How to Devise a Merchandise Concept
Once the tag line is established, build your merchandise concept under the umbrella of the overall catalog concept. The merchandise concept should be easily described in a few statements and reflect how you’ll deliver the catalog concept and brand elements to the customer.
In most cases, the merchandise concept statement won’t be seen by customers. But, they’ll see the embodiment of the statement in the products you offer and the creative presentation of those items. The following is a fictional version of a merchandise concept statement for a lifestyle home furnishings cataloger:
To delight customers with home furnishings and decorating ideas that have a strong international design flair and enable customers to create an urban chic look that melds with other, more traditional furnishings and accents they may already own. To appeal mainly to 30- to 50-year-old women in upper-middle to lower-upper-income ranges, but still deliver value in each and every product with a level of quality that will surpass their expectations at that price.
During my years in the catalog industry, I’ve met several merchants who didn’t clearly focus their catalog concept. In those cases, the catalog simply became a collection of stuff. And with no clear focus for that stuff—no thread holding the products together—it became hard to present a cohesive story to customers. This hurt the catalogers’ ability to get repeat purchases from customers. It also hurt their prospecting efforts. I’m sure many customers finished perusing their catalogs (or perhaps they didn’t even get that far) and said: “What was that? I can’t figure out what they stand for.”
After you’ve developed your merchandise concept, ensure that your merchants continue to embrace it and can discern what items are right for your book. For example, keep the merchandise statement in front of the buyers—post it in the sample room, in a frame hung on the walls of their offices, or print it on a card they can carry in their planners. The more you focus on the statement, the more focus you’ll see in your product offering.