There Are No Bad Products, Only Bad Prices

by Bill LaPierre on July 27, 2014

A few weeks ago, I took Terry’s Village to task (click here) for doing a sale catalog which had full copy blocks for individual items that had been marked down from $7 to $4. Worse, there were full copy blocks for every item in the catalog. That is the old-school approach to a sale catalog, wasting a ton of space on products that didn’t sell the first time around.

Look at this sale catalog from Mountain Gear. It is only 32 pages, with a consistent pagination of either 9 or 12 products per page, or roughly 325 products. To me, this format makes sense – if are going to use a catalog for a sale effort in an online world, cram as much product as you can onto the page.

Mountain Gear Sale coverMountain-Gear-spread-1

The folks at Mountain Gear are probably scratching their heads at the moment, because several years ago, I critiqued their catalog at their office in Spokane, and accused them of “SKU barfing” – simply throwing as many products on a page as they could, with no differentiation as to which was right for me.


To a certain degree, they still do that with their main catalogs (especially with those pesky carabiners), but they are getting better.

But a sale catalog is different. You are simply trying to push as many sales as you can – and simply get rid of some products – while possibly making a bit of margin. That’s what makes Mountain Gear’s sale catalog so strong – it is packed with products, and there is no wasted space on copy – if the consumer wants more information, they’ll go online.


Bear in mind, this is Mountain Gear’s Anniversary Sale catalog, an annual event which they probably can’t escape. Thus, some of the product is marked for total clearance, and some goes back to full price in two weeks.

That format begs the question of whether a sale catalog is still a viable answer to getting rid of overstocked and poor selling product. Well, the answer of course is “it depends”.  Some of our clients continue to do well with sale catalogs, and others struggle. But the one common theme is a comment that Frank Oliver from Gardener’s Supply taught me years ago, that “there are no bad products, only bad prices”. This has become my #1 rule of catalog merchandise.

I started going bald when I was 18. Consequently, I always wear a baseball cap when I’m outside, partly for protection for the sun, partly for vanity. Look at the two offers below. The black and blue hat offer below is from Mountain Gear – $19, and no free shipping unless I spend $59. The hat offer further below (with the big orange one) is from eBay, where I buy all my hats for $3, and $1 shipping, regardless of quantity.

Mountain Gear Caps



Yes, I’m sure some people will spend $19 ($25 at full price after two weeks) for a cap simply because it has the North Face logo. But you have to be aware of online pricing for commodity products like this when you put them in your catalog, whether it is sale or not.

Conversely – some products just can’t be saved until the price is really low.


I noticed this string of Christmas lights in the Solutions catalog that came last week, marked down from $80 to $40. But the copy states this strand of 24 bulbs requires 4 “D” batteries! Giant bulbs being powered by batteries? Dumb idea, dumb product – especially when I can get a strand of 250 LED Christmas lights at Wal-Mart for $25, which plug in, eliminating batteries.

My guess is that the reason that they were only marked down by 50% is that some merchandiser buyer just can’t bring him/herself yet to lowering the price to $12, which is where they will finally sell.

But here is the best “sale” catalog I’ve seen this year, which I received from Ben Meadows on July 5. The catalog sells products for loggers, surveyors and forestry professionals – basically anyone working in the woods.



You can’t miss the huge 10% off “dot-whack” on the front cover. What really makes this catalog special is it repeats that 10% off call-out on every page – not just every spread, but every page!!  Think of all the times you received a catalog, which had a tiny offer on the front cover, which you forgot about by the time you got to page 6.  Even if the offer on the cover had been big, you tend to forget about as you get further into the catalog. We always assume that our customers pay as much attention to the cover messages as we do, and that they don’t need further reminders. WRONG! Don’t be discreet. Don’t be subtle. Clobber your customer over the head with messaging like this, especially in sale catalogs. You are competing against online giants that will show no mercy this holiday season.

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by Bill LaPierre

VP – Business Intelligence and Analytics

Datamann – 802-295-6600 x235

We Are Focusing Too Much Time and Energy on Page One

by Bill LaPierre on July 20, 2014

Where have you heard this before: “We are not moving with enough urgency!”?

I’m not going to bore you with the details of how many newspapers I read – suffice it to say, I subscribe to and read several papers daily, including the Wall Street Journal. As such, I was delighted several years ago when I came across the blog called Reflections of A Newsosaur, which describes itself as a place for “musings (and occasional urgent warnings) of a veteran media executive, who fears our news-gathering companies are stumbling to extinction”.

What fascinates me about this website’s “observations” are the parallels to the catalog industry. The catalog printers, the omnichannel data providers, and even our own catalog trade publications are always looking for any scrap of evidence to suggest the sky is not falling and that catalogs are still strong. It is sobering to get a dose of reality from another industry – newspapers – that are suffering in the same manner the catalog industry is. When you look at another industry, you realize the sky is falling.

Take a minute and read this recent posting on why Newspapers Can’t Dabble at Digital. It echoes many of the themes that I have been advocating (and others like Kevin Hillstrom) that catalogs are not moving quickly enough to embrace the digital consumer.

The posting recaps an internal 96-page report that was leaked from the New York Times, detailing how that venerable industry leader has failed to grow digitally, and how it has been “out-thought, out-promoted and otherwise out-gunned by the growing phalanx of digital publishers. Meanwhile, our journalism advantage is shrinking as more of these digital upstarts expand their newsrooms”.  Sound familiar? Do you hear Amazon, eBay, Zulilly and now Alibaba knocking at your warehouse door?

