Finding the right catalog takes a bit of shopping


Is Lillian Vernon beginning to resemble Lew Magram? Not sure whether you're in the Pottery Barn or Gardeners Eden? Wondering what a Constructive Plaything is,anyway?

You've entered the realm of catalog overload. And no wonder. With more than 13 billion of them out there, how can anyone be expected to make sense of them all?

Now a consumer guide attempts to set the record straight. "Catalyst," a compendium of 14,000 catalogs and companies, offers information about the world of shopping by mail. The book tells which companies offer brochures, give retail referrals and deliver orders within five days.

"There's a need for this," says Jack Schmid, a catalog consultant in Kansas.

"Catalogs today are more niche-driven. This allows people to know which are right for them by product and price point."

It was founder and publisher Ted West's own frustration researching kitchen renovations that led in part to the creation of the book.

"My wife and I work, and with two boys we don't have a lot of time to shop around," says Mr. West who lives in California. "What we value is the convenience of shopping from home."

The first issue, which is 40 percent advertising, was shipped to 750,000 households selected from mailing lists.

The book will be published biannually, and yearly subscriptions are currently $12. (To request one of the limited copies, call 1-800-FIND-IT.)

It looks like "Catalyst" will face competition for the catalog shopper's attention, though.

Since 1987, "The Catalog of Catalogs" has been published in Rockville.

The $19.95 paperback, which is available in bookstores and by mail, came out most recently in May with more than 12,000 listings.

Publisher Irv Shapell hasn't seen "Catalyst," but he applauds anything that gives consumers more information about shopping by mail.

"These directories give people an idea of the broad scope of catalogs available," he says. "It shows them there's more out there than L.L. Bean."

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