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The Only Mail-Order Catalog Business Marketing Guide You Need

The Only Mail-Order Catalog Business Marketing Guide You Need
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Having an effective marketing plan in place is essential if you want to start a successful ]]> mail-order catalog company ]]> Increased competition from online retailers and rising costs, including the cost of postage, have affected the industry throughout the past five years and these factors are expected to continue to impact growth throughout the next five years.

The outlook for the future of mail-order catalog companies is favorable, but you’ll need an effective catalog marketing strategy to be successful in this competitive industry. We’ve created the only mail-order catalog business marketing guide you’ll need to launch and grow a successful mail-order catalog business.

Are you ready to start your mail-order catalog business or promote your mail-order catalog company and raise your revenues with our strategic marketing plan? Let’s get started.

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1 Mail-order catalog business startup information

Considering a mail-order catalog business startup? Thinking about how to revitalize your existing mail-order catalog company? Consider the following facts:

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    Number of catalogs received per week

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    Percentage of catalogs opened and looked at

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    Percentage of people buy from mail-order catalogs

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    Average annual catalog spend


Types of mail-order catalog businesses

The type of catalog business you choose will have a direct impact on your startup and operational costs. You may even choose to start a mail-order catalog company from home, without needing to stock inventory or hire any employees.

Mail-order catalog business examples include:
  • Health and beauty products
  • Office supplies, computer hardware and software
  • Clothing, jewelry and accessories
  • Home furnishings and decor
  • Sporting goods
  • Toys, games and hobbies
  • Books
  • Music and video
  • Electronics
  • Gardening and flowers
  • Food
  • Pet supplies
  • B2B catalogs

When deciding what to sell, a great rule of thumb is to choose something you’re genuinely interested in, are passionate about, and knowledgeable about. Have you always been a huge bowling fan? Selling bowling supplies might be right down your alley. Have you been a movie buff your entire life? You might consider selling movie memorabilia. Do you have an obsession with bath products and healthy alternatives to chemicals and preservatives? Turn it into a mail-order business and sell quality soaps, lotions, and bath bombs.

Do your research and make sure there’s a healthy market for your catalog products. Don’t box yourself into an overly broad type of merchandise; instead, find a profitable niche you’ll enjoy.

How much it costs to open a mail-order catalog business

Your startup and operational costs will vary depending on which type of mail-order company you start.

In most cases, the most cost-effective option is dropshipping, in which a distributor warehouses and ships products for you. The dropshipping model eliminates expenses such as warehousing space and employees.

The Dropshipping Model
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You can choose to store and ship your products yourself; depending on the scale of your business, you might start out of your garage, rent warehouse or 3PL space ]]>, or own the warehouse and manage shipping internally. Unless you’re manufacturing your products yourself – which might be the case if you’re starting your mail-order business from home – you’ll need to first purchase them wholesale, so your costs will be significantly more than the dropshipping model. However, your per-product cost will probably be less, since you’re assuming the storage and shipping duties.

You won’t know your startup costs until you do your research, and the best way to do that is to develop a business plan. Use your mail-order catalog business plan to help you delineate what type of business you’ll start, what your costs and operational costs will be, and to outline your marketing strategies for your mail-order catalog company.

You can find free mail-order catalog business plans and advice from the following resources:

How much money do mail-order catalog businesses make?

Profiting from direct-mail catalogs depends on a number of factors, including:
  • What products you sell
  • Your price per product
  • Your cost per sale
  • Postage costs
  • Printing fees
  • Design and layout costs
  • Average order total
  • Warehousing and fulfillment costs
  • The quality of your mailing list
  • Packaging and labeling costs
  • Employee costs
  • Office and other expenses
  • The attractiveness of your products and special offers
Example mail-order catalog marketing campaign
Print 10,000 24-page full-color catalogs
Mailing service
Mailing postage
Mailing list
Total cost
Average order
Average net per order
Response rate(catalog average response rate)
Total orders
Gross revenue
Net profit
$14,500 - $8,922 = $5,578

In this scenario, you’d profit more than $5,000 – not bad for a small catalog mail-order campaign. Of course, these figures assume you’ll be handling your own design, layout, product warehousing, packaging, and shipping – all of which can eat into your profits.

2 Mail-order catalog business branding and design

Branding is an important part of the mail-order catalog business. You want prospects to instantly recognize your catalog when it arrives – and even look forward to receiving it.

Importance of a branded image

Branding your mail-order catalog business is the first step you need to take for long-term growth. Brands build trust and establish identity. Well-branded catalogs become household names and go-to resources for avid customers.

