Still Printing Catalogs After All These Years

Amish farm in Lancaster County similar to customers of PaulB Wholesale contractor supplies
Amish Farm near Lancaster Pennsylvania in early spring

It takes a lot of effort, time and money to produce print catalogs, all the more pronounced in these days of digital-everything/online-anything.

Jim Hostetter, president of PaulB Companies, is shown with one of the first “catalogs” created for PaulB Wholesale ( a binder with photocopies of product descriptions). Behind him, more current print catalogs are stored.

So are printed catalogs a waste? Not for PaulB Wholesale!

“With our clientele, we recognize that we need to focus on their needs, and many of them still rely heavily on the print catalog,” explained Doug Martin, sales manager.

They are longtime clients like Country Machinery in Leola, where outside sales rep Dean Martin travels every two weeks to visit in person. A PaulB Wholesale catalog is kept at the repair shop.

There, Dean and owner David make small-chat, catch up on any news, and go over the supplies Country Machinery needs for its repair shop, where farm equipment is restored to good working condition. The shop does not have access to the Internet.

“PaulB Wholesale has order sheets that I leave with David. Every 2 weeks on a Friday, I stop in and pick up his order … he would need to ‘snail mail’ his order if we did not stop in and pick it up,” Martin said.

Some interesting facts:

  • The 2016 edition comes out mid-December  (2015).
  • The print catalog got its beginnings in the early 1980s, as a binder with manufacturers’ sell sheets.
  • In the early ’90s, it was still in binder form, but had computer-generated price sheets.
  • In the early 2000s, the print catalog had professionally designed price sheets, added price breaks and the option for order multiples.
  • In 2010, the first fully printed, custom catalog was produced.
wholesale items photographed for PaulB Wholesale in Lititz
A hose product is the star of the show in this studio, where hundreds of wholesale items were photographed to prepare the 2016 PaulB Parts Catalog.

“A very significant percent of customers that buy from PaulB Wholesale are part of the Plain Community, which does not use computers,” said Lamar Garman, an outside sales rep for PaulB Wholesale. “If we would cease offering a printed catalog, many of these customers would gravitate to competing vendors that do.

“You can’t always turn your monitor around to show a customer what you are looking at, but you can show them a catalog.”

“From a salesman’s perspective, with a good understanding of this large segment of our customer base, I feel it would be a grave mistake (with detrimental effect) for PaulB Wholesale to no longer offer a printed catalog.”

Sales manager Doug Martin echoes that sentiment. “In the traditional business market, there is more access to a digital format. We are continuing to do that, but we’re not going to do that exclusively.”

At least 50 percent of PaulB Wholesale’s customer base is off the grid.

“Many of our customers still appreciate the ability, when they are fixing a problem in their shop, to have the catalog resource right next to their work,” added Jim Hostetter, PaulB Companies president. “This isn’t always possible with a computer.”

He said the print version is often used by his customers as a resource for “across the counter” solutions with their own customers. “You can’t always turn your monitor around to show a customer what you are looking at, but you can show them a catalog.”

“When we do cold-calls, our print catalog gives a healthy impression,” said outside sales rep Kevin Auker. “It can lead to on-the-spot orders.”

Hostetter said it’s purposefully a rugged, high-quality catalog meant to be kept on a shop table, and last.

“It is a reflection of the quality products we sell, as well.”