For any distributor, a catalog represents a significant investment. Naturally you want to get the most out of your investment — making sure you are fully utilizing its strengths to obtain a higher ROI. But there comes a point when a catalog’s efforts no longer prove to be a great help to your sales efforts; but can rather be a hindrance. Say again?

Keeping a catalog active too long will eventually lessen your opportunities for continued or new growth. You cannot expect a catalog that is more than 18 or 24 months old to provide you with the same amount of impact as it did when it was first released. This would be like expecting your sales representative to call on a new account for two years and never allowing them to discuss or present anything more than what they had presented on their initial sales call.

The industry, and the compliance standards that help drive it, has kept the customers’ attention focused on what is new and effective. It has also fueled the manufacturers’ desire to keep their product offerings up-to-date and applicable. This means the manufacturers are not only introducing new products, but they are also eliminating outdated products.

We would be greatly mistaken if we did not see the correlation between a catalog’s lifecycle and the influences of the industry it serves. It’s a catalog’s ability to reflect the changes within the industry that determines its relevance and effectiveness in fulfilling the customers’ needs. If a catalog is not meeting a customer’s needs, then it serves no purpose.

Establish a lifecycle
To make sure your catalog does not suffer the same fate, it is imperative you establish the lifecycle of your catalog based on the right qualifiers.

Do not determine the lifecycle of your catalog based on the number of catalogs you have left in your warehouse. If a catalog is no longer effective, then sending out more catalogs will not boost your sales; it will only result in wasted postage and a lower ROI.

Nor should you wait until the complaints, from your sales team, about the ineffectiveness of the catalog become too much to bear. The efforts of your catalog and your sales team go hand-in-hand. If your sales team has been trained to address the latest compliance issues, so should your catalog.

There are several factors that attribute to a catalog’s downswing in its lifecycle. By far, the most significant reasons include product selection, pricing information and catalog distribution.

A catalog’s lifeblood
Product selection for a catalog is its lifeblood; and can literally make or break a catalog. To further complicate the matter, product selection is driven by internal goals as much as it is by outside influences. Not only will manufacturers introduce new product offerings to reflect new compliance standards, but they will also discontinue product offerings. If a customer can’t find a product they are seeking in your catalog, don’t assume they will always call and ask — they may decide to look elsewhere.

Pricing flexibility
Pricing is also another area that plays a significant role in a catalog’s success. The dilemma here is not so much the issue of pricing products too high or too low; rather it’s a matter of will your “printed” price support you for the next 18+ months. Can your established pricing support a manufacturer’s price increase? Will the profit margin you establish today be healthy enough to support your continued growth of tomorrow? You could possibly publish a non-priced catalog, but then you will only further complicate the purchase process for your customers.

Catalog retention
The distribution of your catalog represents another area of importance in your catalog program. After all of your hard work and investment, your catalog will best serve you if it’s in your customer’s hands and not in your warehouse. But how long will you expect a customer to keep your catalog? Will you keep re-sending the same catalog to them over and over again? More importantly, how many catalogs are your competitors sending to your customer base? These are but a few questions to seriously consider while planning how to best distribute your catalog.

Plan & execute
Your catalog program, and its lifecycle, should never be based on reactive strategies; rather, it should be based on proactive strategies for growing your business. If you wait until your catalog is at the very end of its lifecycle before you introduce your next catalog, then you will have to account for the time needed for your new catalog to permeate your customer base before it can peak their interest. Through proper planning and careful execution, you can easily maintain a high level of interest for your catalog.

Make a determination of how to model your catalog program with a vision of your company’s overall plans for growth in mind. Haphazard or reactive planning can result in a greater amount of “downtime” for your catalog. It will also require a much longer recovery time for your catalog to once again reach the desired level of interest among your customer base.

One of the easiest ways to keep your customers intact is to not give them an excuse to look elsewhere for the items they need or want. Although your catalog is only one element in your overall customer service effort, you must be sure it is at the same operating level as the other elements it assists.