Many of you are knee deep in planning your holiday catalogs. I’ve sat in on several catalog planning sessions lately, where the talk revolved around photo shoots for the catalog, pagination of the catalog, cover strategies, and obviously, circulation plans. But, as the New Your Times report stated, “We are not moving with enough urgency….we are focusing too much time and energy on Page One”. I rarely hear anyone address the digital side of Holiday plans, and when I do, it is almost always an afterthought.

Catalogs are just like the New York Times – there is no sense of urgency to think digital. One example from the report that struck a chord with me is the NYT “aims ambitious stories for Sunday because it is our largest print readership, but weekends are the slowest online”. That’s no different than catalogs waiting to introduce new products in their catalog, rather than getting them online as soon as they are available, because they want the catalog to generate excitement. Good Lord!

When we read reports like the one on the NYT, we shake our head and say “Yeah, I can see how newspapers are getting passed by”. We failed to recognize ourselves in this similar saga, or if we do, we excuse our catalog because we believe it is still “unique”, and think that this only applies to the other guy’s catalog.

The way to fix this is not to simply say, “well, we’ve got a website, we’ve got an email program, and we’ve got a mobile site, and we’re on Facebook, so we have all the bases covered, and that makes us a digital company”, (or worse, “that makes us an omnichannel company”). Having a mobile site does not make you an mobile marketer – it makes you a catalog from which I can order with my phone.

As you roll into your holiday plan, here are some ways to tell if you are thinking like an online company as opposed to being simply another catalog with ecommerce aspirations:

  •  Do you have at least twice the number of products available on-line for purchase than you do in your catalog?
  •  Do you ever keep any of your absolute best products out of the catalog, and make them web-only?
  •  Are more than 50% of your incrementally new customers being acquired with no help from a catalog?
  •  Have you done a hold out test to determine the percentage of on-line demand that comes from existing customer if you stopped mailing them a catalog?
  •  Do you spend the same amount of time and attention on updating your website as you do on paginating and creating your catalog? (I already know the answer on this one is “No”.)
  •  Are you creating separate web-driver catalogs targeted at specific portions of your file?

When you answer yes to all these questions, you are on track to avoiding the collapse that is so easy to see coming in the newspaper industry, and can easily be coming to catalogs as well.

As a final note, the posting on Newsosaur about the NYT report was on July 10. In his posting on July 16, Alan Mutter (the author) detailed some general statistics about the newspaper industry’s decline (worth a read here at The Newspaper Crisis by Numbers). He concludes that piece with this comment: “A newspaper executive told me a few days ago that some people in the industry hate my continuing coverage of the challenges facing newspapers. For the record, I don’t enjoy writing this stuff anymore than newspaper people like reading it. But I do it because I am trying to remind them of the urgent and formidable challenges they face in not just protecting their individual businesses but also in preserving the irreplaceable public trust that newspapers represent.”

I love catalogs, and certainly Datamann’s client base benefits from having a strong catalog industry, as does Datamann itself. But Mr. Mutter’s closing comment about the newspaper industry is a perfect encapsulation of why it is important we acknowledge and discuss what is happening in the catalog industry.

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by Bill LaPierre

VP – Business Intelligence and Analytics

Datamann – 800-451-4263 x235


Summer Catalog Observations 2014 – Part 2

July 13, 2014

Cupcakes and Yoga Pants Every 4th of July, my wife and I climb a small mountain near our home, which we had to delay a day this year because of Hurricane Arthur’s rain in New Hampshire. Although this mountain is in a fairly rural part of the state, it is a popular climb. While we […]

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Robust Techno Babble

July 6, 2014

Since many of you are on vacation this week, or at least just enjoyed a nice three day weekend, I’m going to keep this short and sweet today. My 14 year old son is a big fan of Dilbert, and Scott Adam’s (Dilbert’s creator) dry, acerbic wit. (My son and I get along great!) Whenever […]

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Motorcycles, Averages, Assumptions and Catalogs

June 29, 2014

There are three huge motorcycle events in the US each year – Daytona, Sturgis (SD) and Laconia, NH. I’m not a motorcycle owner or rider – but it is hard to ignore the influx of riders into my home state of New Hampshire during Motorcycle Week, which just concluded last week. The local media reported […]

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Summer Observations 2014 – Part 1

June 22, 2014

Let’s see what the mail man has brought lately, and see how good a job you are doing at motivating customers to buy. Improvements Summer Mailing Oh, I do so love a cover test that proves nothing!  I received these two covers this past week from Improvements. They each feature the same 30% offer on […]

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Don’t Let The Source Gods Weigh You Down

June 15, 2014

I’ve written lately about the need to get marketers and merchants to think more on-line.  That also extends to inventory planners. I will confess that my exposure to inventory planners is limited, but during my frequent client visits, one of the constant laments I hear is that sales could have been better, if the company […]

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Additional Comments on Printers

June 10, 2014

Earlier this week, I offered my observations on various aspects of the catalog vendor community. The blog posting I did on Monday titled You Won’t Find This On Any Printers Website offered my musing on what printers could be doing to extend the life of the catalog industry as a whole. Within that posting is […]

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You Won’t Find This On Any Printer’s Website

June 8, 2014

I started out the year with a critical review of the co-ops. No let’s talk about the printers. I critiqued a local B2B catalog company’s catalog last week, and showed them how they could easily reduce the number of pages by 25%, simply by making some basic creative changes, which I knew would have no […]

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But I Was A Good Customer

June 1, 2014

How often do you notice when a catalog is missing – when they just stop mailing to you, especially, if you’ve been a good customer? Every spring, I always ordered some new t-shirts and sweatshirts from the Hanes.Com catalog. Yes, I could go to Wal-Mart and buy them, but the Hanes catalog had a ton […]

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