Black Box, 1999 Edition

Did the U.K. version of Black Box curry favor from the judges by touting its 1998 Gold Award on the cover? Well, one judge claims that “highlighting the catalog’s Award-winning achievements adds a measure of customer reassurance.” And for Black Box, customer reassurance is the name of the game. The cover proclaims Black Box to be “the world’s source for connectivity,” offering “superior networking solutions for global communications.” Additionally, the cover sports an award from U.K.-based publishing company Emap and badges promising “Our products are Year 2000 complaint” and “Expert technical advice.” Black Box’s positioning establishes high standards, which the catalog upholds.

For one thing, at 808 pages, this book is a monster. One judge states, “This comprehensive selection of merchandise immediately connotes a feeling of real product authority.” Black Box misses few opportunities to trumpet its massive inventory, boasting “more than 7,000 connectivity solutions” and promising custom products should its stock fail to meet customers’ requirements.

But 800-plus pages of densely packed technical merchandise present a serious challenge for the reader. Black Box understands that unless customers can easily find what they need, they’ll look elsewhere. Among the highest compliments paid to the catalog’s designers is this judge’s brief assessment: “Everything about this catalog is clear, clean, and easy on the eyes.”

Black Box uses every organizational trick in the book: color-coding sections; including an intensive, detailed table of contents; and providing section openers that list product locations page by page. Products new to the catalog are also highlighted in a separate section. The collection closes with a glossary and indexes, organized by product name and product code, with new products in bold type.

Having proved its commitment to leading its customers to any connectivity product they can imagine, Black Box sets out to close the sale. Customer service in the high-tech market entails more than friendly, efficient sales reps; it also requires serious technical support. Black Box pledges to answer support calls within 20 seconds and to provide callers with troubleshooting guides, manuals, and schematic diagrams, all free of charge.

Add to this its remarkable array of services such as same-day delivery, warranties that cover “when your coffee pot overflows on your new equipment – or even if Fido chews on it,” and Black Box is a Gold winner every time.

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