Thursday, December 8, 2011

Some Lessons Learned

Well, it has been a very intense autumn - not just because of the business side of my activities, but also because I have had a moderately heavy teaching load at the university. Tomorrow I give my exam and then, aside from the corrections of the latter, I'll be "home free".

On the business end, it has been a very busy time with a lot of lessons. I will need more time to harvest them all, but here is some of the learning. In retrospect, I was rather naive about how the online sales would work out. It has been explained to me that because my product is viewed as "new", that my company operates with the product development cycle typical of high tech companies and products - that is, that a few "innovators" will buy the first generation of the product, following which a larger percentage of "early adopters" will buy, but that the mainstream is only accessible later when the "early majority" buyers see the product enough in and around town that they become interested. So our marketing model needs to be aimed at those who are more adventurous in their purchase decisions.

Secondly, we have found that a typical "trying on" session may take about 30 to 40 minutes. It takes that amount of time for the potential client to really understand what the garment does for them, and typically this involves trying on 4 or 5 combinations (although some people got the combination right the first time and then needed to try on 2 or 3 other combos to double check their choice). Once a person understands the garment, then the use of the web site becomes a powerful tool for ordering, but until the garment is properly understood, the website alone is inadequate. So I am rethinking my marketing strategy towards placing the garment in relatively high end designer boutiques and/or market specific boutiques (such as travel-oriented sales points) which will give the garment the attention it needs to sell, and towards the possibility of organizing direct-to-consumer sales (i.e. independent sales reps, or the "travelling salesperson").

I shall also be looking into the possibility of videotaping a "trying out session" to give online customers a better feel for how the garment is worn. In a lot of ways,

I'm quite pleased about these changes in marketing strategy, because it puts us closer to the client, and I believe that contact is essential to our eventual success with the garment and its sister products. I have some ideas about developing garments which are "designed to be adjusted" so that they may be semi-custom fitted to clients, with the final adjustment carried out by local seamstresses and tailors according to the needs of the individual clients.

However, coming up with a viable and sustainable business strategy that serves these needs is a major challenge for me. Furthermore, money is a bit tight until I can extend our sales, so my ability to manoeuvre is quite limited. I'd like to design and develop several new items, but right now the priority is marketing the existing products so that they can sustain the company and give me some breathing room to develop the next set of products. I have found some additional help to do this - in particular, a micro-financing outfit in Quebec City has agreed to help me with my marketing requirements. What is great about this is that they offer direct business coaching which has already been a huge boon.

Although the challenges in front are huge, the territory covered to date is also huge! Within less than 12 months I have developed a company, a product line (well, two product lines, actually), an online boutique and a network of partners that should see us into the future. I've had to reduce some of our scope in order to keep the funding under control (this has meant letting go of my salaried assistant and the fabulous workshop space I set up), and am now gearing up for a series of marketing initiatives that will take us through to spring 2012. Over the November-December period we have sold fewer products than I had hoped, but we have nonetheless sold several dozen and our ability to sell should increase over the next few months as I work to improve our marketing program. So a pretty good end-of-year bilan, all things considered.