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How To Get Your Product In Catalogs

Catalog Marketing

By Jeffrey Dobkin

The FIRST place I always recommend to inventors – and most product marketers – to market their products is the catalog industry.  Some catalogs have hugh circulations – 20, 40, 60 million catalogs a year.  Imagine if your product was offered in 20 million catalogs?  Wow, home run!  No easy task, but with the right catalog marketing strategy it can happen.

Catalog Marketing Article Synopsis:
Here are six steps to get your products in catalogs.  One: select the products that would work well in any of the thousands of catalogs currently available to consumers and specialty trade industriesTwo: find the correct niche catalogs whose audience will have an interest in your products.  Three: price your products correctly for catalog merchandising.  Four: pitch your product well. In every conceivable way look like your firm will consistently be a good company to work with – and supply a great product, delivered on time, every time. Five: To begin, you’ll need a sample to send the catalog merchant so they can see it, test it. Six: be able to show you can produce products and ship on their demand. Let’s take a closer look.

Catalog Marketing Step One: Find the best products for the industries the catalogs serve.

Throughout my 25-year career in marketing I’ve assisted hundreds of inventors find niche catalogs for their products.  I’ve also had hundreds of marketers call me and ask where to find new products they can bring to market themselves. This article is for both the independent inventor and the product marketer.

Of all the places to look for new products, and new marketing ideas for current inventions or new lines of products, trade shows are my first choice.  There are over 10,000 trade shows held around the US each year (pre-Pandemic year of 2020.)  A few great places to find them are at – which lists over 5,000 trade shows.  And – the website 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 published 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.

Finding new products you can market to the catalog industry is easy, but marketing to the right catalogs, and the financing (referenced later in this article) can be very difficult. Catalogs themselves are one of my favorite choices to find new products you can resell to other catalogs. If a product doesn’t sell well in a particular catalog the merchant will drop it.  That doesn’t mean it won’t sell well in other catalogs better suited to that products particular niche.

There are a multitude of both consumer magazines and trade journals that consistently showcase new products that are looking for sales of any kind.

Inventors Light Bulb

Inventor’s Helper

Inventor organizations can be a great source of new products. There are several national inventor resource organizations that help and assist inventors including the UIA (United Inventors Association), and many state Inventor help groups.  Beware of some of the invention help ads you see on TV – these hard selling groups provide very expensive brochures and websites that are of little value in relation to their charges ($7,000 to $15,000 by the time you get out).  If you need a good brochure about your invention go to a local advertising agency.  If you need marketing advice, find a local marketing agency – not an invention submission agency.  And before you hand over any money, talk to several to find out who will be the most help.  You can also call us – 610-642-1000 – we are always happy to help.

To find products to market, and to find markets for your own products there is the Internet… and millions of  websites.  It’s like the wild wild west on your computer screen, so be careful.  Always ask for and check out references.

To find new products you can market don’t forget manufacturers – look them up by industrial classification in the 30-book reference called Thomas Directory of Manufacturers – it’s at your local library.  You can also find this directory on the web, but the web version sucks – it’s pretty inadequate in both form and function.

Plastics manufacturers – like injection molders – always have a basement full of products they’ve invented, manufactured… and then couldn’t sell. Reason: they’re molders, not marketers.  You can usually buy these products at great prices as the injection molder is usually just looking to get rid of them.

Another really great resource for new products is the Patent Office – both on-line and at the 85 patent depositories located in libraries around the U.A.  Search for new products in industries you are comfortable and familiar with.  More often than not most inventors are happy to negotiate a deal for you to sell their invention.

If you have invented a product – even better.  Catalog merchants are always looking for new products. Always!

If your product is your own invention, all the better!
Make sure your final product design is different, better, or cheaper than any that are generally available.
What stage is your invention, 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  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 wonderful reference tool.


Catalog Marketing Step Two: find the right catalogs for your invention or product line.

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?  Sure!  Splurge, get it. Investment?  50 to 100 bucks.  It’s called Market Research – and it’s exactly what I would do if you were a client. 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 it 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 magazine research will probably only produce the top dozen catalogs you’ll need to review. 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.

Catalog Directories – Amazing Reference Tools of the Catalog Industry
Go to the library and find The Oxbridge Communications Directory of Catalogs.  It’s over 1,300 pages of nothing but catalogs.  Also – The Directory of Mail Order Catalogs. It’s the motherload of all catalog directories.  Can’t find these marketing reference directories in the local library? Call the publishers and buy  a copy.  They ain’t cheap ($400) but if you’re serious about marketing to catalogs this will be a great investment.  If you have more than one product to offer, you’ll get a lot of use from these marketing reference books.  We live in our copy here at my office.

