Whatever Works: Where Product is King
The partners had no doubt that such a catalog would fill a need, but, as with the startup of Dr. Leonard’s, the problem was what to call the book. An associate, Margaret Hickey, piped in and said, “All these products work. Why not call it ‘Whatever Works.’”
As Brown suggests, the title of the catalog helps them concentrate on coming up with core products. Among their best sellers: Spider Fighter, Deer Repellent, Squirrel Pouches and Bird Barriers. Other items that aren’t easily found at retail: mole chasers, silverfish and slug eliminators, animal traps, a plastic mat with spikes that keeps pets off the furniture, gutter and leaf cleaners, termite killers, and a bat house that encourages a bat colony to live nearby and kill up to 48,000 insects a day.
Because nobody likes to look at four pages of bottles and two pages of spray cans—and because Brown loves color and design—he added decorative items to pretty up the book. Among the hot-selling decorative SKUs: fake, lightweight boulders for the garden; original Miami pink flamingos; an owl statue with movable head to keep birds away; and fake lawn edging that looks like hand-laid flagstone and shale.
When asked why he didn’t allocate more space to the bestsellers rather than giving them about the same square-inch amount as everything else, Brown says: “A good item can’t be hidden. And you can’t make a bad item better. If you give a marginal item a new look with new copy and design, response can be improved by 10 percent, but you can’t take a stiff and turn it into a gem.”
When asked about catalog design, Brown offers the following wisdom:
The cover is not a pretty face or a mood thing. I make it readable and show products in a colorful and humorous way with the page numbers so the reader can get around the book. Sometimes for my own ego I put myself on the cover, but only when I can make myself look silly. I don’t take myself too seriously. On page two, I always have some bestsellers, a photo of me, as well as a personal letter. It’s important that someone who writes a check should know who is getting the check ... .