Monday, August 22, 2011

Grassroots Market Research

I spent this weekend helping a local university welcome its freshmen onto campus; I actually got stuck assisting with traffic control and getting cars unloaded and moved as quickly as possible from in front of one set of dorms.  

Nothing like some real grassroots market research to say the least!  

Out of over 1,000 freshmen there was only one PC off loaded; everyone else had laptops and about 900 of those were Apple.  I Phones were popular among the kids but for the most part their parents had old fashioned cell phones and these cellphones outnumbered the I Phones by a 3 to 1 margin. 

I think that Russell Athletic and Nike need to be really concerned about Under Armour, because everyone had apparel with the Under Armour logo, while Nike held the edge in screen printed t shirts and shoes Russell was no where to be found, outside the shirts worn by the University staff.

For every case of bottled water there seemed to be a 12 pack of Mountain Dew; didn't see any Coke products at all.  I am not real sure what the logic is with bottled water but if it is for a conscious health reason then the amount of poor snack choices really overwhelms whatever benefit one could derive from drinking water.

Not real sure what will happen when these freshmen realize that one flat panel television and one refrigerator per room is about all that will fit; I figure between now and when school starts in a week, everyone will realize that 90% of the rooms have one television and one refrigerator too many!  Walmart and Best Buy does a tremendous business in electronics during "back to school" and Target makes a killing on bedding.

35 years ago this fall I was an incoming freshman and the biggest difference is now it takes two vehicles full of stuff to get situated in the same size dorm room where back then it took only one.  No one seems to use boxes any longer to pack anything;  its either plastic cases or just haul stuff up in the bags that the goods were purchased in; if how people pack to go to college is any sign of the future, we really will have a shortage of engineers in the future!  

Monday, August 8, 2011

Self Doubt

From an article about the standardized testing scandal in Atlanta:
"Julie Rogers-Martin had started to doubt her teaching skills.  After 30 years in education, working mostly with underprivileged inner-city students, Rogers-Martin felt she had developed a level of competence and professionalism that can only be gained from hard work and experience.
Her superiors at East Lake Elementary School in the Atlanta Public Schools system where she taught for six years seemed to agree. Administrators held her up as a model, praising her classroom management skills and use of technology and showcasing her class to parents and administrators, she says.  But between 2007 and 2009 a strange thing started happening: Some of her colleagues' students began to outperform her students on the state's standardized test."
Yes, sometimes you look at the world around you and you cannot help but doubt your own knowledge, ability, and achievements; sometimes you cannot help but question your own ability to grasp the world around you.

Have you ever had a great idea?  An idea that others just do not seem to see or understand regardless of how much you try to explain it to them?

Doubt, is healthy, it is the quality of being able to review, rethink, and revamp.  Doubt, is the ability to grasp new information, new ideas, and adapt.  But self doubt is something totally different.  To be able to spot your own flaws requires confidence!  Staring at your own weaknesses and flaws in the face doesn't come from a place of self doubt, it comes from a place of strength.  You have to be a strong person in order to own up to your flaws and to shoulder the responsibility of making your idea better. 

Confidence is a lonely place; it is a quiet characteristic.  Arrogance and ego are public qualities, that demand acceptance and public acknowledgement.  Confidence is a world of hard work and long hours.  

We love to talk about "passion" and "enthusiasm" but without self doubt they are nothing more than hubris and should not be confused with confidence:  Confidence is factual, arrogance and ego are emotional.  Hitting home runs is exciting but base hits win games.

If you catch yourself in a moment of doubt then you need to question whether this is the healthy confidence derived doubt or whether it is self doubt.  Passion, enthusiasm, arrogance and ego, all wilt under self examination; in fact they fear examination.  Confidence grows stronger with doubt.

Success is a long hard road and confidence comes from the realization of exactly what success takes and a confident person reserves their energy for that which matters.  Everyone cheers for the home run king, everyone congratulates the player that crosses home plate to win the game while the batter that hit the base hit that drove in the run walks quietly off the field.

