The founders of ZOOMcatalog had a straightforward goal in mind when they started their Boulder, Colorado-based venture: disruption of the promotional products industry. Despite annual sales north of $20 billion and household penetration rates that would turn most CPG (consumer packaged goods) companies green with envy, the industry was still predominantly paper-based and hobbled by a lack of innovation in a key area when ZOOMcatalog opened its doors in 2009. “We believed there was a major opportunity there just waiting to be seized,” says Bryony Zasman, ZOOMcatalog’s director of marketing, “and we were convinced that technology was the key to capitalizing on it.”
While much of the business world was enthusiastically embracing digitization in the first decade of the 21st century, the promotional products industry-;purveyors of t-shirts, caps, water bottles, totes, and other items sporting the names and logos of thousands of brands and organizations-;continued to rely on paper catalogs to present its wares to distributors. One of those distributors was Noleen Zasman, Bryony’s mother, who is president and a co-founder of ZOOMcatalog. (The third co-founder is Noleen’s daughter Donna Lomazini, the company’s director of business development.) The seemingly endless barrage of paper catalogs had to be stored, organized, and continuously updated, making it more difficult and time-consuming to find the best products to meet her clients’ needs.
ZOOMcatalog’s solution was to create a system where those catalogs could exist virtually, digitized in a way that replicates the paper-based user experience while making them easily searchable online. The challenges involved in developing the solution were significant, especially when it came to finding the right technology partners and the best approaches to coding, but ultimately solvable. In fact, the company’s been awarded two patents for the technology it developed for information extraction, search engine creation, and personalization of catalogs.
The challenges it faced on the marketing side were, if anything, even more daunting. Not only did the ZOOMcatalog team have to spread the word about the benefits of their new solution, in many cases, they were evangelizing a target audience that was not particularly receptive to their message. But technology helped them overcome those challenges, as well. Initially, Bryony and Donna were the public face of ZOOMcatalog, carrying the message to dozens of trade shows and industry events across the country. They were also early adopters of social media marketing, deftly leveraging that technology to greatly expand their reach.
As the company has grown, so has its distributed workforce, making it more important and increasingly difficult to maintain the level of communication that is vital to ZOOMcatalog’s continued success. Donna and Bryony still spend more than a third of their time on the road, now accompanied by additional support staff, and the sales team travels constantly. So when the company was selected as a winner of the T-Mobile Unleash Your Business contest earlier this year, it came at a perfect time, Bryony says. Its prize package included 10 Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 tablets with T-Mobile data plans, and the team wasted no time putting the new technology to good use.
“One of the most important things about the tablets and the data plans is that they allow our sales force to access customer information and other data at trade shows,” she says. “Having instantaneous remote access to information, such as what products customers are currently using and how we have approached them in the past, is extremely helpful. It’s a big plus for the sales team.”
Reliable connectivity is also crucial for Byrony’s ability to oversee ZOOMcatalog’s rebranding and system redesign, a current project that she describes as massive and ongoing. “I have to be in contact with the designers, the tech people, and everyone else involved in this project no matter where I happen to be,” she explains. “I’m receiving information and data all the time and sending them feedback so we can keep the project moving forward. If I disappear, everything goes on hold because they can’t move on to the next piece until I approve it. With the reliability of the T-Mobile network, I’m confident about my ability to stay in touch.”
ZOOMcatalog is expanding both internally and externally, and it’s begun exploring potential opportunities in international markets. “We are going to be attending trade shows in Canada next year, and of course we have to be able to stay in touch no matter where we are,” Bryony says. “Another nice thing about the plan T-Mobile is providing us is that it includes unlimited use in Canada and Mexico. That will make it easy for us to stay connected as we travel internationally.”