From the February 2005 issue of Startups

Catalogs fill the mailboxes of consumers everywhere, retailing every product under the sun--from household items to gifts to food. You name it, and there's probably a catalog that specializes in it. If you're aching to see your product on the pages of one of those fancy catalogs, the good news is that it's definitely possible. "Merchants are always looking for great products," says George Hague, senior marketing strategist with J. Schmid & Associates, a catalog consulting company in Shawnee Mission, Kansas.

The key is to research the catalog that best suits your product with the right niche and price point. One mistake new entrepreneurs often make is not understanding catalogs' margins and price points. "Catalogers like to operate on a more than 50 percent margin," says Hague. "If the retail price is $10, then catalogers will [likely] ask you to sell it to them for $3.50 or $4."

Identify the catalog's main consumers and the types of products offered to see if it's a good fit for your product. Michelle J. Massman, 38, and Jackie Urbanovic, 52, did just that when they pitched their Maggie Comics line of notecards and gift products to the Femail Creations catalog a few years ago. They loved the artistic products the catalog offered and found its focus on women-owned businesses inspiring.

Getting into a catalog takes time. Even with a good initial response from the catalog owner, getting Maggie Comics' products into the catalog still took about two years. Since appearing in the catalog in mid-2004, Maggie Comics has seen website traffic increase, and the catalog has already placed a reorder that Massman and Urbanovic hope will increase their part-time business's four-figure sales.

To speed up your own process, find out exactly what your target catalogs want. Ask about their price points, margins, volume (the quantities they expect their vendors to provide) and turnaround time (the time when you might expect a reorder). Send quality samples. Hague suggests putting together a merchandising summary sheet with a good image of the product, product description, benefits, retail price points, terms (how you'd like to be paid) and shipping turnaround time. And don't overpromise on product quality or the quantities you can deliver. "If you have those points covered," says Hague, "it makes it easier for the merchant to say yes."