Time for a Repackaging?

We turn our attention this month to Sudbury, MA-based Chiswick Packaging Solutions, which sells boxes, labels, tape, and other packaging products to businesses. Gregory Chislovsky, president/CEO of New York-based consultancy Bel-Aire Associates, and Rob Palowitz, partner/chief creative officer of Boardman, OH-based Palo Creative, reviewed Chiswick’s 148-page Buyer’s Guide.

REVIEWER #1: GREGORY CHISLOVSKY

Chiswick Packaging Solutions does an excellent job in the amount of useful information it provides, both for prospective buyers as well as for current customers. Page 2 features key ordering information and a color-coded table of contents. The information is easy to read and clear so that even inexperienced buyers would have little problem making decisions. For example, the charts on pages 6-7 give the dimensions, specs, and pricing for the cataloger’s line of corrugated boxes in a straightforward manner that facilitates ordering.

In fact, the size, uses, and characteristics of just about every item in the catalog are depicted clearly. I like the information boxes that cover topics such as “How to Measure,” “Box Styles,” and “Tape Usage Guide.” A table on page 34 explains how to choose the correct mailer, while page 51 offers an excellent guide for ordering.

I also like how related merchandise is cross-promoted throughout the catalog. For example, page 28, which sells sealing tape, has a callout promoting “Customer Printed Reinforced and Non-Reinforced Tape Available, page 30-31.” Chiswick’s addition of people in many photos also helps show usage and size relationships. I like the photo of the customer service staff and the depiction of a person using the loose-fill dispenser on page 100.

Overall, I feel that the copy is clear and to the point and does not require many, if any, adjustments. The weaknesses are mainly in layout, typography, and photography. Elevating the visual appeal will surely translate into higher response rates.

Where we need some work …

The cover, as you’ve no doubt heard time and again, is the most important part of the catalog. It establishes the image of the company and gives an indication of the merchandise available. The cover should also highlight any special items or promotions that will inspire the customer to open the book.

Chiswick needs to establish a stronger corporate identity cover, whether it’s a single high-impact image or multiple images to convey the variety of products available. The cover now includes a generic shot of a few products against a blue background. The cover’s only copy, aside from the name and the tagline, says: “Call Our Sales Staff Toll Free.”

As mentioned earlier, page 2 presents ordering information in a clear concise manner. But it lacks a strong corporate positioning statement that would give a prospect a compelling reason to buy from Chiswick. Page 3 begins the selling pages for its strongest category — corrugated boxes — instead of promoting all the various merchandise categories found throughout the catalog. Traditionally the opening spread establishes the company position and gives a visual and descriptive indication of its products and services. This is especially important when mailing to prospects who are receiving the catalog for the first time. The opening spread must convey a sense of merchandise classifications, uses, pricing, and service. Ideally this should take the full two opening pages. If space allocation is limited, you should include key item classifications, selling one item of each category from this position. The spread should also guide the customers to the balance of these items within the book.

The internal pages need a more organized design format, as they carry quite a bit of information and a number of photos without any particular focus to bring the reader into the page. The layouts require a large amount of space to show charts listing sizes, product codes, pricing, and whatnot. I would try to make the layouts more reader friendly. For instance, Chiswick might include a depiction of the merchandise next to or as part of the chart.

And although the photos are functional and show the merchandise in an acceptable manner, Chiswick could improve the lighting, the propping, and the background colors to create a more uniform look throughout the catalog.

The Chiswick book is similar in many ways to the catalogs of its competitors, which include Uline, VeriPack, Associated Bag Co., and Fidelity Paper & Supply. But some of the competitors have better photography and clearer layouts, while others have stronger corporate appeal. By making several small changes in design and photography, Chiswick can better stand out from the crowd.

REVIEWER #2: ROB PALOWITZ

When I first peruse a catalog, I like to look at the obvious details right off the bat. For instance, when looking at the front cover, is it evident what company the catalog is from or the type of product it sells? Can I easily find the contact information to place that impulse buy? Does the cover create a sense of urgency to look inside?

How about the back cover: What’s on special? Is there a private-label product back there with a lucrative profit margin? I think these are some great starting points when evaluating the success and handling of your catalog from the creative end and tying it in with merchandising product properly.

In general, I like how Chiswick uses color throughout the catalog’s layouts to differentiate product categories. Also, I like the use of headers with the same typeface and font size throughout.

But the Chiswick catalog does drop the ball in a few places by not using its “hot spots” properly, and I find its placement of certain elements odd. Take the page 146-147 spread, which shows a chart of gusseted expandable polyethylene bags. A four-page order form insert is wedged in the middle, so you go from new items in the gusseted bag line to the index of the special insert of the order form and then back to the gusseted bags. Why not have that four-page insert in a middle spread designed to accommodate it?

In the beginning, there was a box

On another note, I believe that the Chiswick folks box things a little too much. Instead of using hairline rules to separate certain elements, they use boxes for just about every element on a page, on just about every page. As a result, each page looks a little busy and “enclosed.”

The catalog also uses bullet points a bit too much. A copywriter should convert some of the bullet points into full-fledged text paragraphs to read better and tell a story. Although the products may be industrial and may not have many bells and whistles, it wouldn’t hurt to have some copy mixed amid the layouts to keep the customers interested.

Chiswick’s page 18-19 spread is selling staplers and staples. I would rather see the alphabetical lettering for the product keys go across the whole spread rather than on each page. Another page, selling tape and tape dispensers, uses starbursts to indicate points such as “economy brand for light industrial use,” but the text is too small to be effective.

In the warehouse products section of the catalog, Chiswick cuts back on its use of the boxes, adding silhouettes and outlined images that make the layouts a little more appealing and interesting. But the ordering information on pages 74-75 appears to be just thrown in that spot. As the center spread, that real estate should be considered for an order form insert or a catalog request card to help call attention to the important customer service information there.

In addition, “New Products” are lost on pages 76-77. Chiswick should consider putting those items closer to the front or the back of the catalog, and then reference them in multiple spots. Although the cover points out the new products on pages 76-77, the message is hidden. I had to look at the cover twice before I noticed it in the upper corner. A bolder treatment and typeface may have helped.

The back cover is underused as well. This is such a great hot spot to feature products, yet it’s covered mainly with text and features only one product.

Let me reiterate that the Chiswick catalog does have some elements that I like. The use of a consistent header and footer is one set. Most of its charts of product SKUs and pricing tiers are handled consistently throughout the book as well. The use of stylized photography in which the products are shown being handled by a person is a good practice as well. It shows size, proportion, and ease of use.

I have to admit that the more I look at the catalog, the more I want to call Chiswick and order a custom box with my logo on it. Now where is that phone number…oh that’s right, on the bottom of every right-hand page.

WOULD YOU LIKE YOUR CATALOG TO BE CRITIQUED?

If so, send four copies of the same edition of a catalog, along with basic information about your company (target market, merchandise niche, competitive advantages), to:
Catalog Critique, CATALOG AGE magazine, 11 River Bend Drive South, Stamford, CT 06907

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