Reliable HomeOffice, 1998 Winter

With more and more people setting up consultancies in their basements and telecommuting from their dens, the line between “home” and “office” has blurred considerably. And with its catalog of home office furniture, electronics, and supplies, Reliable aims to take advantage of the small office/home office boom.

Reliable defines its target customers as “entrepreneurs,” and the cover gatefold photo of a cherrywood-finished wraparound desk is clearly fitting for a successful, or soon-to-be successful, executive. The merchandise within continues the theme of success: leather recliners, gold-plated pens, handcrafted hardwood bookcases, and the like. The excellent photography, particularly the depictions of entire office suites complete with a plant on the desk, flatters the products. “The tone connotes elegance and class,” notes a judge, although another panelist frets that “real people don’t work here.”

A few panelists have reservations about some of the “adult toys,” such as a computer bridge game, a CD rack in the shape of the Eiffel Tower, and a ’90s take on the lava lamp. The inclusion of such discretionary items is no doubt meant to boost the average order size and keep first-time buyers coming back. Nonetheless, as one judge says, “the truly frivolous products seem out of place.”

Not one of the judges, however, deems the copy frivolous or out of place. “Relevant and interesting, it emphasizes the benefit-based features,” says a panelist. “and includes all necessary specifications, giving the customer enough information to make the purchase without extensive technical support, which probably reduces the length of calls and the amount of product training for reps.”

Reliable also excels in customer service options. “The catalog covers all the ‘hot buttons’-Deluxe Delivery, in which the delivery team will even set up the furniture for you; the 4 Easy Payments plan; and that complete guarantee, with ‘no questions asked,'” a judge raves. The only beef the panelists have with Reliable’s service is that the catalog doesn’t play it up enough. “Reliable seems to unfortunately resist making its service advantage part of its selling message. Its services are almost invisible until you find the order form.” Another judge adds, “Reliable is selling itself short.” It’s the rare cataloger that is criticized not for its lack of service options but for not playing up its wealth of service options. In this, and in its creation of “a magazinelike, easy-to-read catalog that addresses its intended audience well,” Reliable HomeOffice proves itself rare indeed.

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