PATIENT: Doc, 20 years ago, I launched a new catalog successfully. Now I’m thinking of launching another one. But I’ve been out of the business for a while. A lot must have changed in the last 20 years. What’s different about a launch or spin-off today that I need to know?
CATALOG DOCTOR: Many of the old prescriptions for a launch or spin-off still work. But there are also new, complex combination treatments because of today’s postage costs, paper costs and the growth of the Web.
Kitchen Table Still Usable?
Launching a brand-new catalog from your kitchen table is still a theoretical possibility. Then again, so is winning $20 million in the lottery. I don’t advise betting the farm on it, however. Yet, there’s still plenty of room in the market for new catalogs. And there are ways to reduce both cost and risk.
Whether you’re launching a brand-new catalog or a spin-off from your existing book, consider testing on the Web first. Although Internet buyers don’t precisely mirror catalog buyers, a Web launch gives you pretty good insight into whether or not your concept works.
While testing Web-only enables you to build an initial buyer list — a big advantage when it’s time to add the print catalog — it also means you need not invest in printing, paper or postage, which are huge costs for today’s cataloger.
Build on an Existing Business
If you can add a catalog channel to your existing business, the risks will be lower and your chances of success much better than starting one from the ground up.
If you have a retail store, you already have inventory, an idea of what sells, a facility to warehouse and ship products — at least on a small, start-up scale — and customers coming into your store who may sign up for your mailing list.