A How-to Book On Mail-order Business, By A Survivor

Entrepreneur Writes A Guide To Catalogs

November 13, 1991|By Michael R. Driscoll | Michael R. Driscoll,Staff writer

When something holds all your interest, industry and energy for almost 15 years and goes out the window, disappears, what do you do next?

Jim Hollan put it all in a book so that someone else could take awhack at it. It's called "The Catalog Handbook," newly published by Hippocrene Books Inc. of New York City.

In it, Hollan explains how to research, plan, and create a successful mail-order catalog business, using the creation and conduct of his former business, the now-defunct retail and mail order Scottish and Irish Imports store.

Working with then-partner Terry Greist, nowa real estate agent in the county, Hollan started in his own home inthe late 1970s, selling bagpipes through the mail.

The store became an international business, featured several television commercials, and included the White House on its mailing list.

It spawned a short-lived publishing house, the Harp and Lion Press, which released a book about Scottish tartans and another on Scottish and Irish humor. There was even a store-sponsored bagpipe band that produced an album before the company shut down in 1990, after 13 years.

Once the store was closed, Hollan decided to follow a long-held ambition to become a writer.

Curious to see if he had the right stuff to make it in his new career, Hollan decided to start with the handbook, which he wrote in about six weeks. It was, he said, partly for practice and partly as a kind of exorcism.

"The book was part of the drill and discipline of getting away from all that," he said of his former business. "I had the business for 13 years, 11 of them very good years and a lot of fun."

Available locally, the handbook, "How to Produce a Success ful Mail Order Catalog," is aimed at the small-business owner or someone "who has a job and wants to market something. It's for the small investor, or the medium-size investor who wants to find outhow much things cost."

Hollan says the real value of his book is "that it's a practical, common-sense guide that gives lots of common-sense tips. I've done all of it, and so the book shows what I've doneright and what I did wrong."

Not your typical self-help tome, Hollan's book is written in a lively, conversational style. And because he uses examples from the store, it's almost a business biography.

He includes real dollar figures so that readers can get an idea of the costs involved, and illustrates the book with examples of his store's catalog.

It's a subtly inspirational touch, because, as Hollansays to the reader in his foreword, "if a guy in Annapolis can make a fortune selling bagpipes by mail, can your idea really be so crazy?"

"I'm a normal person, and these are the experiences of my life,"he said. "You look over my shoulder, at how we started with next to nothing and built a fairly successful catalog."

The book deals with the practical side of catalog development, looking at questions of cost, of starting up, and deriving the most for the least effort.

It also includes examples of his mistakes, like the misspelling of Annapolis that reached publication after a number of proof readings because, he says, "I'm one of those people who believes that I learn more from what I've done wrong."

He recalls the process of writing aseasy, because "I've done catalogs so much, the book really just flowed out. I think I sat down and wrote it in probably about six weeks -- and then it was the editing that took a few months."

At first, Hollan was unable to sell the book. By chance he picked up a copy of Publisher's Weekly "and there was an article about companies looking to expand their markets. There was this one company that was primarilydoing language texts and specialized eastern European travel works -- Hippocrene Books -- and in the interview I read they said they werethinking of looking for a few titles in the business market."

Hollan quickly contacted the company, and after a short correspondence, he had his publisher. The same publisher also has optioned his secondbusiness book, "which is about general entrepreneurs, or general small businesses," Hollan said.

"It has two titles, 'The Small Business Handbook,' or 'Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex, How To Lose Weight, And Get Free Goods -- Forever.' I figure the second title'sa little catchier if you want a bigger market."

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