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Lion Taming [Catalog Automation Case Study]

Lion Taming [Catalog Automation Case Study]

The secret is out! Some of the talent on our team have a passion for taming lions! (And they are really good at it too.)

Have you produced a catalog and been “up to your eyeballs” in a sea of content, corrections, and edits? Or maybe someone at your company has scowled at the time, energy, and expense it takes to change pricing, tweak descriptions, and update photos in an otherwise “simple” update of your catalog (only to discover more typos and mistakes after the catalog was already at press).

If so, you know how ferocious the catalog “lion” can be!

Well, step right up, folks! We want to show you some neat stuff we have been developing. Catalog Data Automation is a game changer for anyone producing catalogs with a lot of detail and similar content!

The catalog development process

Let’s start by walking through the normal process of developing a catalog. First we get a pulse on the client’s audience,the marketplace, and the exact purpose of the catalog. We discuss photography, descriptions, pricing, information per item, catalog organization and more.

Our designers craft a graphic theme and organize the page layout structure for displaying the content.

Traditionally the designer would then manually input every line item into the layout. This grueling process requires keeping lots of content organized and error-free, not to mention tracking proofs and edits.

But hold on. This is where we tame the lion...

In an automation project, every piece of pertinent information is stored in a spreadsheet or database. That’s right, even a plain old spreadsheet of lines and columns. Let’s peek inside two real-world projects to see how it all works.

Let’s start with a small project.

Weaco Equipment Flyer

So maybe you don’t produce a 300-page catalog. Before you write off the ease of automation for your company, consider how Weaco Equipment benefits from automation.

Weaco Equipment puts out numerous 4-page flyers each year, each one showcasing over 50 pieces of construction equipment for sale. The data follows a consistent pattern. Each piece of equipment has one photo, the year, manufacturer, model, hours, description and a price. The consistency of information for each product listing makes this project a prime candidate for automation.

When Weaco is ready to mail another flyer, they simply export the information into a spreadsheet and email it to us. Their spreadsheet contains less than a dozen columns. The automation technician spends a little time with technical preparations.

The flyer has two different formats for displaying the equipment: one for featured listings and one for regular listings. The information in the spreadsheets dictates which format each listing will have. The technician imports the featured listings into that format and the regular listing into that format. The program automatically places and formats all the content correctly.

This process saves Weaco time, money, and mistakes. Here’s why.

  1. Preparing the information to send to Rosewood is a simple two step process. First, export the data. Then, email it to Rosewood. No instructions. No sketches. No notes.
    Time saved! Mistakes avoided!
  2. Layout is fast. Copy editing and scrutinizing proofs for mistakes is not necessary. Less time spent by the automation technician means less time invoiced to Weaco.
    Money saved. More mistakes avoided!
  3. Most times the first proof is approved without changes. All the data has already been in use and verified before it came to Rosewood. There is very little room for human error in the data transfer and formatting process. It’s a lot easier to say, “Approved!” than it is to explain 5 corrections that need to be made.
    More time saved! More money saved! Even more mistakes avoided!
  4. This is a turn-key process that allows Weaco’s flyers to get in the mail in a much shorter time frame than the traditional approach. By scheduling in advance Weaco’s flyers can be prepared for printing inside of one day.
Weaco spreadsheet and templates
Weaco flyer

The GVS mail order catalog

With over 4000 products, several thousand photos, logos, charts, multiple pricing, and both a retail and wholesale version, you can imagine the enormous effort it takes to update a 300-page GVS mail order catalog every year. GVS also mails quarterly 80-page flyers showcasing new items, sales, and seasonal items, each a lion of its own.

Several years ago, GVS requested Rosewood’s help for a catalog face-lift, which involved not only graphic redesign, but also using grids to clean up the complicated information listed with each product.

As you can imagine, the annual process of manually deleting discontinued products, adding new ones, and updating thousands of prices was time-consuming and cumbersome. But automation has tamed that lion!

The spreadsheet. A robust 150-column spreadsheet now serves as a hub for those changes. Every detail of each product is now stored in this spreadsheet, including links to photos, product logos and icons that go with each product. This enables GVS to make catalog changes in their system in-house and send us an updated spreadsheet for each project.

The spreadsheet

The template. In preparation for getting the information from the spreadsheet into the designers’ Adobe Indesign document, our automation experts tagged tiny bits of information that correlate with spreadsheet columns. In an exercise that is half art, half programming, we developed over a dozen template variations to fit the diversity of GVS products, which range from stickers and tablets to gloves and sweaters and much more.

Tagged frames in the templates hold photos, logos, icons, and charts. We built in the components to import both the wholesale and retail prices into the same document, with the ability to keep them separated so the printer can make one plate change to print both versions.

(Yeah, we know. It’s a little technical, but we wanted you to know that we don’t just sip hot beverages while our computers do all the work!)

Automation templates

Combine. Adjust. Done! After the spreadsheet has been processed by the automation specialists, each section of the spreadsheet is imported into its respective InDesign template, populating the information and photos into the digital catalog document.

After review and a series of final adjustments, a proof is created for GVS to edit and finalize. And we’re off to press!

Automation imports

Though the initial programming and streamlining process is more involved than a traditional project, requiring a larger initial investment, subsequent issues of the flyer or catalog are much easier, and time efficient than the traditional approach.

Automation team

This is an exciting frontier with many possibilities. For example, think how powerful it would be to export a database report that would generate updated spreadsheet data for your new catalog content!

Does the thought of your next catalog give you a headache? Automation may be the answer you didn’t know even existed. Contact Rosewood today to discuss how we can tame that lion and put automation to work for you!