A Maker’s Guide To Printed Catalogues

All the benefits and drawbacks

Let’s talk about catalogue formats and which one is right for you.

First, printed catalogues. They can look like:

– A couple of pages stapled together

– A single sheet of paper, printed on both sides and folded

– A leaflet

– A booklet

– A magazine

– A brochure

Whatever form they take, you can hold a printed catalogue in your hands. They’re a physical object.

Now, whether you decide to have your catalogue printed or not, an excellent way to gather ideas is to get on the mailing lists of companies who use them to sell to the general public.

Despite the rise and rise of online shopping, in recent years there’s been a resurgence in the use of catalogues by major retailers. And no wonder, when customers who first spend time looking through a catalogue have been shown to spend more when they visit a store’s website.

Consequently, big department and online stores spend a lot of money on perfecting their catalogues. By signing up to receive them through your letterbox, you can mine them for inspiration. A few who produce catalogues in the UK are:




Cox and Cox

Graham and Green


Wherever you live, getting on a store’s mailing list should be easy – just go to their website and look for a link that says something like “Request a catalogue.”

Here are the benefits of the print format.

It’s a physical reminder.

You’d be surprised by how many wholesale orders are the result of a store simply remembering you exist. Unlike a digital catalogue which can be
accidentally deleted or buried deep in a retailer’s inbox, a printed catalogue is perhaps less easily overlooked.

It’s traditional.

The classic way for a potential supplier to pitch to a store is by sending them a catalogue through the mail. These days it might seem unnecessarily slow and formal, but there are retailers who’ll always prefer to be approached in this way. Depending on what you make and the industry you work in, the traditional route might serve you well.

It suggests you’re robust and established.

Since getting a catalogue printed is expensive, fledgling suppliers who’re just in the door can’t always afford it. If you can, some retailers may take that as an indication of your credibility. Details like the quality of paper and type of binding you choose can also help you communicate something about the ethos and values of your brand.

It can be posted.

Mail-outs can be an effective way to grab a retailer’s attention. Boden, one of the companies I mentioned earlier, found that its customers spend an average of 8 seconds reading one of its emails, but 15 to 20 minutes looking through a catalogue. Shopkeepers are buying for different reasons than regular customers but direct mail still has big advantages.

It’s ideal for trade shows.

If you’re exhibiting at a trade show, you must have something for the retailers who visit your stand to take away with them. They’re seeing hundreds of potential suppliers in a very short space of time so you need to stay fresh in their minds.

Whether that needs to take the form of an all-singing, all-dancing, full-colour printed catalogue, however, is up for debate. If they’ve seen your products in person, an abbreviated catalogue or line sheet can work just fine.

It’s handy to send out with orders.

Suppliers often send out a fresh catalogue with every order a store makes. It’s a way of making sure the shopkeeper always has your details to hand and a tacit encouragement to order again. From the retailer’s point of view, however, it can seem wasteful. Posting extra catalogues out with orders is certainly better than them collecting dust under your desk, but don’t feel you have to send a new one every time.

But it’s not all jam. Now let’s tour the drawbacks of printed catalogues.

It’s expensive.

A printed catalogue is the pricey option, both in terms of the printing itself and postage costs. When faster, cheaper ways of introducing a retailer to your work are at your fingertips, it’s an expense you may not be able to justify.

It’s inflexible.

What if you want to make a mini catalogue showcasing a new collection? Or a Christmas catalogue? Or if you simply want to swap the photo on page three for the photo on page nineteen? Without careful planning, it’s not easy to make those kinds of changes – more on this in a sec.

It’s slow.

The process of preparing, proofing and sending your catalogue off to get printed is slow and so is mailing them out to stores. Collating addresses, checking those addresses are right, sticking on the correct postage and dispatching your catalogues can take ages.

It locks you in.

A printed catalogue doesn’t allow much room for improvisation. Let’s say there’s a necklace in your catalogue which proves to be popular but which takes you quite a while to make. If hordes of retailers start clamouring to buy it, your lead time could get longer and longer, but there’s no easy way to take it out of your catalogue and give yourself some breathing room.

It’s not always what retailers prefer.

Email has become the main way retailers and suppliers communicate because it’s fast, cheap and convenient. If a store gets in touch to say they’re interested in your work, you can have your catalogue in their hands within seconds. Making them wait for it to arrive in the mail risks allowing that momentum to fade.

Now you know more about the printed catalogues, let’s talk about digital wholesale catalogues.

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