Sometimes we confuse self examination with self doubt and we shouldn't.  Sometimes the world is focused on the wrong things, such as better test scores rather than teaching competency.  Or, fads rather than ideas that have stood the test of time.

Confidence sometimes leads to the realization that the world is nuts!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Strategies Of Value: Consumers and Community

Henry Ford once said: “Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants, so long as it is black.”

In 1923 GM redesigned its manufacturing line with the flexibility to produce a multitude of models and colors without compromising the inherent economies-of-scale of Ford’s assembly line innovation.

In the 1970's we had Burger King and the concept of "Have it your way...." and now today we have something called, "consumer centric" which entails not only how a company relates to consumers but also revolutionizes the organization; just as the assembly line changed our society in the early 20th century the concept, consumer centric, will do the same for the 21st century.

Of course it might require that companies quit off shoring customer service!  Or if you are going to call a consumer on the weekend and leave a call back number then please ensure that all the features work on weekends!  

Then that brings up the concept of ‘customization’ which is another buzz word being bantered around today by various apparel start up companies.

Its easy to champion a concept such as customization when one is selling pants for hundreds of dollars a pair, like Bonobos, or dresses for hundreds of dollars like Mod Cloth, or even polo shirts for 80 dollars or more, but the reality is your "community" is very small; you community is limited by income.

The whole purpose of mass production is to produce goods in mass quantities at prices the masses can afford.  If you take screen printed tees for example, at one time department stores were willing to pay $7.50 for a four color process back print with left chest logo which they would then retail for $26.99.  Now they will pay on average $5.00 for a screen printed tee which they retail for $17.99 and thus you find that the days for full color process are over and has been replaced with spot color of no more than three colors.

All of the sudden, anyone and their brother could sell screen printed tees via the internet and ship out of their garage:  With the cost of the shirt, art, and screen printing you have about $6.00 in a shirt that you are retailing  direct to the consumer for $15 to $20!  So we see the birth of consumer centric business models and the advent of the concept of customization!

The reality is the shirts are blanks and purchased from a distributor on an as needed basis and thus their are no inventory carrying costs.  The reality is the basic product, the tee shirt, is not customized, but rather it is embellished to a customers wishes.

The 'value' is that tees are novelties, they allow for self expression, whim, and impulse buying and thus communities can develop and grow, such as Threadless, Cafe Press, and Zazzle to name a few.  You can add the individualization that is offered by companies such as Custom Ink and Blue Cotton to the list also.

To take the concept of customization to other apparel classes beyond tee shirts then the term that should be used is "individually tailored."  The market for individually tailored goods is limited to individuals who are either young and or higher income.  To the vast majority, lets say 90% of Americans and an even higher percentage of the rest of the world, the idea of having apparel tailored for fit is not financially viable.

Yes, even the trade magazine, Internet Retailer has jumped on the customization bandwagon, imploring the like of The Gap, Macy's, Nordstrom, and American Eagle Outfitters to get started with 'personalization.'  That would be for an interesting board or management meeting; brick and mortar retailers discussing how they change their whole supply chain and retail structure to adapt to this new innovation. 

The idea of a consumer centric business is one that imparts a value added proposition to existing business activity.  The concept of personalization or customization is one that completely changes existing business activity; its a niche market at best.  It will never achieve the acceptance of jeans and or tee shirts as basic apparel choices for a vast majority of consumers.

Mass production led to the extinction of the artisan, and the craftsman.  The consumer saw no value to individualization.  I remember in the early 90's when the concept of a tee shirt with a double ringer around the neck was considered innovative and this in turn led to allowing the retailer to pick the color of their second ringer which we would then attach after screen printing.  That was a great idea but a bad reality because of costs of maintaining inventory of the second ringer and returns; one persons design creation is another ones idea of trash.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Part I - The T Shirt

Americans are "consuming" tee shirts: 3.2 billion tees were sold in 2010 alone and this works out to an average of 10 tee shirts per person every year!  In 1990, Americans averaged 4 tee shirt purchases annually; so we have increased our annual consumption of tee shirts by an additional 1 shirt every three years on average.  Makes you wonder what people do with last year's tees?

