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Big Catalogs

Big catalogs do things that no other sales tool can. They serve as the center of an organization's sales-collateral universe. They identify a company in a crowded marketplace and create a resource that lives and breathes in parts of the world where the Internet cannot go. But they don't preclude a company from having a substantial online presence either.

"We'll definitely always have a catalog," says Jamie Hipple, Creative Director at AutomationDirect.com, which has sold parts to machine manufacturers and systems integrators since 1994. AutomationDirect.com has no sales force, which makes a successful catalog essential.

"Our catalog is our salesman," Mr. Hipple says. In 13 years the company's catalog has grown from 200 pages to 2,200-plus pages. "A lot of our customers use the catalog out in the field," Mr. Hipple says. The catalog can go anywhere and support a company's product line in one portable format.

AutomationDirect.com supplements its catalog with an online store that caters to customers who want to point and click to fill their needs.

USABlueBook, which sells water and wastewater facility products, uses its catalog as a first-line interaction with customers. "A lot of our customers want to have the catalog as their primary buying tool," says Bruce Kahn, Vice President of Marketing and Merchandising at the Chicago-area company. This year's edition of the catalog clocks in at 1,760 pages and showcases more than 125,000 items.

Much like AutomationDirect.com, USABlueBook supplements the catalog with a digital version - a compact disc. With an Internet connection, the user can purchase products directly from the digital catalog.

This type of marriage between print and online is also seen in Quad/Graphics Digital Editions. Quad technicians take a print product and seamlessly create an online version with features such as bookmarking, infinite zoom and point-and-click purchasing. And while these tactics look like a nod to the future, dynamic paper catalogs aren't going anywhere. "Our catalog is truly a staple on contractors' desks," Mr. Kahn says.

Cleveland, Ohio-based Lincoln Electric helps companies make their welding operations more effective, efficient and profitable. In its Welding Consumables Catalog, Lincoln Electric offers more than 230 products in one 600-page catalog. In the past, these products were offered in 10 individual catalogs.

"One of the goals in 2010 was to incorporate all consumables in one high-page-count catalog that supports all of our offerings," says Reynold DeChant, Marketing Services Manager for Lincoln Electric. To complete the integrated marketing approach, the catalog is also available online on the company's Web site as a Quad/Graphics Digital Edition.

"The Quad Digital Edition captures Web activity and provides real-time statistical reports that provide significant value to our marketing efforts," Mr. DeChant says.

Popular thinking has print and the Web at odds, but reality defies perception. In fact, companies can use large catalogs to anchor their sales collateral, which often include online media.

The big catalog isn't for everyone, but for some, it is everything.

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