trade shows held around the US each year. Two great places to find them are first, the web, naturally. www.TSCentral.com lists over 5,000 trade shows. www.Tradeshowdataweek.com is the site of the book of the same name that lists pretty much all the trade shows in the U.S..
In addition, The Tradeshows and Exhibits Schedule put out by Successful Meetings Magazine shows 11,000+ listings organized by industry, location, date, and alpha for large and small, national, regional, and local trade shows for the year plus what’s posted for the newest year.
Other places to find products abound. Catalogs are my second favorite choice – there are thousands of them. In addition, there are a multitude of consumer magazines and trade journals. Plus inventor organizations. Now there’s the Internet and millions of websites. Don’t forget manufacturers – look them up by classification in the Thomas Directory of Manufacturers at a library or on the web. Plastics manufacturers like injection molders – these guys always have a basement full of products they’ve invented and couldn’t sell –reason: they’re molders, not marketers. Another great resource is the Patent Office – both on-line and at the 85 patent depositories located in libraries around the U.S.
Invent or manufacture the product.
Or… find a product that has limited distribution that you think will do well in a catalog.
Make sure your product is different, better, or cheaper than any that are generally available. If your product is of your own invention, all the better. By the way, how far is it developed? Is it an idea scribbled on a napkin while you were half loaded at a bar (inventions always look better after a few drinks!). Do you have prototypes? Do you need prototypes? Do you need a manufacturer? Manufacturers can be found in… yes, you guessed it: the Thomas Register Directory of Manufacturers. This 30 volume set can be found at most libraries and also on the web at www.thomasregister.com. You’ll find hundreds of manufacturers of just what you were looking for, in this reference book set. For example – need a devise like a deadbolt manufactured? There are hundreds of lock manufacturers in this reference tool.
Step Two: find the right catalogs.
It’s easy, just don’t give up too early. First, look in the magazines that serve the markets you are entering. For example, you want to manufacture and market a new saw for the woodworking industry. Go to a big bookstore or newsstand where they offer a large selection of magazines and buy all the ones that start with — or end with -“Wood”. Get any related magazines, too. Modern Craftsman? Yes. Today’s cabinet maker? Splurge, get it. Investment? 25 to 40 bucks. Market Research. It’s the cost of doing business. Besides, you like all these magazines anyhow, don’t you? If you don’t, think twice about going into this market with your product.
Call up every catalog you can find in each magazine, and get a copy. Well, that was easy, but don’t grab a beer and turn on that TV set just yet. Also call up every manufacturer of products that are similar to your’s (in this case, saws), and ask for their literature and pricing. See if you can get a wholesale pricing sheet: you might mention how you are thinking of starting a woodworking tool catalog and need pricing. This will give you some pretty inside information on the pricing structure of the competition. If the person answering the phone is friendly, go fishing for more information. Are they in any catalogs now? Which ones. So, how are sales? Any guarantees? Who pays shipping. Do they drop ship? How many units a year do they sell. It’s amazing the amount of information you can get on the phone from someone who is friendly. Don’t forget, smile when you speak – it radiates through the phone.
When you get the competitor’s literature, study it. Information about your competition is vital. If you can’t meet their pricing structure reasonably well, this is the time to find out – before you spend money to manufacture your product. If your competition is selling to catalogs at one third the price you thought you could sell your product for, better to learn now than after a production run of 1,000, 5,000, or 10,000 units. Boy, how many times have I seen that mistake?
The magazines will probably produce only the top twenty to forty percent of the catalogs you’ll need to review, and this is only the beginning of your catalog research. Most libraries have catalog reference directories – just ask at the reference desk. Take a bunch of dimes for the photo copy machine.
Go to the library and find The Oxbridge Communications Directory of Catalogs. It’s over 1,300 pages of nothing but catalogs. It’s the motherload of all catalog directories. Can’t find it in the local library? Call 800-000-0000 and order a copy. It ain’t cheap ($400) but if you’re serious about marketing to catalogs this might be a good investment. If you have more than one product to offer, you’ll get a lot of use from this book. We live in our copy here at my office.
