Revving Up

A catalog of parts and accessories for Vespa scooters, Chicago-based Scooterworks USA gamely steered to Multichannel Merchant for a creative critique. This month’s reviewers, Christine Carrington, president of King of Prussia, PA-based creative agency Catalogs by Lorel, and Rob Palowitz, partner/chief creative officer of Boardman, OH-based Palo Creative, provide Scooterworks with a design tuneup. With a few tweaks here and there, the cataloger could be zipping away to greater success.


Half consumer catalog, half magalog — with a healthy dose of complex product education thrown in — the 92-page Scooterworks USA catalog covers a lot of ground. Selling parts and accessories for vintage Vespa motor scooters, Scooterworks has a great deal going for it. For one, there isn’t much competition in this extreme-niche market. For another, its hip vintage product offers many opportunities for cool design. And the “club” atmosphere surrounding the product allows the catalog to have a much longer shelf life and a more personal style than a traditional consumer catalog.

This catalog hit the pavement with a complete redesign in the latest issue. Let’s look at what is and is not working in the new presentation.

The front cover has a high-quality, magazine feel and is designed effectively, with a nice outdoor shot of a Vespa. The taglines (“Parts, accessories & more for Vespa scooters” and “We share your passion…and are here to support it”) position the catalog wonderfully, and the placement of the toll-free number and URL on the cover is also excellent.

But this simple, strong cover stands in stark contrast to the inside front cover spread, which is overly busy and tries too hard to include too much information. In fact, the first 13 pages of this catalog present an overwhelming amount of complicated information about the company and product history. Although devoted customers may be interested in reading about the company timeline, job opportunities, and whatnot, perhaps the information belongs on the Website rather than in the catalog. The “how to use this catalog” section on page 3 seems to be overkill: If the catalog is designed intuitively, it should walk the customer through the shopping experience on its own.

One big problem is the need to go all the way to page 14 before you can buy anything. The best real estate (the opening cover spread and succeeding pages) should be used to sell product! If this catalog is used for prospecting, I doubt potential customers would have the patience to flip through 13 pages before seeing something they can buy. Ironically, what’s sold on page 14 seems like ancillary product — low-priced books and embroidered patches. Are these bread-and-butter, high-margin products and best-sellers? If not, they shouldn’t be the first products featured.

The graphic design has a vintage feel with appropriate fonts and colors. But the catalog suffers from an overabundance of them. There are too many fonts and point sizes, creating visual confusion. The designer apparently tried to use icons and other graphic devices to make visually dull product parts appear interesting and to help organize the pages. But too much visual clutter impedes shopping. Making matters worse, the designer overlooked details such as presenting each icon in one consistent color.

Likewise, letters are used as product keys on some spreads, while product numbers are used on others. To create a cohesive shopping experience, consistent design and attention to detail are vital. And perhaps one of the simplest improvements in making this catalog easy to use would be to introduce page numbers on the page 2 index.

The abundance of editorial photography — shots that scooter enthusiasts send in for inclusion — help give this catalog its clublike feeling. Product photography is well done considering that most of the products are odd-shaped parts and tools. But insets are often too small and don’t need all the tiny copy presented with them.

Scooterworks uses three kinds of copy in this catalog: informational (tech tips), insider editorial (about Vespa events and people), and product copy. Selling complicated merchandise is hard, and the informational and product copy is well written but too long. The minute details from these copy blocks might be better off on the Website where customers can spend as much or as little time as they want reading them. Sifting through all the verbiage to find the reason to buy the product is exhausting. Editorial copy successfully captures the spirit of Vespa, but again it is just too long!

The well-designed inside and outside back covers feature the product of Stella, Scooterwork’s sister company, which designs and sells new scooters. The black-and-white retro look to the photos is great, as are the testimonials, logos, and graphics. Perhaps the entire Scooterworks catalog design should head in this simpler, cleaner direction?

