by Carolyn Edlund
You’ve got it – a new twist on an old concept that will really work. Or will it?
I once received an email from an entrepreneur who had what he considered to be a great idea. He wanted to start a greeting card line, but it would be focused only on “break up” and divorce cards. He meant to develop a kind of bittersweet collection of sentiments for messed-up relationships.
Would it have worked? No. Not by a long shot. Although he thought that he had a great concept, he actually had no understanding of the greeting card business, why customers shop for cards and the motivation that leads them to make a purchase.
When you come up with a concept for a collection that you think might sell, test drive it against reality. Although it might sound like a fantastic idea to you, it must also align with what customers want. Because after all, it’s all about them.
I often tell my consulting clients to take a look at each piece in their line, and answer these questions: “Who will buy this? Why will they buy this?” If your concept truly resonates with the customers you want to reach, that’s wonderful. But if not, you may end up with nothing but wasted time, money and dreams.
If you mean to enter a certain existing market, keep in mind that you shouldn’t be trying to reinvent the wheel. There are time-honored ways of selling and buying that won’t be changing any time soon. For example, greeting cards usually come in packs of six of the same design with envelopes, although high-end cards may be sometimes be offered in packs of four. This is a standard practice, and wholesale buyers know it. If you try to sell cards singly, or in threes, or nines to retailers, you’ll get strange looks. In addition, the buyers will know that you have little experience, which won’t make them confident in buying from you.
Having a great idea is fine. But it doesn’t mean that you can influence major trends in the way that business is done. This is why you can’t just invent a new holiday or other new reason for people to buy greeting cards and expect any success. You must understand human nature and how consumers behave.
Sometimes a “great idea” doesn’t work simply because you are thinking too small. Into this category falls that card line that was only for break ups, and the potter who only wanted to offer brown pots, and the dollmaker who only wanted to make doll heads, but not bodies. Turn that around and start thinking big, and working on coming up with a concept that can be turned into an entire brand with multiple products that work together, and can be cross-sold.
When you work in isolation, and stumble on your big idea, it can seem terrific at the time, but you need to do your research. This means getting input from other sources, and feedback from the marketplace. You need to hear from people who might be your next customer.
Some questions to ask yourself when you are brainstorming for ideas for that new line:
- Who is the target customer, and why will this appeal to them?
- Is the offering too narrow, or too general?
- Are you solving a problem for the customer? Name it.
- What is the emotional connection that you can make between your line and your prospective customer?
- What makes your concept special and appealing?
- Who is your competition? How is their line different from yours, and how is it similar? Why is yours better?
- How will you brand your line to be recognizable and memorable?
Then, get out in public and test your new concept before you invest too much in production or inventory. Ask questions, listen to the feedback you get, and make note of the objections people have to buying what you make. Use what you learn to tweak your line, or even to retool everything and start again.
It wasn’t long ago that I spoke with a greeting card entrepreneur who had already printed 32,000 cards that would ultimately would go to waste because the product wasn’t developed enough before it went to press. Don’t be that person. Dream big and come up with great ideas, and then make sure they will work before you take the next step.
Artsy Shark founder and author Carolyn Edlund works one-on-one with artists and creative entrepreneurs to launch and build successful small businesses. Find out more about consulting services here.