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iPad Catalogs

September 7, 2010
n my last blog, I talked about using new technology in our industry. Specifically, I opined that manufacturers should create apps for the iPad which would allow us to browse their catalogs electronically on an iPad. As I said in that blog, the advantages of using an iPad rather than a computer for this are that the iPad is more portable, less expensive, and doesn't need to be connected to the internet while we work with a client. Additionally, the iPad has a longer battery life than most lap top computers.


Since then, I read an article in a trade mag about an indoor furniture retailer who had incorporated the iPad into his business. Somehow, he had loaded iPads with vendor catalogs. He didn't say how in the article; but, it got my staff and I to thinking. Nowadays, every catalog is available in PDF format because that is how they are sent to the printer. Conveniently, the iPad has an app, "iBooks" that can read PDFs. If we could get these electronic catalogs, we could load them on our iPads ourselves. No vendor created app necessary!


We started searching vendor web sites to see we could download PDF versions of catalogs from any of them.  Lo and behold, there are several. Classic Cushions, Cast Classics, and Winston just to name a few. I downloaded catalogs from all three web sites and was able to successfully load them onto my iPad. The only one I couldn't get to display properly on my iPad was Winston's. For some reason, I can view the catalog correctly on my computer. However, the images of the furniture don't display properly on my iPad. But, two out of three as a test isnt bad!


Classic Cushion's catalog has a bonus. It includes MSRP prices as part of each item description. That means we don't need a separate document to look up prices. Again, I got to thinking, how could we get price lists on the iPad, too. I realized that since pre-market, several manufacturers sent me electronic versions of their price lists that I could work from till the printed versions got back from the printers. Some have been in PDF form. Others have been in a spreadsheet, usually Microsoft Excel. Again, conveniently, the iPad can read both formats.


For my purposes, I prefer the price list to be in Excel because a spreadsheet is searchable. If I know the stock number (or even a partial stock number) I can do an electronic search of the spreadsheet and quickly find the price. If I don't know a stock number, I can just as easily search by product name. No more paging through paper pages or oddly arranged table of contents to find a price or dimensions. So, the next step in upgrading the sales aid side of our business is to load some of these spreadsheets onto our iPads.


I guess I am sounding like a product evangelist. Unfortunately, I didn't buy Apple stock at a low price; so, I have nothing to gain personally if everyone in our industry adopts iPads. However, I do think our industry has everything to gain by adopting this new technology as quickly as we can. We need every edge we can develop to keep our clients from going to the Internet. Carrying around stacks of catalogs and price lists in a device not much bigger than a sheet of paper gives us at least one edge. We look more professional, and, importantly, we can be more helpful to our clients.


At my store, our iPads are also loaded with design software that allows us to layout our client's space and place furniture in real time during the sales presentation. Since we are using them for that anyway, it makes sense to incorporate sales aids into them. Our iPads also connect to the Internet wirelessly. If we don't have a catalog on our iPad, we can go to their web page and show that to the client.


IPads are not cheap. The smallest with only wi-fi connectivity are $499 each. If you want each of your sales staff to have use of one during the sales day, you could end up spending "biggish" bucks. But, I think we can recoup that investment in just three or four sales we get because we are using technology.


I will be carting my iPad around with me at market in September. If you would like to see how I use it, just stop me in the hall. I will be showing how I use it to all of the manufacturers I buy from in hopes that they will provide me with the electronic catalogs and price lists I need. Who knows, this year might mark the beginning of the end of the paper catalog.


Yours in confused retailing, Bruce