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How the Mueller Company supported their digital transition with online B2B catalogs

Perched on the banks of the Tennessee River in the city of Chattanooga is the headquarters of the Mueller Company. A giant in the water industry.

Most of us probably know the company from the iconic fire hydrants sitting on the corner of American streets, but Mueller also has other products for distribution of water and gas, like valves, service brass, and intelligent water solutions.

Founded in 1857, they have grown into the largest North American supplier of potable water distribution products.  

And as a result of that they have a large product portfolio with a considerable amount of printed product catalogs. 

With quite a few additional brands under its corporate umbrella, Mueller also runs companies like Henry Pratt, Jones, U.S. Pipe Valve & Hydrant and more.

And you guessed it, that means there's even more product catalogs to manage. Any one of which can run up to 900 printed pages.

The person leading the effort of making all this data readily available to the customers is Deron Austin, the Director of Marketing & Communications at Mueller Company.

The challenge? 

The move from printed to online catalogs in a very traditional industry. 

a move from PDF to HTML With Online Catalogs

With the popularity of the internet in the late 1990’s, it was natural for many companies to start offering product specifications as online catalogs. At that time, Mueller offered its customers the material as individual PDF files. For each brand, website, and catalog the customer could look at all the different individual PDF’s and download them.

Being engineered products, contractors and distributors are required to submit data sheets or catalog pages to the engineers before the product can be approved and installed. Therefore, all this data, as well as the accessibility of the information, is important," said Austin. 

 

However, the PDF-based online product catalogs were not an ideal solution for the customers. It was a time-consuming process to find what you needed.

You could navigate the PDFs, but it was quite difficult to find the wanted pages. You had to click on two or three links before you got to the right place. Moreover, you had to scroll through a two-bar scroll system. It was quite awkward.

 

This is what drove Mueller to look for a new solution. They needed to organize their online PDFs differently and make them easy to navigate and instantly searchable. This had to be the case for customers on desktops as well as mobile devices.

Our online product catalog was more or less a series of relatively well-organised PDFs. We were looking for something better, and we chose iPaper as our digital publishing software provider," explained Austin.

Convert PDF To Flipbook - iPaper

The value of digital publishing software that fits your transition plan

However, in the search for a new solution to display their catalogs online, Mueller struggled to find a publishing platform that could meet all its needs:

Every solution that we looked at had been designed for magazines and not for B2B catalogs. Those systems were assuming that somebody is going to read a magazine article or he or she is flipping and browsing through a magazine," said Austin. 

 

B2B catalogs are not at all like magazines, and you do not read them like magazines. As a professional buyer, you are not skimming through the material, but you are instead searching for information on a very specific product option to solve a particular challenge. This has made the printed catalog a crucial part of this information search for many years.

Most of our customers are familiar with our printed catalogs as they have been in the industry for over a hundred years! This is why we had to be careful with dramatic changes to our online catalog to minimize possible frustrations."

 

 Online Catalog Transition By Converting PDF To HTML In B2B iPaper

Today, the marketing department at Mueller has chosen to convert their PDFs to flipbooks on several of their branded websites with product information. Making all information available in searchable online B2B catalogs. Most importantly, the customer response has been excellent.

The iPaper flipbook version is very much like a printed catalog, and you get that same feel. When you move into the material, it is easy to navigate, and it is easy to zoom in - notably on a tablet or a smartphone. Moreover, you still have your options for printing, downloading and sharing. The search functionality is also excellent, and we could even see the search be even better in the future as it is vital for the buyer

 ."

When Mueller started supplying digital versions of the catalogs to the customers, the material was mainly read on desktop computers. However, this is changing as both smartphones and tablets are becoming more and more used in a B2B context online.

This highlights just how important it is for wholesale companies to be able to present their technical product information in a mobile friendly way. Showing an 800 page catalog to a customer on a smartphone can be a challenge, but Mueller Company believes iPaper has done an excellent job in that field.

We are very pleased with the way the iPapers responds on mobile devices. The presentation of the catalogs on smartphones and tablets is exceptional. It is dynamic and responsive

 ."

The effect of the transition plan on print catalogs

Mueller are also seeing another unexpected benefit of switching over to iPaper: print runs for the printed catalogs and the costs linked to that are decreasing.

iPaper has been an integral part of Mueller’s “Catalog Transition Plan” which includes an effort to convert all their PDFs to online catalogs. Each catalog also highlights an order form so customers can still request a printed copy if needed.

Mueller uses a print-on-demand print vendor for these catalogs. Orders are batched for printing every two weeks and the printer ships the catalogs directly to the customers.

We still get orders for these printed catalogs as “old habits die hard,” as they say. Many people like their catalog and they have had it on their desk for maybe 15 or 20 years," explained Austin.

Online Catalog Transition By Converting PDF To HTML In B2B iPaper

THE Next step: INTERACTIVE B2B CATALOGS

Mueller’s next step to give the digital catalogs new life is to start implementing links to other material.

Their plan is to add links throughout each online catalog to give extra value to the readers. The links will allow customers to watch videos, download a marketing brochure, or read a technical study.

In this way, Mueller will make a digital connection between the product catalog and other related marketing material.

 

Facts on the PDF to Flipbook project at Mueller

WHY THE MUELLER COMPANY CHOSE IPAPER

  The left-hand binder menu is organized and labeled just like the printed catalog
  The binder can handle an unlimited number of catalogs – meaning an infinite number of catalog sections
  Viewing iPaper catalogs on mobile devices is very easy – searching, zooming, printing, and sharing works just like the desktop view, maybe even better!

 

Want to try out our platform for yourself? Simply start your free 14-day trial. No credit card information needed. 

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# RELATED READS

Check out one of Mueller's many online catalogs >>

How To Get Started With eCommerce in B2B Using Online Product Catalogs 


 

About the author

Lars Ørhøj

Lars Ørhøj

Lars was iPaper's Chief Marketing Officer until September 2016 and is now teaching others about the benefits of Inbound marketing at an agency. He worked with B2B marketing in the publishing world for many years besides being an avid a cappella singer in the world acclaimed choir Vocal Line.

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