If you are just marketing a single product, if you 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 other great reference books and directories  available.  Keep in mind all the catalog directories will show the bigger catalog houses.  Some of the smaller directories show less information about each catalog and don’t provide information on the smaller niche or specific trade or industrial catalogs.

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, and an exceptionally low cost great value.  Nearly 850 subject categories are shown in this 500+ page marketing tool.  I’m not sure if it’s still available, since this article was written several years ago butI know you can get older copies.

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 $312.50.  A wonderful resource for marketing to catalogs.

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? Business Resourse directory: Comprehensive coverage of 104 industries, Business Information … 4,115 Trade Shows; 2,479 Directories & Databases; 3,081 Industry Web Sites; 57,476 … Visit or call them at 800-562-2139.

Find all those firms who may sell your product yet?  Yes?  Let’s go to step three.  Do not pass go, do not collect $200 – well not just yet, anyhow.  The rest of the stuff is a piece of cake.


Catalog Marketing Step Three: Price your product for catalog sales.

Here’s the bad news:  All catalog houses like to make a 300% to 400% mark-up on the products they carry.  Thats right – they like a 3 to 5 times mark up on the cost.  So if you sell to a catalog house at $10 they’ll list it between $30 and $50 dollars. But…

All catalog houses will mark-up a product less if they like it.  Or if the competition demands they sell it for less of a price.

To be Frank, which would be weird because most of my friends are used to calling me Jeffrey, 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 price 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. Or… if the catalog house needs to keep the retail price low because your product has huge distribution and other catalogs or storefronts are selling at a lower price the cataloger won’t want to look like they’re gouging their buyers so they’ll have to keep the cost low to look good the eyes of their customers… and to be competitive.

But those product parameters are few and far between.  Figure them to double their investment at worst.  Your product costs you ten dollars to manufacture, you sell it to them for $15 and they’ll retail it for anywhere from $24.95 – $29.95 (discount catalog) to $39 – $49 (normal mark-up) to $59 – $79.95 (list plus) for high end catalogs.  Remember, they are both the wholesaler and the retailer and as such can command more of the action.  And don’t forget they can purchase in huge quantities.

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.  Chances are they won’t list it in their book at twice the price, because when customers will think their price is way too high 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 from that catalog.


Catalog Marketing Step 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 – if 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 worthwhile follow-up possible.  Tracking it down, and saying “Didja’ get it?” aren’t worthwhile and only lead to losing conversations — IF you can find the person who’s desk it landed on.  And I’m betting against that…

The best way to find out the buyer’s name is to ask the operator.  Don’t forget to get the correct spelling of his or her name at that time.  Then ask to be connected to the new products buyer.  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.  The larger catalog houses – like the big retail box-store chains – have different buyers for different lines of merchandise.

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 have your new product on a catalogue’s cover.

Unfortunately, no one likes a product that’s not a proven seller in the marketplace.  So… it can be a tough sell, and many catalogue houses will give you and your new product a hard time, or even worse: a poor test, placing your product on the next to last page of their lowest print-run catalog.  It’s very limited exposure, but what the heck – even though it’s just a test you’re in their catalogue.  You can now take a copy of that page and send to other catalog houses and say, “See – I’m already in a pretty big catalogue” and weigh-in with that kind of strong credential when you offer your product to them.


Catalog Marketing 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.  So 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 selling 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.  If your product isn’t ready or proven, the catalogue would be foolish to prematurely offer it when doing so could be a catastrophic mistake.

When you send your product sample, make sure it 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 lousy photography or typographical errors.  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 if not thousands 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 about the quality of their cars – and if they let mistakes get out in the braking system of their cars and trucks, also?


Catalog Marketing Step Six: Let them know you can deliver a consistency quality product on their demand.

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 your invention – a new tool – to the Brookstone catalogue.  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 spin-off catalogs they mail to the specific market segments of automotive products 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 on time – on their timeline.  This may mean a letter from a strong manufacturing partner that they have the capacity to produce fast and 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, a bit of 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.

If you liked this very direct catalog marketing article, you might like these other marketing articles: Direct Marketing Articles; “How To Market” Articles At Their Best!

Jeffrey Dobkin

Don’t forget these other handy articles: How Do I Market… Anything? And Direct Marketing Articles – Page 2  along with Magazine Publishers Hate Me

Jeffrey Dobkin is a direct marketer and a consultant with years of experience marketing inventions to the catalog industry.  Need more information?  Call him at 610-642-1000, this number rings on his desk.  If no answer – please leave a message and he’ll call you back when he sobers up.  Just kidding. He never sobers up.  Or email Jeffrey at Jeff Dobkin at G Mail.