Northwest River Supplies, Paddlesports Equipment Guide, Spring 1999

True, you can’t judge a book by its cover, but the Annual Catalog Awards judges were nonetheless impressed with the front cover of Northwest River Supplies’ Silver-winning edition. Bold yellow type enhances this cover photo of river rafters paddling upstream in the bright mountain sun. What’s more, Northwest River Supplies uses the cover to plug its Website by placing the URL on an angle just left of the cover’s center, so that it’s prominent but doesn’t ruin the effect of the art. “Great placement on the page,” praised one judge. The panelists also raved about the back-cover photo of a rainbow assortment of kayaks lined up in the back of a truck.

Northwest River Supplies’ merchandising pleased the judges as well. The catalog sells a solid range of product for river rafters, from helmets and paddles to life-preservers for pets! The catalog even sells reusable, transportable toilet systems. In the words of one judge, “NRS gives buyers all the accessories they need.”

Copy scored big with judges. Case in point: a remarkable testimonial by an NRS customer who had taken an 18-day rafting trip through the Grand Canyon; when he sprung a tube leak six days into the trip, he called the company’s 800-number printed on the raft. Soon thereafter he received a new raft, delivered on site via plane, car, and finally, mule. Now that’s service.

As if such gripping testimonials aren’t enough to hook buyers, the rest of the catalog’s copy is just as straightforward and convincing, the panelists agreed. The NRS Rodeo Shirt, for instance, is intended for “when early morning breezes demand more than a vest.” And how can any rafter resist the Foam Oar Grips, which claim to “reduce fatigue and prevent blisters?” The copy certainly meets its objective: to sell product. As one judge put it, “The copy is well paced, and the book is not cluttered.” In fact, the layout draws the buyer to the “functional, yet exciting” photography. But the product shots could be larger, another panelist pointed out. “They’re a bit small to show the detail of some merchandise.”

Despite its heroic efforts to resolve problems, NRS’s lack of a 24-hour customer service line hurt the catalog when it came to rating the overall service and user friendliness. But the book did score points for its pull-out order form and the availability of gift certificates. Still, delivery by mule has to count for something. As one judge put it, “You can tell that these people love their business.”

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