If you are just marketing a single product, don’t live near a big library, or want a cheaper source of finding catalogs at the cost of not finding some of the smaller catalogers, there are some other great reference tools available. Keep in mind all the catalog directories will show the bigger catalog houses. Some of the smaller directories show less information about each cataloger.
Woodbine House (6510 Bells Mills Road, Bethesda, MD 20817, 800-843-7323) publishes a great book with over 14,000 mail order catalogs. It’s the Catalog of Catalogs (ISBN 0-933149-88-3). It’s the industries best deal, an exceptional value at $24.95 (+ $4 shipping). Nearly 850 subject categories are shown in this 500+ page marketing tool.
Greyhouse Publishing: 800-562-2139, Pocket Knife Square, Lakeville, CT 06039, 860-435-0868, publishes three large directories of catalog information. Their Directory of Mail Order Catalogs is 1,466 pages of in-depth catalog information on 10,553 catalogs. This easy to use reference tool includes chapters such as “Hobbies” (with subdivisions such as general, beekeeping, fireworks, kites, models, wine making and so forth) plus an index by company, by product, and an online index add value to this big reference book. Cost is $250.
Listing information is in-depth, too – most listings show key executives, buyers names, credit cards accepted, circulation and frequency, page counts, mailing schedules, website, email, and list information. Some listings also show sales volume, the catalog’s mailing list manager, and in-depth product descriptions. Greyhouse also compiles a Business to Business Catalog of 711 pages and 5,603 entries. This reference tool includes a geographic index as well as catalog and company name index and an online index.
Can’t find it yet? Greyhouse’s Business and Trade Directories shows information on 8,704 industry-specific business and trade directories. You’ll be able to start some extensive research with this 1,151 page volume of information. $185.
Find all those bad boys who may sell your product? Let’s go to step three. No, do not pass go, do not collect $200. Not just yet, anyhow. The rest of the stuff is a piece of cake.
Three: Price your product for catalog sales.
All catalog houses like to make a 300% to 400% mark-up on the products they carry. All catalog houses will mark-up a product less if they like it.
Mark-up is usually a negotiated figure. The larger the distribution of the catalog, the more clout they have, the better they will be at negotiations. When you’re dealing with a catalog that has a circulation of 10 million, and your product lists for $19.95, your negotiation will be very short and sweet: you can sell it to they at the price they’ll pay, or not. On the other hand, if your product looks hot, there’s nothing else like it (yet) and they really want it, they’ll deal. But those product parameters are few and far between. Figure them to double their investment at worst. Your product costs you ten dollars to make, you sell it to them for $15 to $20, and they’ll retail it for anywhere from $30 (discount catalog) to $49 (normal mark-up) to $79.95 (list plus) for high end catalogs. Remember, they are both the wholesaler and the retailer.
Your product price must be realistic at both the wholesale and the retail level. No catalog buyer in his right mind is going to pay double what your competing vendor is charging for their products, even though your’s has an additional whistle. And chances are they won’t list it in their book at twice the price, reason: customers will think their price is way too high, and this feeling may spill over into the other items the catalog is selling. If you saw a shovel selling for $84 in a catalog and knew other shovels sold for $35 in other catalogs, you probably wouldn’t care if it was stainless steel, you’d just know it was expensive. When it came time to buy other garden tools, you’d be looking at the price pretty hard before you made a purchase.
Four: present your product well.
Yes, they’re going to want to see a sample. But to save samples and freight, I’d call the catalog company and first ask the operator if they have guidelines for submitting a product to their firm, If they do, great. If it’s a blind submission – you send your prototype or speculative sample to “New Products Review Committee,” or some other such red tape rigamerol, ugh. You can opt to do that if you want, but for my money and product prototype or sample – I like to send it to a real person. Sometimes skirting the approved way has its risks, but once you send a sample to some unknown entity or person, there’s no possible worthwhile follow-up. Tracking it down, and saying “Didja’ get it?” aren’t worthwhile and only lead to losing conversations.
