Starting out

Looking at a few catalogues it will become obvious that there are several items that most organisations can market, such as tea towels, T-shirts, re-use labels and Christmas cards.
Trading adds synergy to a charity’s relationship with supporters by cementing loyalty, spreading the message, giving an easy way for everyone to assist financially and helping local groups earn funding and reach the public.
With a new catalogue it is important to choose the best designer that can be found and to only use good quality materials. Art colleges can be helpful, but students needs careful direction and sub-standard work must not be accepted. Shoddy goods will reflect badly on the charity and it will not be possible to build up repeat purchases, which are the foundation of future sales. For example, running a competition offering the winner the chance to have their T-shirt design printed in the catalogue invariably produces awful designs that no-one would be seen dead in.
A certain proportion of stock will not sell. Some stock will need to be written down at the end of the year (say 10%) and an allowance made for shrinkage (say 5%).
Old favourites that sell well should not be dropped, but updated by changing the design slightly.
Stocks can be kept down by buying for only one catalogue at a time. Ordering small quantities repeatedly, whilst ensuring they arrive on time, will also keep stock costs down (as long as the small manufacturing run does not cost more). This is important as money held in stock can not be used for anything else and is therefore a waste. ‘Just in time’ delivery is best, but stocks must arrive in time for people to post them on successfully for Christmas – people do not forgive or forget if their present giving has been messed up.
Catalogues should start small with a few items until more knowledge is gained on the kinds of items goods the charity’s supporters will buy. A premium can be charged on branded items as these are unique! The usual mark-up is around 2.5 times the purchase price.

Setting out the catalogue

There are many commercial books on catalogue layout and their wisdom applies to charities as much as it does to commercial firms.
The cover sets the tone of the catalogue. It can increase sales of the best items and and attract people inside with an image of something you know they will like. Best-selling items should be on the cover, not those the charity is desperate to shift.
The first pages should talk to the customers by setting out the charitity’s policy and philosophy of trading. It lets customers know the charity cares about them.
A celebrity endorsement can help so long as it actually encourages people to buy rather than just saying that the charity is a worthy cause. It is quite acceptable to draft the letter for the celebrity and allow them to add a personal note or change something if they wish. Some will rewrite the draft and improve it greatly, others will just sign the draft.
Customers need colour images, as they will want to ensure that the items match others they have and are suitble for their homes. Key points and important details must be added to the picture. A simple, clear layout can still show many items per page, but they must all be clearly visible. Customers want to see exactly what they are buying because they cannot call in at a shop, see and handle the goods first.
People are buying the benefit of having the product, not the product itself. Describing products in those terms increases sales.
Items need to be numbered, priced and described accurately.
Slow-moving items can be marked down and sold off to ensure good turnover. They should not be allowed to clog up the catalogue as it needs to be kept fresh and interesting. Local groups can be used to sell off items cheaply to prevent them from taking up valuable selling space in the catalogue.
It is worth trying out what everyone else does. They may be doing it because it works! This includes sending out the catalogue well before Chritmas and mentioning it in the next newsletter. Two issues can be created with different covers but the same contents – one for summer and one for Christmas.
A Spring catalogue should not be tried until the Christmas market has been established as 85% of sales are said to be pre-Christmas.
Celebrity endorsements sell products and add glamour to the organisation.
A clear and simple order form must be provided. A FREEPOST address saves customers finding an envelope and a stamp. The catalogue can be inserted into a newsletter to avoid clashing with appeals and saving on postage. This should be tested to see if a separate mailing may be more profitable.

Giving good service

Complaints usually come from activists who believe the products should be cheap and the catalogue printed on poor quality paper. The compliments will come from repeat orders by national members who appreciate receiving exactly what they saw, on time. This is especially true before Christmas.
It is absolutely essential to have stocks ready to send out on time. People need to know the last date for ordering. If items they have bought as gifts do not arrive in time to be sent on to friends they will not be willing to give the charity a second chance.
Apologies and prompt explanations must be given if there are any problems in supplying goods.
It should be really easy to purchase from the catalogue and return goods if customers are not satisfied.
Refunds need to be done quickly when required.

Market research

Buyers and non-buyers need to be surveyed to find out everything about them.
Why did they not buy anything? Perhaps the catalogue distribution was not effecient enough. Perhaps the goods are too old fashioned or too trendy for the members. Are they to their taste?
Are they buying for themselves or giving to others?
What would the members like to see in the catalogue?
What have they bought from competitors catalogues recently?
Are the buyers men or women? Is there an obvious reason for that? How should that change the product mix?
The information received needs to be acted upon and all questions can only be asked if the answer can be acted upon.

Increasing turnover

A second catalogue and order form can be sent to anyone who buys anything. It is an opportunity to pass the catalogue onto a friend and give that friend an opportunity to join or to donate to the organisation.
The purchaser will benefit from as many ways to pay as possible, such as via credit card, cheques and postal orders. A credit card hotline can be established, as long as it is properly maintained.
The order form should also give the opportunity to round up the purchase price with a donation.

Going outside the membership

Test the catalogue, or a version of it, in the magazines members read.
A loose-leaf inset, with a FREEPOST coupon to return, to request a copy of the catalogue, can be effective.
All the inserts can be coded, so it can be seen which magazines are most effective. Each catalogue can also be coded to sho win which market it has been cost-effective.
Success can be gained by ignoring conventional wisdom. Lynx was very successful in taking full-page colour ads selling their T-shirts. The WWF was very successful in creating a catalogue that appealed to a very wide range of people outside their list of supporters, enabling them to build up a separate list of purchasers hundreds of thjousands strong. They also used a smaller version of their catalogue to send to each purchaser and, on a reciprocal basis, to send to the purchasers of other organisation’s catalogues. That way a huge database of catralogue-friendly people can be built up. Of course, you will need to have a well-established catalogue with a large-enough range of excellent products that will appeal to a wide audience in order to achieve this.
There are commercial mail order companies which cater for charities by providing a goods, despatch and fulfilment service. These can save a great deal of time and effort if their kind of goods match the supporters’ tastes. The products must fit with the expectations the supporters have of the organisation, both for quality and for their likely needs.