How to identify your branded image

Apply conceptual thinking with modern motivators to create an image that resonates with your customers.

Keys to a great catalog brand
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The following five steps will help you identify your brand:
1. Define your niche

What is your niche in the mail-order catalog industry? Do you cater to hobbyists, customers who prefer shopping at home for products related to personal hygiene or medical issues, pet lovers, busy parents, hunters, or sports enthusiasts? Your niche market and your brand are two different things: Your niche is who you cater to, while your brand represents the psychologically based ideals that make you appealing to that market. How do you differ from your competition? Focus on those elements to help you define your niche.

2. Describe your benefits

Make a list of your features and benefits so you can identify why your customers should choose your mail-order catalog over another. Do you offer free shipping? Free samples upon request? The most trustworthy purchasing advice? Guaranteed satisfaction? Outstanding customer service?

3. Know your customers

List your top customers and identify shared traits. Compose a "perfect customer" profile. What do your customers buy from your catalog? When do they buy it? What do they use their purchases for? How do your products solve their problems or improve their lifestyles?

4. State your mission

Where does your company stand today, and where do you want it to be in two or five or 10 years? Your mission should include who you are and where you're going.

5. Sum it all up

Your brand is an expression of all these things. List all the words and images you associate with your your company, brainstorm potential taglines that represent your company's identity, then pick the most memorable to represent your brand in a single phrase.

Branding through design

As a mail-order catalog business owner, your design is crucial to attracting attention and thus making sales. Your goal is to craft a singular branded image that communicates who you are, what you provide, and who you do it for.

Create a catalog style guide that ensures each edition properly represents your brand in color, typography, photography style, and layout. Ensure your logo is prominently featured on your magazine cover – and every interior page.

3 Mail-order catalog marketing ideas

These mail-order catalog marketing ideas will help you develop winning catalog campaigns that yield strong return on investment.

Design a compelling cover

Your catalog cover is the first thing your prospects will see, so you need an interesting design that influences them to take a closer look. Attention-getting images, bold headlines that promote seasonal specials or your unique benefits, and a focus on identity all contribute to a solid catalog cover design.

Add value to your catalogs

Create editorial content that help establish trust and authority. Offer advice, how-to articles, and product comparisons (including charts and graphs) that help your customers make the best purchasing decisions. Focus on helping customers get the best product for them, not just the more profitable for you, and they’ll come back to buy more.

Feature your customers

Case studies that demonstrate how your products have solved real problems or improved customer lifestyles can convince many prospects to become customers. Showcase happy customers and testimonials throughout your catalog to show prospects why they need to order from you.

Write motivational product descriptions

Take the time to craft compelling product descriptions that help customers visualize themselves using and enjoying your products. Put yourself in your customers’ shoes: What do you need to see and hear to buy?

Include large, full-color photos

Big pictures can lead to big sales. People like to see what they’re getting, and large, full-color photos are attractive ways to put your products on display.

Highlight unique benefits

If you offer free shipping, fast shipping, satisfaction guarantees, gift wrapping, and other benefits, be sure to highlight them throughout your catalog.

Selective mailing

Do you have products that pair well together? Accessories that go with flagship products? If so, include them on the same page and explain why customers like to buy certain products together. Upsells like this can boost catalog profits dramatically.

Selective mailing

Resist the temptation to blanket everyone possible with your catalogs; instead, focus on creating a well-targeted mailing list comprised of people or businesses that match your best customer demographics. In this manner, you’ll be able to market efficiently and boost your return on investment.

Measure results

Include tracking mechanisms to measure your results. Mail-order forms, coupon codes, and unique URLs are all good ways to track results.

Be consistent

Brand recognition and familiarity with your products and services is important to catalog marketing success. Plan to send multiple catalogs over the course of a year: monthly, quarterly, or seasonally. That repetition will help you catch customers when they’re ready to buy what you sell. Of course, if your only busy time is the holiday season, you can simply invest in holiday catalog printing.

4 Mail-order catalog business creative marketing resources

Links to mail-order catalog business marketing resources you can use to bolster business:


Full-service printing, direct mailing and mailing list generation.

]]>Data and Marketing Association ]]>

Information on direct marketing.

]]>Small Business Administration ]]>

Helpful guides, forms and sample marketing plans for small business. The SBA also supports Small Business Development Centers throughout the United States.


The Service Corps of Retired Executives provides free advice in the form of online information and business counseling. Simply contact one of SCORE's volunteer members for business mentorship.

]]>National Retail Federation]]>

Advice and support for all kinds of retailers.

]]>American Marketing Association]]>

Insight into marketing practices, news, and advice.