For certain, cataloging is a merchandise-driven business. Who hasn’t heard about the brilliant product idea that launched a successful mail order enterprise, from Bean’s boot to Lillian’s purse belt to Ballard’s slipcovers?
Merchandise trends come and go, but a few products and product categories have demonstrated remarkable longevity for catalogers. It would no doubt be impossible to definitively rank the 10 best catalog products of all time, but that hasn’t stopped us from trying. We’ve also asked several catalog merchandising experts to give us their product picks.
THE TOP 10 1. The polo/rugby/golf shirt. Once consumers stopped caring so much about wearing alligators on their shirts and sought high-quality casual collared pullover tops, catalogers such as L.L. Bean, Lands’ End, and Eddie Bauer began selling polo shirts like crazy. These shirts “have become a standard in unisex clothing” and a mainstay of the casual apparel catalog business, says Westtown, PA-based catalog consultant Dick Hodgson.
2. Limoges boxes. These delicate little boxes made of Limoges porcelain are ubiquitous in today’s specialty gifts catalogs. “As a collectible item, Limoges boxes are a product line you can constantly expand upon,” says Joan Litle, a catalog merchandising consultant based in Lowell, MA. Some catalogers, including Celebrations Fantastic and Eximious of London, even have special Limoges collector’s clubs.
3. Peace roses. According to Hodgson, this pale yellow rose with pink-tinged petals was developed in Europe and released after World War II. The Jackson & Perkins rose catalog claims that the peace rose is the most widely planted hybrid tea rose in the world, and it remains a top seller in mail order gardening catalogs today.
4. Dog beds. What dog owner doesn’t have a personalized dog bed from L.L. Bean? Or is it from Orvis? How about a leopard-print doggie feather bed from Cuddledown of Maine, or a canine chaise longue from In the Company of Dogs? From the rugged outdoor products marketers to high-end linens hawkers and specialty gifts mailers, dog beds are indeed a cataloger’s best friend.
5. Doormats. That’s right: doormats. Take a look in any gifts, home decor, or gardening catalog and you’ll likely see a plethora of doormats. What makes this pedestrian product a perennial catalog top seller? “It’s a basic format that you can do a lot with” in terms of design and customization, says Litle.
6. Christmas stocking holders. Christmas may come but once a year, but these decorative/functional items have been a hit for gifts catalogers. Stocking holders have had a long catalog run, says Sausalito, CA-based catalog merchandising consultant Carol Fraser, “from the late ’80s to the late ’90s.” And judging by the number of stocking holders that appeared in gifts catalogs this past holiday season alone, expect to see more of them again this fall.
7. Icicle or lace lights. Another Christmas item, these outdoor light sets are designed to hang down like icicles when strung on a house. This novelty product “is the best catalog item I have ever run in my entire mail order lifetime,” says Sunnyvale, CA-based catalog merchandising consultant Kathy Revello. “These lights are now on every house in America!”
8. Gallileo thermometer. This glass thermometer, which uses a special liquid to move glass balls and metal charms to mark the temperature, was red-hot some 20 years ago and made a resurgence in the past four years. Appearing in catalogs ranging from National Geographic to Good Catalog Co. to REI, the Gallileo is a continual top seller, says Atlanta-based catalog merchandising consultant Leila Griffith. “It works in any kind of catalog-home decor, gifts, men’s accessories-and you can easily explain the features in the catalog copy.”
9. The singing bird clock. You’d have to have had your head in the sand not to have seen this clock with pictures of 12 songbirds positioned in place of the clock’s numerals; when the hands hit the hour, the voice of that particular bird rings out. Though a relative newcomer to the catalog product scene, the bird clock gets around and has appeared in numerous catalogs, such as Damark, Orvis, Hammacher Schlemmer, and Plow & Hearth-to name only a few.
10. Sexual aids. Okay, so you wouldn’t find these types of products in the old Sears catalog, or even in the majority of “respectable” catalogs today, but let’s face it: Sex sells. And products aimed at improving one’s sex life-toys, books, videos, lingerie, accessories-also sell. Moreover, many consumers prefer to purchase such products from the discreet comfort of their homes and to have them inconspicuously delivered to their doorstep. Need we say more?