When it comes to putting great ideas on paper — and innovative products in customers' hands — few things are as effective as mail-order marketing. Catalog companies, including big guns such as SkyMall, Spiegel and Sharper Image, represent a $75 billion market, and enterprising small-business owners are ideally positioned to win a piece of it. The keys to successful catalog sales are:
- Perfect products
- Extended exposure
- Reliable relationships
Choose a catalog-worthy productThe best products for catalog sale are those that are unique, photograph well, have a year-round market and can be easily shipped.
Selling by Mail Order" for an extensive checklist of what makes up the ideal mail-order product.
Price your productWhen pricing your merchandise, be sure to account for the advertising, freight and photography costs that some catalogs might ask you to pay. Consider offering discounts, too, for high-volume purchases.
Promote your productGet noticed by making news with your new product. Display at trade shows and send out press releases in order to generate buzz around your merchandise.
Find — and pitch to — a catalogContact buyers at selected catalogs and send them a written proposal that includes pricing, pictures and a detailed product description.
Make a dealOnce you've secured interest in your product from a buyer, negotiate a deal to include it in his or her next catalog. Make sure your lawyer looks over any contracts you're asked to sign.
Protect your bottom lineCatalogs often withhold payment until many months after placing their order. Consider offering a small discount to clients who issue prompt payment — the slight loss in profits might be worth the huge gain in speed.
- Some companies charge for product placement; catalog-based advertising will cost you, but generally results in greater returns, too.
- Make sure you can produce enough supply to meet demand; catalogs typically order only 25 percent initially of what they plan to sell.
- Be sure to give customers a toll-free number they can call with questions or problems, along with instructions for returning faulty merchandise to you.
- You may be asked to pay a small percentage of a catalog's printing costs; offer to pay with free goods — a larger order than was made — instead.