While most people tend to think of a catalog as a shopping guide produced by a retail establishment, there are additional types of catalog formats that are useful in business. Some catalogs are used to organize collections of material and to valuate the physical property owned by a company or other entity, while other catalog types are useful for conducting research that informs marketing plans.

Retail Product Catalogs to Market Goods

Perhaps the most familiar type of catalog is produced by retail establishments to list and market their product offerings to both current and prospective customers. These sales booklets are a listing of products a company is offering for sale for the current season. They are typically stylized to include photographs of the products, item names and numbers, a description of the product and sometimes the price.

Retail catalogs will also include ordering and shipping information, a company address, the return policy and most importantly, copy that promotes the company's brand. Every aspect of the catalog is designed to reflect an image and promote the company's message. For example, a clothing company that markets to larger-sized women may communicate strength and sex appeal, while a boutique children's clothing manufacturer may infuse a sense of creativity and whimsy into its promotional material.

While technology has moved a great deal of retail shopping online, many catalogs are still produced in a hard copy format. A physical copy that arrives in a consumer's mailbox and can be held, easily viewed multiple times and passed on to other potential customers still carries a great deal of advertising value. Big retail shopping pushes, particularly during the Christmas holiday season, often have an increase in the number of retail catalogs produced and mailed directly to consumers.

Perhaps one of the most famous retail catalogs is the Sears Big Book Catalog that was in print for over 100 years. Over its history, it sold a wide range of items including horse saddles, movie projection systems, wallpaper, paint, household items and even clothing. While the company no longer produces its general catalog, opting for an online version instead, it does still produce its Christmas Wish Book for the holiday shopping season.

Catalogs for Inventory and Materials 

Two other types of catalog listings are reserved mainly for internal use when companies need to keep track of inventory for sale and the parts necessary to maintain manufacturing equipment. Cataloging software programs can help businesses keep track of inventory, accurately maintaining a count of the number on hand for every item in stock, reducing the count each time a product is sold and signaling the need to reorder once a threshold is reached. This internal cataloging of products ensures that the company will have sufficient stock without having an excess of product on hand.

Manufacturing companies may also maintain a catalog of parts needed to repair their assembly equipment. The listing may include the items needed to repair certain components, part numbers and the location of the necessary part. Machine down time can be reduced when the correct components are in stock, and the maintenance technician knows exactly where they are located in the building.

Collections of Cultural Interest

Groups specializing in items of cultural interest are another type of organization that utilizes catalogs. Museums, art galleries, historical societies and building sites all collect and maintain collections of cultural significance. A catalog of these items ensures that an accurate record is maintained for each piece, a necessary step in valuating its worth and insuring the collection. In many of these catalogs, there is both a listing of the actual physical item as well as a separate listing of any digital images that are taken of the item.

Private collectors might also find cataloging a helpful practice, particularly if the holdings are substantial. For example, a coin collector may know a great deal about his collection, but as the collection increases, certain details could become lost or forgotten. However, a catalog that details the specifics of each piece, such as type of coin, date of minting, special features, approximate value, condition and country of origin will keep all the important information in one spot. An electronic database of these details will also make it easy to search for information when it is needed.

Library and Media Collections

Most children are still taught about one of the most basic kinds of catalog systems: the library catalog. For decades, patrons armed with a book title or author name searched through tiny drawers of typed cards to locate books. Then, they were provided with a location within the library where they could find the book they wanted.

While the functions of a library catalog are basically the same today, the advent of computerized catalogs makes the search so much easier. With a few clicks in an electronic database, a library patron can learn not only where to physically find her desired book but also have access to a wealth of additional information. Searches can be completed for general terms that produce a variety of options, including audio materials, videos, e-books and reference materials. Resources can even be obtained from nearby libraries or accessed online.

Library Benefits for Businesses

Business owners and managers should become familiar with the many functions of a library catalog since it will benefit their market research and industry analysis efforts. Large city libraries or business schools offer a great deal of material through their online catalog searches for public use.

For example, the New York Public Library offers a market research page with links to census, employment and tax data, market research and demographic information and links to business periodical databases. In this information age, a library catalog with its vast reference collection is the doorway to a wealth of business data.

Important Catalog Components

No matter which type of catalog you encounter, all catalogs have several components in common. In general, they all assign an item number to each entry, classify the item into a category and include a description, which may include the materials used, dimensions and weight of the item. A photograph may also be included to help with identification. Other details include the location of the product, the date of manufacture or creation and an index or search component, which is helpful to the user searching for a specific item.

Creating Your Own Business Catalog

If you are creating a catalog for your business's internal use or for retail purposes, be sure to maintain consistency in your recording method. If information is not known, you should fill in "not available" so that the field is maintained and can be filled in at a later time. As your catalog grows, the consistent fields will more accurately transfer information to a more advanced program.

Many software programs are available to assist in the creation of your own business catalog. Templates will help you organize your data and create an attractive design for publication. Printing costs will likely determine the size of your printed catalog, and you might choose to only include items that you want to currently promote. Additionally, if you are only developing a catalog for internal use, a simple spreadsheet or database may serve the purpose.