Maintaining the Gold Standard
National Geographic’s yellow rectangle is recognized worldwide for its authority and credibility as a source of exploration information.
Consequently, the pressure to feature similarly authentic catalog products runs high. But the catalog staff welcomes the challenge.
“You have to be willing to follow the process of approval for each item,” says Linda Berkeley, president of National Geographic Enterprises, of which the catalog is a subdivision. “You have to be willing to walk away from items that are inappropriate, even if you think they might make a lot of money.”
By featuring only merchandise that can support its tagline, “Products that bring the world and its wonders to you,” the catalog seems to please both longtime Society members and newfound customers. Since its relaunch in 1998, the catalog’s revenues have risen 144 percent, and its buyer file has doubled to 309,390 consumers. Such results can be at least partly credited to building the organization’s brand mission into every step of the merchandising process.
Product Hunting and Gathering
The catalog’s streamlined merchandising begins with the fact that it employs only two primary product buyers, each of whom has the brand ingrained in them, according to Ed Coleman, catalog vice president and general manager. The buyers source from domestic and international trade shows, keeping in mind the brand’s major themes: photography, history, nature, culture, science and exploration.
The buyers also are mindful of the coordination between catalog products and editorial initiatives. Before leaving for shows, they review subject trends within the society. While at the show, they search for items that can supplement those initiatives. For example, the Holiday 2002 catalog features a two-page spread of videos, ornaments, board games and furniture that highlight the Society’s recent television and magazine editorial focus on Egypt.
But it’s not enough for a product just to match up with the mission; its vendor must be brand-worthy, too. Those hoping to provide catalog products must agree in writing to adhere to certain standards and practices, including research to ensure product accuracy, product testing, provision of references, and certification of fumigation for products made of wood sourced from overseas. These measures add another two weeks to the usual sourcing process and may explain why the company uses only about 10 percent of the product samples buyers bring back from shows, notes Amber Molholm, director of creative and merchandise planning.