How To Produce A Great Catalog

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When getting started with a catalog, the first step is to decide who’ll take the lead on this mammoth undertaking. Do you have someone in-house who can take it on or likes that type of work? That’s one option to consider. It’s also important to consider the level of work you expect. Unless the proper training is there, you’ll likely not receive the caliber of work you’d get from professionals who create catalogs regularly as their primary job.

Outsource Or Divide And Conquer

Most importantly, analyze this project like you would any project with your business. It’s easy for projects like these — ones that are completely different than what your team is accustomed to — to capture a huge amount of your staff’s time and energy. Figure out what’s the best use of time for your team and how you can accomplish the goal most effectively, economically and efficiently. In this respect, it may be beneficial to outsource the project.

9 Principles Of Good Catalog Design

Keep it simple. Don’t fall into the “more is better” pit. Interesting is great but not at the expense of readability. Mix too many fonts (types, treatments, sizes) and colors, and you may just end up with confusion.

Require readability. Catalogs are notorious for conveying mega-volumes of information. That’s great, but if you cram it all onto one page, you may reduce the readability so much that you contradict your goal. The paralyzed reader passes you by.

Know your audience. An acronym that makes sense in house may mean nothing on the street. Yes, you know your petunias are always 72s, but does your customer? How many carex does it take to pot up a 10-inch container? Put yourself in their shoes to sell.

Find great photos. It’s great to have a description, but the old adage “A photo is worth a thousand words” was never truer than in a catalog. You can say “stunning” a thousand times and never have the same impact as a photo. Be willing to go the extra mile for good photography, and consider hiring a professional photographer. If you opt to find your own, whether from the internet or another photographer, be sure you know the usage rights on the shots and attribute as required.

High resolution matters. Yes, that shot looked great on your phone when you took it. Yes, it looks OK placed into the file you’re viewing on your computer screen. That doesn’t mean it will look good in print. Printed documents require high resolution images (minimum 300 dpi). Simply put, your monitor compresses the image so you can see it quickly and at the size you want to, but your printer needs more information to make it look clear, crisp and stunning.

Make it easy to do business with you. Do you feel like you’ll see your phone number, eMail and web address in your sleep after flipping through the catalog? Good. That’s about how often it needs to be in your catalog to ensure your customer sees it. Don’t make them work for it; pepper the pages with the most pertinent information.

Ask for it. Don’t assume that just because your catalog is in your customers’ hands, that they will go to the phone or computer and place that order. Frequent, obvious calls to action, such as, “Place your order today,” are the foundation of good business.

Be consistently consistent. Pick a style and stick with it. Establish a simple template up front. Choose font, color and size for headlines, subheads and bodycopy. Have a standard image size and treatment (frame, color, drop shadow).

Know when to break the rules. Having a template doesn’t mean unbreakable rigidity. You may have a series that begs for more photos or a brand new introduction that warrants its own special layout. You may need to mix things up to keep things together, which may mean adding an image to a page to keep that series all together.

To keep from being overwhelmed, break your catalog project down into smaller, more manageable bites, and tackle them one at a time. Even if you work on several portions at the same time (and you likely will), the fear factor is far lower with this approach than assigning one person to start at the beginning and slog through the entire project.

Start by establishing a basic outline, then divide and conquer. A typical layout includes:

• Introduction/welcome letter
• Information about the company
• New products and special offers
• Product selection (establish your list, then go in search of images)
• Specs and ordering (inventory, shipping, minimum orders)
• Index

Information To Include

How do you know what information to include, and how much of it? Start by taking a look at your audience and asking yourself some questions like:

• Are you reaching brokers, growers, retailers or consumers?
• Will you need a different version for different audiences, or will your catalog need to have different sections to meet different needs?
• Do you want customers to use your catalog as a cheat sheet to eMail your sales team or as a handy reference to go through page-by-page when they call customer service to place their order?
• How much information should you put into your tome? Is this more of a quick reference or the end-all-be-all guide to your greenhouse?
• Will you have an online version, whether with integrated shopping cart technology or a simple clickable reference?

Deciding the last question up front means your designer can build the catalog in a way that makes conversion easier. There’s not enough space here to get into all of the elements of electronic catalog design; that’s a whole different animal. But even if you start by uploading a PDF to your website, that’s still a digital option that makes it easier for customers to do business with you.

Answer each of these questions; then consider what to include. If you’re selling plants, think about genus, species and variety names, common name, container, tray or plug size, sun requirements, height, spread, color, hardiness zone, culture, availability and, of course, price.

Few catalog elements beget arguments like price. Every company has its own policy about whether to include it, and managers have many different opinions. Consider whether you are making it easier for the customer or making it easier for the competition to grab a chunk of your business. Are you locking yourself in or leaving the door open for those who seek transparency of business? The best decision is the one that’s right for you.

Stick To A Style

Consistency is as comforting for you as it is for your reader. This means more than standard fonts and colors, although those are key to any operation’s identity.

Think about how you will handle the plant names. It is proper to use the full botanical name (Aquilegia caerulea) on first reference, and after that it can be listed as A. caerulea. Aquilegia c., while convenient, should not be used. Italics should be used in both cases. Unlike botanical names, there is no consistent rule for capitalizing common names. Will you use purple fountain grass or Purple

Fountain Grass? Will you use single quotes around variety names (correct usage) or forego them for simplicity?

These may seem like mundane or maddening musings, but they’re the foundation of a great book. The attention to detail presents a professional image and helps position you as an expert. Plus, they make it easy for your customers to know exactly what you’re talking about. We can’t say it enough; don’t make your customers work for it. If they have to stop and think, it may stop the sale.

The 8 Most Misspelled Words In Horticulture

(Don’t laugh … the easy ones often get overlooked!)

1. Variety
2. Accommodate
3. Commitment
4. Dependent
5. Commercial
6. Vernalization
7. Perennial
8. Foliage

Edit Your Content Carefully

Once you’ve got your rough draft, proofread it. Then proofread again and again. It typically takes at least three reads to see all of the blips and bumps in a document. Read on the first pass for basic grammar, the second for quirks in your collection and the third from the raw view of your customer, someone who’s never seen this before.

Be sure to list patent and trademark information correctly.
Ideally, get at least three different sets of eyes on the catalog before it goes to print. In the best-case scenario, you’ll bring in members of your team from different areas of the company with completely different viewpoints. You’ll be amazed what they notice.

Joli A. Hohenstein (joli@penandpetal.com) is marketing and PR specialist for Pen & Petal, Inc., a marketing, advertising and public relations agency for the green industry who regularly produces turnkey catalogs of all sizes for clients across the globe.
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