There is not much that occurs in our lives that does not involve a tee shirt. There is not much that we do in our lives that we could not do in a tee shirt.  But can you name your favorite tee?  Can you remember the label of the last tee you purchased and or received?  Do you even notice where your tee was made?  Do you even realize that a blank, basic tee is a style option?

Tee shirts are the basic building block for individual self expression and for the establishment of a community. They can be the ultimate status symbol or the most utilitarian; the vanguard of the Web 2.0 movement, the whole idea of 'consumer centric' business models began with a basic tee shirt.  The reality is that even today, a couple of hundred of dollars spent on screen printed tees achieves a higher ROI to small businesses than does  a thousand dollars a month spent on social media, pay per click, and or SEO!

Even the Travel Channel diva, Samantha Brown, says you should never leave home without a few tee shirts in your luggage to use as gifts while you travel:
"So it's nice to have something to give -- one or two T-shirts from your own hometown is a great place to start. They don't take up a lot of room in your luggage or add on much weight."
That is a pretty lofty pedigree for something as mundane as a tee shirt!

When I talk about a tee shirt I am actually discussing a blank shirt or what most designers perceive as a blank canvas and most advertisers see as a blank billboard.  What is really interesting, besides how big the market is  is also how diverse it is.  When you are looking at screen print lines the names Gildan, Alstyle, Tultex, Anvil, American, and Alternative pop up and if you ask the general market, you would hear names such as Fruit Of The Loom, Delta and Hanes.  Then of course you have the specialty tee shirt lines such as Continental Clothing and Alta Gracia which offer tee shirts with a social conscious.

I was pretty surprised to read this article and come to realize how shoddy most standards were for your basic tee shirt; personally, if I was involved in any of these companies I would get busy cleaning up our standards!

With the increase in the price of cotton recently we are seeing a variety of ways to replace cotton as a basic commodity in tee shirts; You have Tencel and Hemp as two examples.

Exactly how important is the basic blank tee shirt to the world at large?  Now that one can have their own label put on the neck of shirt, does where one gets their blank tee shirt really matter?  Does how and where a tee shirt is made really matter?  I can't help but wonder with the push toward "customization" in regards to apparel, exactly how much would the consumer be willing to pay for something 'more' than your basic tee shirt?

Can a basic tee shirt be anything more than an after thought to a world focused on customization and individualization?

Monday, August 1, 2011

Fail Often

I am haunted by an article that I read many years ago on a plane heading to the west coast; it was an article about a survey that the top 100 successful business people took and the key result was that they claimed that they failed at 70% of what they attempted.

Of course, it takes some time to grasp something that is mathematically at odds with our assumptions; success is based upon the fact that one does not give up but rather keeps learning, evolving, and trying.

Or as Thomas Edison has said, "I have not failed, I've just 10,000 ways that won't work."

That is why, when I read things like, "(b)efore changing careers, experts say, ask yourself some basic questions. For example, are your current skills obsolete, or will they soon be back in demand? "  I cannot help but wonder how anyone could have skills that are obsolete?  If you are continuously learning, evolving, and trying then exactly how can ones acquired knowledge, aka skills, become obsolete?

But then again, I never really grasped the concept of "career change" because I am a challenge seeker rather than a resume builder; I want to know what the challenges of a job are not the skills required to perform the tasks of a job.

It’s kind of like the question of, "...if you could do things over would you do things differently?"  Of course, all of us would!  But the reality is without continuously learning, evolving, and trying nothing would be different; the end results would be the same.

Wisdom is nothing more than trying, failing, learning, evolving, and trying again...over and over again!  Success is nothing more than learning to fail faster!

Every benefit has a cost and if you fear failure then you will never enjoy success.  I have been fired more than once and I need two hands to count the number of times I have been “…sent to the house” but in each and every case, each and every time I was back at work within two days.

Think about it, 100 of the top business leaders admit that they fail 70% of the time!  If you have a success rate higher than 30%, and lets be honest, most of us shoot for at least a 75% success rate, then obviously, based upon a poll of the highest achieving business leaders, most of us are not attempting to accomplish much.