Vernons makeover

Posted by James L. Clarke (16/09/2009)

This company was hiding its light under a bushel. We dragged it out into the light – and business success.


Family-run since it was started in 1976, The Vernon Geranium Nursery sells the largest range of geraniums in the country. They grow popular geraniums and also rarities, exotics and old traditional ones. They have enthusiastic, knowledgeable and helpful staff. Finally, they have loyal and satisfied customers.

The Problem

Unfortunately, all this superb positioning was not coming across in their key catalogues! No wonder the customer base was stagnant, and average order values disappointing. It was a classic case of a really good company being let down by a lack of marketing and design expertise. Luckily, they decided to ask the advice of a leading catalogue consultant, who recommended a number of the country's finest catalogue design agencies.

The Key Issues

In discussion with client and consultant, we identified several key issues that had to be urgently addressed:

  • To seriously increase the design values of the catalogue in order to position Vernons as an expert and leading international supplier.
  • To make the catalogue more accessible and hard working, to communicate the product benefits with excitement and enthusiasm.
  • To increase the average order value from both long-term and new customers.

Specifically, there were serious weaknesses in many areas - including company positioning, use of space, eyeflow, product differentiation, bringing out heroes and offers, directed choice, typography and calls to action. And none of the four best-selling pages have any products on!

Main A4 catalogue

In discussion, we identified several key issues that had to be urgently addressed:


Front Cover

vernons article 1

The old front cover does the 'is it a calendar?' routine. The overall image is an illustration - do you not have any real products to show!

There are no products, no involving headlines, no benefits - no encouragement to open the catalogue.

We started from scratch. A standardised logo, now with a tagline that differentiates from the competition. A striking shot of a best selling product shows what you can look forward to. An emotive, benefit-led headline - 'Bring beauty to your garden!' involves the reader. Customer benefits reassure, and a selection of products shows the range, with page numbers to get readers into the catalogue.

Introductory Spread

vernons article 2

The old spread sells no product. There is too much space given over to the history, and the welcome. The staff pictures are good, but there is no real focus or purpose to the spread.

We have condensed the history and welcome onto one page. This leaves us room to feature five recommendations, driving the reader into the catalogue. We show free gifts, the all-important guarantee, the order options, and contents panel. It's far more involving, giving a real flavour of what to expect.

Product Spread

vernons article 3

The old spread has no life, no involvement. There is too much white space - the products look like medical samples in a chemist shop!

We have given the spread a focus and encouraged good eye coverage by introducing a couple of heroes. We've made the pictures bigger, and used a font with a bigger 'x' height to improve legibility. We've added personality by use of a script heading typeface, a grower's favourite, and a useful tip panel with a smiling senior staff member. Finally, we have clear calls to action with ordering options at the base. All this, and we still have the same number of products!

Back Cover

vernons article 4

The old back cover - no products. We've placed a best-selling collection associating Vernons with the Royal Horticultural Society, a special offer, and a customer testimonial.

Square sale catalogue

vernons article 5

This should be harder selling and more offer-led than the main catalogue and have a broader appeal.

We applied the newly established design and copy style to the simpler sale catalogue. We increased the format from A5 to 200mm square to give it more impact and to fit more products in.

The Envelope

vernons article 6

We revamped the envelope, giving it much more visual impact, and making it clear that there were special offers inside.

The Results

The main A4 catalogue was mailed to the existing customer file, the prospect file and a list swap file. The response rate for previously mailed customers improved, but the most important result was that the average order value rose by over 25% - including the first time orderers (i.e. new customers).

Overall response also increased for the sale catalogue, but again the important result was that the average order shot up by 33%.

This was a crucial, dual success for Vernons. As a labour-intensive company (with all packing having to be done by hand), a larger average order size has an especially significant impact on efficiency and profitability.


In just one catalogue round we have raised the profile of Vernons, increased the design values and effectiveness of their catalogues, so that the customer base is growing as well as the average order value.

"We realised we could improve our catalogue, but never dreamed that changing the creative could make such a difference - even in the hands of design and marketing experts.

"We are delighted with the results, both in positioning and design, and in the sales figures, and we look forward to a long and happy association with our new agency."

Liz Sims & Philip James, Partners, The Vernon Geranium Nursery
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