How to Start a Mail Order Catalogue Business

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Starting a mail order catalogue business has always been a popular way for new entrepreneurs to start a business of their own. With advent of the Internet, this method of doing business is more popular than ever. More people are accustomed to ordering items that will be delivered by mail. This has opened the door for many people to open a business that has both a traditional print catalogue, as well as an online catalogue. Here is how you can start your very own mail order catalogue business.

The first thing you will need to do when you start a mail order catalogue business is to register a business so that you will have an official company name. Registering a business and setting up a business bank account is a relatively straightforward process that is largely a matter of filling out a few forms and paying the fees to file the paperwork. If you are unsure of where to begin, contact your local court house or Chamber of Commerce and they will gladly point you in the right direction.

Sign up for a merchant account. This can either be done through your local bank or through an internet based credit card billing company. Shop around various companies to see who will give you the best rates. Most people will be placing an order by credit card, with only a small number of people using checks or money orders, so it is imperative that you are properly set up to accept and process credit cards.

Locate your suppliers. Most people who are starting a mail order catalogue business for the first time will generally start their business by using drop shipping companies. A drop shipper will provide you with a list of items that you can buy at wholesale prices and sell for retail. The drop shipper maintains the warehouse, packages orders, and ships them as if they came from your company directly. It is not quite as profitable as doing all of this yourself, but it saves a significant amount of money from your start up costs since you do not have to purchase a large inventory and have a place to store it. It is also somewhat risk free, since you do not have to buy the item and hope someone will order it. You can obtain a current list of drop shipping agencies from World Wide Brands (see Resources, below).

Once you have your suppliers in place, browse through the items available and select which items you would like to carry in your catalog. There are enough products available that your catalogue would be the size of a small library if you included them all. It is best to narrow your focus to the products that you think will sell. It is also a good idea to include seasonal items that reflect the upcoming holidays.

When you know what items you will be selling, the next stage is to set up a web site to be the home of your online catalogue. This is easier than it sounds. OSCommerce (see Resources, below) is a free catalogue management utility that pretty much installs itself. If you think it is more than you can handle, there are a number of people in the OSCommerce web site who will be willing to get you up and running for next to nothing. It is advised to start with the online mail order catalogue because it allows you to reach a larger audience for a fraction of the price.

When you are ready to progress to the stage of mailing out actual print catalogues, locate a print house in your area. There are a number of options for printing your catalogues, ranging from paper quality to color choices, which will determine how much it costs to print your catalogues. You will also need someone familiar with a publishing software, such as Quark Xpress, to design the catalogue layout. The print house should be able to refer you to someone who can do this at a reasonable price.

Mail your catalogues to a select group of potential clients. You do not want to blindly send catalogues to everyone in the telephone book unless you can afford it. It is much better to run an advertisement in the local newspaper that will help you build a refined mailing list of people who may be interested in the types of products that you are selling.


  • Be sure to keep an every growing database of customers who order items from your business. This is the best quality prospect you have for mailing your print catalogues. It is also a good idea to offer them a discount coupon or other promotion as an incentive to order from you again.


  • Not all drop shippers are created equal. Many will give you true wholesale prices, while others will try to charge you close to retail. Look over a number of different drop shippers who offer similar product lines and select the one that is best for you.