Anatomy of a Startup
The Cataloger’s Story
Can an established retail and Internet merchant profitably start a catalog in this era of rising postal and production costs? Some catalog industry experts say the risks are too great and the ideal time to launch a new print catalog has passed. But is that really true?
John Hambleton aims to find out.
Hambleton sells surf-related apparel and accessories via two beach shops in Florida — Islanders in Fort Walton Beach and Pensacola Beach — and the Web at IslandSurf.com. His Internet sales have convinced him that selling remotely is a viable option for his merchandise offering. And so, like other e-commerce merchants before him (e.g., Amazon, eBay), Hambleton wants to launch a catalog that would drive sales to his site. He’s already enjoying results from his efforts in search engine marketing and affiliate programs. But would a print catalog give him the revenue lift he seeks?
Here is Hambleton’s story followed by advice from three catalog industry veterans.
“A Shop Became Open”
In 1980, a store near Hambleton’s home became available, and he and a partner started selling T-shirts, flip-flops and sunglasses. In 1985, Hambleton bought out his partner and began growing a retail chain. At one point, he had five beach shops in Florida, three of which were self-funded.
“I opened them more to remain competitive, because our profits were starting to erode at the time,” Hambleton recalls. “I later discovered that’s a questionable technique to grow a business.”
Once his Web sales took off, he closed three of the stores. “I began to cut off the branches that were unproductive,” he explains.
His Pensacola Beach store suffered severe damage from Hurricane Ivan last fall, but it may have been a blessing in disguise, he says. “It now gives me the time and resources to start a catalog.”