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How to Create a Custom Safety Catalog

by Matt Johnson, on Mar 15, 2016 3:48:15 PM

Designer creating a digital catalog

Are you considering creating your own custom safety catalog in-house?

Great! You've come to the right place.

We'll show you how.

Designing and printing your own custom catalog is a rewarding experience. There's a considerable amount of hard work involved, but in the end - when you smell that freshly printed ink in your hands - you will rejoice over the fruits of your labor, and your sales force will have one of the most powerful brand-converting tools known to man - the custom catalog.

In this post, we'll show you five areas of planning that need to be considered as you begin to think about undertaking such a project.

1. Select Content

What's going to be in your book? Products right? The first thing you will want to do is think about your product strategy. Just because you have access to 11 different eye wear suppliers, doesn't mean they all need to be in your catalog. Think about the cereal aisle at your local grocery store. That kind of selection is paralyzing. What we want to do here is work on a "good, better, best" supplier product strategy, and begin filling out spreadsheets with the aforementioned strategy.

  • Use a good-old-fashioned Excel Document.
  • Break-up your products into logical categories to start - the more the merrier! We can always group sections later we we get to the design phase.
  • Use one sheet for each section (this is helpful because 7,000 SKUs on a sheet can be a bit cumbersome!)
  • Add your products to each category, following a good, better, best scenario.
  • Include some basic information i.e., Supplier Name, Product Name, MFG#, and Description
  • Consider page layout EARLY in the game. Usually 4-6 products fit on a page. Think about how many pages of protective eye wear you desire. Even numbers are best when it comes to grouping products.
  • Aim to hit your estimated page count number, based on the number of products on your sheets and the industry average of 5 product blocks/page. For example: 220-page catalog = 1,100 product blocks (est.)

Not many catalog project managers make it past this point. Congratulations! Content is KING. But your work has only just begun.

2. Get Supplier Approvals

Now that you know WHAT is going to be featured in your catalog, it's time to collect the content. Suppliers who are creating a catalog sometimes have an advantage at this point over distributors, in that they only have to communicate with internal resources to photograph, price, and write descriptive content. I say "sometimes" because creating content and updating product information can sometimes be a challenge. If you are a distributor, you will need to contact each supplier individually. This can be a painful process if this is your first time, but rest-assured, future projects will go smoother after you gain access to the initial product content.

  • Using the Excel Sheets you created for your product categories, group your product selection into new Supplier-Specific Sheets.
  • Save these sheets individually into a folder with the supplier name. Ex. "ABC_Catalog_Supplier_Name"
  • Reach out to your supplier contacts, sending them your supplier-specific product sheets
  • Be specific about what you are asking them to verify:
    • Logo
    • Product Name
    • MFG part numbers
    • SKU descriptions
    • Images
  • Now is also a great time to notify your supplier that you will be submitting a request for co-op at the completion of your project.
  • Give them a concrete time line. Most suppliers understand that publications are time-sensitive. Remind them that you have a press date to meet.

3. Design Your Catalog

At this point, you have created your product selection and have refined the content by submitting it for approval through your supplier contacts. Nice job! That's half the battle. It's time for the fun part! But before you even think about starting the design, be sure that you have a designer contracted with a minimum of 2-3 months of time dedicated to designing and printing your catalog. NOTE: It is imperative that your designer has experience working with Adobe InDesign. It's not good enough to be proficient in Adobe Creative Cloud (or suite). InDesign is another animal altogether, and a proficient designer will save you hundreds of hours in design time. Here's some things to consider when designing your custom catalog.

Pro Tip: Imitation is a sign of flattery - and a time saver!

Rather than reinvent the wheel, why not do a little research. What are you competitors doing? What are some parallel industry catalogs that you admire? Find one or two catalogs that you love and imitate what they're doing to save a lot of time planning your design.

  • Front Cover
    • Do you have a feature image?
    • How is your brand represented?
    • What products best showcase the overall content of this catalog?
    • What is the name of this publication? i.e., "2016 Safety Products Catalog"
    • What Call-to-Action will you feature? i.e., "Free Shipping When Order Placed Online"
    • What contact information will you include?
  • Inside Front Cover
    • What company information is important for your viewers to know?
    • What services can you feature here?
    • What can users expect when they visit your website?
    • Do you want to sell this space as a supplier advertisement?
  • Inside Back Cover
    • See above, Inside Front Cover
  • Back Cover
    • Do you have branch locations?
    • Would a map work better than a list of contact information?
    • Do you want to sell this space as a supplier advertisement?
    • What services/products will you feature?
  • Page Template
    • Will you catalog have section sidebars?
    • What contact information do you want to feature in the footer of the product pages?
    • What call-to-action do you want to feature? i.e., "Call Now" or "Shop Online"
    • How will your products look on the pages?
    • Setup several "Product Styles" that can be used to accommodate a variety of product content.
    • Product Styles: 1-column, 2-column, 3 column, and "Hero Treatment"
    • Design a library of call-outs and violators to highlight different features i.e., "On Sale" or "New"

4. Production & Project Management

Keeping tabs on the big picture will be paramount to preventing this simple catalog project from taking 5 years to finish! We've heard many (horror) stories about catalog projects that took 2 years to complete, 3 years to complete, and some that were started and abandoned before they even made it to press. Don't let this be you! Project management and a detailed production schedule will help you stay on track and finish your catalog on time and on budget. Here's some tips about project management.

  • Set a PRESS DATE - this is your drop-dead due date to have files delivered to the printer. This date is non-negotiable, it HAS to be met in order for your project to be successful.
  • Working backwards from your due date, list ALL key deliverable milestones i.e., "Eye Protection Section Approved"
  • List all tasks associated with meetingdeliverables
    • Content delivered
    • Design Proof 1
    • Design Proof 1 Edits
    • Design Proof 2
    • Design proof 2 Edits
    • Final Proof
    • Approved
  • Use a project management software to help you stay on track - like Evernote or Asana
  • Track your time - stay on budget with Harvest
  • Assign ONE Project Manager and hold them accountable to meeting the deadline
  • If you are the Project Manager, be prepared to spend 30% of your time working on this project.

5. Printing and Shipping

If you made it this far, you are a rock star! But you're not home yet. To put this much time and resources into this project and NOT print it, would be a colossal waste. At this point, what you've created is essentially a pretty, inefficient substitute for your catalog. While  there is a place for PDF versions of your catalog to be made available online, the highest ideal for this catalog is to be printed and placed directly into the hands of your customers or potential customers. That's the power of a catalog. It's a tangible brand experience. What are some questions you should ask when considering printing and shipping your custom safety catalog?

  • How many current customers do you have on record? Each one will get a copy of the new catalog.
  • How many potential customers, leads, and visitors are being added to your CRM each year?
  • What is the lifespan of this catalog? A good number is 12-18 months.
  • Do you want to direct mail these to your customer list? Your printer should be able to offer a direct mailing service.
  • Will you include catalogs in select boxes that you ship?
  • The MORE the MERRIER
    • There is a sweet spot when it comes to cost per catalog and quantity
    • The higher the print quantity, the lower the cost per catalog
    • Rule of thumb: Print 20% more than you think you'll need!

Any other tips you can share about catalog production?

Safety Marketing Services is the industry leader in catalog design and production. For more information, visit our website and browse some of our previous projects.

 Download the free industry report: Are Printed Catalogs Dead?!


Topics:Catalog Development