Interview with Leslie Linevsky from Catalogs.com

Cristian: Hi Leslie and welcome to Entrepreneurship-interviews.com. You’re running an online business, what is it about?

Leslie: My husband and I noticed early on that many merchants were trying to find a balance between traditional catalog marketing and new online avenues.  So, we created Catalogs.com to meet that demand.  Catalogs.com provides a mechanism for merchants to offer a variety of options, while offering consumers the convenience and efficiency of online shopping.  For 13 years, we have helped shoppers find and order the perfect catalogs for the products they want, all free of charge.

We offer access to over 650 print and online catalogs from the world’s largest retail companies to specialized companies providing unique and hard to find items.

Leslie LinevskyCristian: I’ve read on your site that visitors also can look for products, so to make it clear, how is Catalogs.com different from, let’s say, Amazon?

Leslie: Catalogs.com offers a transition between traditional catalog shopping and online shopping. Consumers have the choice to peruse a catalog online and take advantage of exclusive deals like free shipping or receive the printed catalog at home and order in a more traditional format.

Another difference is that the catalogs featured on Catalogs.com have been carefully reviewed and selected as the best in their class.  This way, every shopper can be confident they are shopping from only the most reputable merchants.

Cristian:  How did you come up with the idea?

Leslie: My husband and I began with internet retailing in 1994 with our first venture, Neckties.com, an upscale mail order print catalog and website selling artistically designed men’s neckties.

From that experience, we learned the power of filling a specific retail niche for online shoppers.  The web is the perfect place to shop efficiently and conveniently for specific products in a way that is nearly impossible in bricks-and-mortar stores.  We realized that offering the universe of catalogs for selection on one site would offer a level of options and convenience not previously available.

That realization was the spark for Catalogs.com. Recognizing the untapped potential of aggregating and indexing a wide array of catalogs that shoppers might not know about or have access to, we developed a way for internet shoppers to select and receive catalogs of their choice all in one place.

Cristian:  You survived the dot.com crash with a thriving online business and continued your success with Catalogs.com. What’s your recipe for success?

Leslie: Catalogs.com is never stagnant.  We keep changing our model as the world changes by offering new options like online flip-page catalogs, communicating with our consumer base by using new and different social media tactics and providing merchants with alternative avenues to reach shoppers.

Cristian:  What are the main advantages of using Catalogs.com for customers?

Leslie: Catalogs.com shoppers have the opportunity to purchase anything their heart desires, no matter how big or how small, through a trusted resource.  We also offer exclusive rebates, savings and offers to Catalogs.com shoppers that they would not be able to take advantage of anywhere else.

Cristian:  What about the merchants? Who can be featured on your site?

Leslie: The two main requirements for a merchant to be showcased on Catalogs.com are:  1) they must have a website that sells a variety of types of products and 2) they must be reputable products.  We do not allow pornographic or questionable merchandise to be sold through our site.

Cristian:  What are Catalogs.com’s most important metrics (number of visitors, customers)?

Leslie: We rely mainly on our own internal diagnostics and log reports.  However, we also review Google Analytics, which just showed over 814,000 unique visitors in the last 30 day cycle.  We have no idea how many products are sold through Catalogs.com, but we have averaged approximately 20 new merchants per month, and given this lousy economy, we’re thrilled with this number of growth.

Cristian:  What would be your “elevator pitch” about Catalogs.com?

Leslie: Catalogs.com is the starting place to find and preview the world’s best catalogs.  Shoppers have the ability to either request the ones they want, shop at a catalog’s online store, and find special savings offers.

We pride ourselves on excellent customer service.  We are an internet company that uses the telephone because we want to hear what our consumers and ecommerce merchants have to say about what is really working and what’s not so we can provide the best site possible.

Cristian: You have three kids and your husband co-founded Catalogs.com with you. How important is family and how do you keep balance between your personal and professional life?

Leslie: Some days I feel like a teeter-totter, not knowing which end is up or down.  Other days I feel relatively calm, cool and collected.

Organization and being extremely efficient is mandatory.  When I’m home, I wear my mom hat.  I make sure that back-packs are packed and by the front-door, all three school lunches are packed and in the refrigerator and all homework is finished before bedtime.

The mom stuff ends the moment I walk into our offices and I immediately put on my boss hat.  Of course some issues will inevitably carry over from work to home and vice versa, but having the ability to separate the two keeps me organized and focused.

Cristian: Getting back to the beginnings, what was the moment when you realized Catalogs.com might actually become successful?

Leslie: It was pretty much touch and go the first few years, and I would say into our third/fourth year we began to feel like the tide was turning.  Around that time we signed our 50th merchant contract and we began to feel like we had a winning idea.  My husband and I had a nice, romantic dinner and popped a bottle of champagne to toast what we knew was on its way to success.

Cristian:  Did you use any outside investment to get the venture started?

Leslie: Our first venture, the Artists’ Collar, was totally funded by our own piggy banks and savings accounts.  When we sold The Artists’ Collar, we made a profit on the sale and we put it directly into launching Catalogs.com.

Cristian:  Most importantly, how does catalogs.com generate revenue (affiliates, partners, publishers)?

Leslie: We generate revenue a variety of different ways.  We offer merchants many different programs, based on their specific marketing needs.  Some merchants are more concerned with obtaining qualified names and addresses of consumers who have specifically requested their catalogs while others are more concerned with simply driving motivated traffic to their website.

Cristian:  Any advice for young entrepreneurs wishing to start an online business right now?

Leslie: My advice is to go for it, but have a ton of capital backing you first.  When we started the company 13 years ago, the Internet was so vastly different than it is today and we urge young entrepreneurs to have sufficient capital to invest in your company, to achieve a presence on the Internet.  You will need it for sufficient advertising, search engine optimization, computer programming, and sales support if you are truly interested in building a successful Internet based business venture.

Cristian: Any plans for the future?

Leslie: Absolutely!  Like I mentioned earlier, Catalogs.com is always changing and adapting to the ever-growing online community.

We are launching all kinds of new initiatives, like our www.OnlineCatalogs.com, which gives shoppers a whole new way to shop by catalog.  With its launch, they can browse full, vibrant color online flip-page catalogs in all their glory.  We consider it paperless catalog shopping because it eliminates paper waste while saving precious time spent waiting on catalogs to arrive in your mailbox.

We recognized the growing presence and authority of social media and we have several blogs which are extremely successful.  Right now, we are focusing on building up their visibility and popularity.  Some of them can be found at www.catalogs.com/blog/index.html.

Today’s Cool Picks is our personal review of many of the products our catalogs offer.
We figured with 13 years of experience reviewing thousands of mail-order catalogs and online merchants it was time to put our experience to good use for our shoppers. http://www.catalogs.com/willitsell/