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Your Business Commentary

Mike's often irreverent, thought-provoking analysis of the industry.

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What Makes a Product Successful?

The hits have certain qualities in common, no matter what the category.

by Mike Hartnett (July 21, 2004)

The industry ultimately depends on vendors and retailers accurately evaluating the potential of a new idea or product, choosing the right ones from the thousands that promise to be big sellers. In 25 years I've seen a million products; some that I was convinced would be huge hits were flops. Others I hardly noticed became huge hits.

So while I've been wrong a number of times, I've seen enough blockbusters in various categories to notice some common qualities. Whether it's scrapbooking, crafting, sewing, painting, or needlework, there are certain elements a product or product category should have.

1. "It takes the fear of failure away." Most consumers, especially novice crafters, painters, scrappers, or whomever, are afraid of failure. Fabric painting had been around for years but consumers were afraid they'd ruin their clothing. Stencils and iron-ons made fabric painting virtually risk-free and the category became the scrapbooking of its day.

Scrapbooking spread so fast because no one is afraid of sticking photos in an album. As long as the industry keeps the appearance of scrapbooking simple, it should continue to attract newcomers. Once they're hooked, THEN introduce them to embellishments and other products that can make scrapbooking an ongoing challenge. (See #6.)

High-end sewing and embroidery machines are selling well because they allow home sewers to perform remarkable acts, virtually risk-free.

2. "The consumer needs to do 10% of the work but gets 100% of the credit." In other words, the end result looks like it required far more time and talent than it actually did. A classic example: a decorative painter follows very specific, step-by-step instructions, but when friends see the end result, they say, "Oh, I didn't know you were an artist."

3. "Making the project costs less than buying a readymade." Cardstock and a rubber stamp or two allow consumers to make Christmas cards for far less than buying fancy readymade cards. And because the crafter's cards are handmade, they carry a far more personal message.

Many crafters are watching their pocketbooks just watch their reactions to sales. So if they can make attractive, meaningful Christmas gifts for less than buying the same old shirts and ties ....

4. "Quick, easy, and inexpensive." Many consumers don't have time, confidence or money, but want to try our categories anyway. Guess which products/projects they'll choose?

5. Number 4 is pretty universal unless ... "The result is a family heirloom." As rule, successful projects are quick, easy, and inexpensive but throw that theory out the window if it will become an heirloom. Scrapbooking and quilting are not quick, easy, and inexpensive, but that hasn't stopped millions of consumers.

6. "There's always something more to learn, to master." What usually distinguishes a fad from a trend is that very quickly the consumer is as good at the craft as she will ever be. Hence the challenge is gone. That's why friendship pins come and go so quickly, but Michelangelo, upon finishing the Sistine Chapel, probably said, "My next ceiling will be even better."

7. "It should consume a lot of product." Scrapbooking sure does! As does knitting particularly for a sweater. And crochet uses even more yarn. A macrame plant hanger consumed yards and yards of cord. On the other hand, a cross-stitcher can buy a complicated chart, a half-dozen skeins of floss, some fabric; the retailer makes a $20 sale, but then doesn't see the customer again for a month.

8. "I love apparel crafts. Who thinks they have enough clothes or jewelry?" A consumer may eventually decide she has enough fabric-painted sweatshirts, but there's a new necklace to make or sweater to knit.

Clearly, no product in the industry's history has ever possessed all of these qualities. But as buyers consider the new products they've seen at the summer trade shows, and vendors think about which new products to introduce for next year, every eventual winner will have one or more of the qualities mentioned above.

(Note: To read previous Business-Wise columns, click on the titles in the right-hand column. To comment on what makes a product a hit, email Mike at mike@clnonline.com.)

xxx

 

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