Although it has an interesting, vintage feel, this catalog seems to try too hard, with more emphasis on complex and inconsistent graphic design than on helping people find what they need in the catalog setting. That, combined with an overload of information, creates a confusing shopping experience. Scooterworks may want to put more of its focus on selling by producing a smaller, simpler, more product-focused Web-driver catalog, keeping the “extras” on its Website, and mailing more frequently. Because its customers are passionate enthusiasts, they will come to the Web to find what they need.


Right out of the gate, the Scooterworks USA catalog has the feel of a magalog. The front cover has something of a vintage feel, look, and appeal. It is something to hold on to and may even be worthy of a spot on a coffee table. The cover signature also features a heavier gloss paper stock flooded with a varnish or aqueous coating such as a magazine might have, which gives the whole catalog a lush feel.

I like that the URL and phone number are listed on the front cover and are easily readable. I think Scooterworks could have made the “We share your passion…” tagline a bit larger to catch the eye. It may have feared taking away from the photo; nonetheless, about three times larger would have been okay to work with on the front cover without hurting the image appeal. Overall, though, the front cover spells out what is inside the catalog. Understood and good.

Now, a small problem with the back cover. Scooterworks uses one of the hottest spots in the catalog to promote its own brand of scooter, the Stella. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as the Stella is a large-ticket item, but it could have put more effort in promoting the product. The back cover needs more description copy explaining what the bike is all about, price, color descriptions, and availability. The catalog leaves too much unexplained, and prospects could be lost without enough information available about the product.

Moving beyond the the covers, I like the idea of the content on pages 2 and 3: the company timeline, the photo of staffers on their bikes, information about the preferred buyer’s club, an explanation of how to use the catalog complete with a legend. These great customer service attributes help mold the feeling a customer or prospect will get shopping from Scooterworks.

A major problem, though: No products are shown for sale until page 14. All that informational copy takes up too much of the beginning spreads of the catalog — it should be located elsewhere or condensed with a Web link to an area of the site to view and download. Catalogers should not forget the main idea behind a catalog: selling products or services to a customer. And you can do that only if products are listed to buy.

The inside back cover spread could also use more merchandise to sell. The left page on the inside back cover is taken up by an order form; given the size of this catalog, an order form could easily have been placed in the center spread with a separate envelope. In fact, that would have created an additional hot spot in the catalog to feature other prime products.

I like that Scooterworks tries to show a product photo for every nearly every accessory and piece of hardware. I’d suggest key-coding each item by letter across the whole spread on like products, rather than sometimes using letters and sometimes using part numbers. Also, using thinner arrow lines to point to particular areas could make the layouts less busy. Making the background boxes all the same shape could have the same effect too, instead of using ovals, circles, and squares within the same spread.

The lack of consistency extends to entire page layouts. The page 34-35 spread selling an engine and parts, for instance, looks like two stand-alone pages put together from a different catalog altogether. Scooterworks should try to pick styles, fonts, and formats to carry throughout the catalog as sort of as a style guide or template.

The same goes for color schemes. With a significant portion of its target market consisting of older enthusiasts — folks going through midlife crises, perhaps — the color schemes are a little overbearing. I’d suggest sticking to just a handful of colors rather than having too many making things too busy. Such graphic consistency would help build the brand and identity of the business.

Overall, cutting down on the “glory” copy and presenting merchandise sooner in the book would improve this catalog greatly. The vintage elements of the design and graphics do contribute to Scooterworks’ appeal, but by making it difficult to find products and read product descriptions, the cataloger risks losing the attention of its target audience. Then again, I do find myself wanting a scooter now, so maybe that is the idea!

If you’d like your catalog critiqued, send four copies of the same edition, along with basic information about your target market, merchandise niche, and competitive advantages, to Catalog Critique, Multichannel Merchant, 11 River Bend Drive South, P.O. Box 4242, Stamford, CT 06907-0242.