50-year-plus Catalog Veteran Enjoys It Small and Simple
BACKGROUND: Bill Boatman’s rural upbringing lured him into hunting and an outdoor lifestyle. Prior to printing his first catalog in 1955, Boatman owned a small grocery store in the Ohio farming town of Highland. While running the store, Boatman bought space ads in hunting magazines plugging hunting dog accessories he also was peddling. That led him to start a catalog.
Before putting the Bill Boatman & Co. catalog together, Boatman compiled his own informal mailing list, collecting and processing the names and addresses of his customers at the grocery store. When he’d collected 3,000 of them, which he deemed sufficient at the time, Boatman went about planning his first catalog and mail drop. “I realized the need for a direct catalog for hunters,” Boatman says, noting that it gave him an edge on direct mail competitors that relied on magazine space ads. By 1956, Boatman printed and mailed 70,000 catalogs. This year, the company will mail more than 150,000 catalogs.
BIGGEST INITIAL CHALLENGE: Learning the most effective way to place products gave Boatman the most trouble early on. “I also had a hard time with pricing and trying to keep an eye on the competition while keeping an eye on the bottom line,” he says.
He struggled with getting quality illustrations and photos in his company’s earlier catalogs. “Back then,” he reflects, “it was black-and-white photos or zinc half-tones. Today, everything’s evolved with computers.”
HOW HE DEALT WITH IT: Boatman scoured mail order books written by such advertising experts as David Ogilvy, Max Sacheim and Vic Schwab. According to Boatman, these books and articles acted as reference guides when he had a problem or question. “I’ve learned to put merchandise on the front and back cover, which many catalogs don’t do,” he says. “Everything I’ve read says that pages two and three are the most effective pages to sell. I also began to stress the benefits of owning the product, rather than individual features.”