The best way to find out the buyers name is to ask the operator, and get the correct spelling at that time. Ask to be connected, if they give you a hard time, call back later and ask for him or her by name. If questioned, say it’s about a sample of your product. When they connect, simply ask, “are you the person who purchases…” and name your product. If they say yes, tell them you have a new design, new type, handmade sample or whatever you have and ask if you may send a sample to them.
Catalogers like new products. Heck, just look on the cover of the Sharper Image catalog, or Brookstone’s cover, or Sporty’s – or any of the hundreds of catalog covers that boasts how many NEW PRODUCTS are in that issue. Everyone loves new products, and it’s a coup to have a new product before anyone else. Especially one that will be a good seller. It would be a coup to you to be on a catalog’s cover.
Unfortunately, no one likes a product that’s not a proven seller in the marketplace. So… lots of catalogers will give you and your new product a hard time, or a poor test: last page of their lowest print-run catalog. It’s very limited exposure, but what the heck – it’s a test.
Step Five; Supplying samples
Virtually all catalogers will want a sample at one point before they show your product in their book. They’d be foolish to showcase a product they’ve never actually seen; or even worse: offer a product that may be of such poor quality not only will they have to refund their customer’s money, but they’ll look poorly in the eyes of their customer for selling it in the first place. Be prepared to send a sample. If you are still in the prototype stage, let them know. They won’t buy yet, but if they have a keen interest they’ll let you know it will be worthwhile for you to move forward with your product. Both you and the catalog house both want a win-win situation. Encouragement from the buyer at this stage of invention is always nice, but don’t expect too much – most buyers deal with thousands of products and hundreds of vendors.
When you send your product sample, make sure lands with a cluster of product greatness. If you have a nice box, use it. Clear instructions. Clean printing. Your literature doesn’t have to be expensive, black and white will do – but absolutely no typos. Why risk it: print on high quality paper stock, crisp printing. No photocopies. If you submit poor literature, or a bad looking data sheet, or your instructions have words spelled incorrectly, the cataloger buyer will figure that the quality control on your product won’t be any better either, and chances are they won’t offer it in their catalog. Why should they – they have hundreds of products to chose from. If you brought home a brochure from Chevrolet and found it had consistent misspellings in it, wouldn’t you wonder if they let mistakes get out in the braking system of their cars and trucks, also?
Lastly, let them know you can deliver.
No catalog house buyer in his or her right mind would include your product in their catalog without knowing you can consistently deliver a quality product on schedule – to their demand. For example, you want to supply a new tool to the tool catalog of the Brookstone Company. You submit it, they like it – now what?
Next, they place a test order for 2,000 units. Based on the sales response they get from offering your product in two of their main catalogs, and 4 spin-off catalogs they mail to the specific market segments of automotive buyers, home-maintenance tool buyers, garden-tool buyers, and motor home and van owners, they project they’ll need 15,000 units in December to fulfill orders as Christmas gifts.
December rolls around right after November, as it always does, and now imagine you’re two weeks late for Christmas delivery. Who looks bad? In the eyes of their customers, Brookstone does. They also have to do a lot of fast dancin’ and foot shuffling because you failed to deliver. And right about now, you don’t look too good either. So they’d rather not put you in their catalog if they get even the slightest sniff that this may happen.
So you – sitting in your living room with a 15,000 unit proposal – better be prepared to have conclusive proof you can deliver. This may mean a letter from a strong manufacturing partner that they have the capacity to produce in quantity. You may want to get a non-compete form signed from your manufacturer prior to engagement. Then if you need to divulge who your manufacturer is to a catalog house, no one will be tempted to skirt around you for your product.
Getting in catalogs is pretty easy with a good product, presented well, some perseverance – and a little bit of luck thrown in for good measure. But if you get into just one catalog with one product, then service that account well, you can pretty much quit your day job. Heck, you probably won’t even mind paying my fee for the information you just read, $995. Just send a check to my attention, then let’s talk. Thanks.