““A ship in port is safe, but that’s not what ships are for.”” – Admiral Grace Hopper (1906-1992)

Sooner or later – if you are successful in business – you will consider mailing a catalog. Catalogs are alluring sales vehicles, because they are relatively inexpensive (on a per-item basis), are generally well received by prospects, are helpful in clarifying a business’s unique selling proposition, and are capable of giving you much greater brand recognition.

Whether you sell old books, cigar lighters, clothes, or furniture, a catalog can double or triple your business almost overnight. You can go from earning a living to living the high life in an amazingly short time. You can also go from local obscurity to national prominence in a flash. You can make your company a household name and even make yourself a mini celebrity.

Catalogs Never Made Me Famous, But They Were Good For My Bank Account.

A discount jewelry business I owned went from $1 million a year in sales to $9 million after we introduced a catalog. I had similar success with a line of cosmetics and perfume. Recently, I’ve been working with a few nutritional-supplement companies that are using catalogs to boost “back-end” sales (sales to their customer base).

Of course, like most business propositions, high rewards are accompanied by high risks. Preparing a catalog is time-consuming and potentially very expensive. And it is relatively easy to lose money unless you know what you are doing.

It’s Not Cheap To Break Into The Catalog Business.

If you are looking for good pricing (and you should), before you commit to a certain format, make sure that you have interviewed a number of printers who specialize in catalogs. The presses that do catalog work are sophisticated and fast-changing. And different catalogs (and different quantities) require different types of presses.

Figure on spending a hundred grand to launch your catalog. You can spend half that much if your market is well-defined and you have a good sense of your products (which ones are selling well, etc.). But it’s nearly impossible to spend less than 50 grand because there is a lot of set-up cost in terms of photography, item selection and copywriting.

There is one way you can test the waters – more or less – relatively inexpensively. If you have a significant customer base – thousands of names – you can mail a four- or eight-page mini-catalog to them. This you could do for about a dollar a person, not counting start-up costs. This won’t tell you if you can be a big-time catalog mogul, but it will get your feet wet. And if it works, you might be able to make enough money from it to fund a real catalog test.

In future messages, I’ll discuss specific techniques to make your catalog successful. Tomorrow, I’ll tell you how to get started.