26
Nov

Turn Design-on-Demand Into Profits

Turn Design-on-Demand Into Profits

These startups are proof positive that there’s money in customized products.

Three years ago, twenty-somethings Peter Crawfurd and Michael Yang were would-be web entrepreneurs in search of a business idea.

Their top criteria: something they could start with limited funds, and something with big potential to scale.

Avid consumers of tailored dress shirts, they decided to capitalize on their knowledge of custom-made clothing and offer men a more convenient, affordable, hands-on alternative to visiting their neighborhood tailor. The result was Hong Kong based e-retail company ShirtsMyWay, which launched in February 2009 and boasts more than 7 trillion possible designs for men’s dress shirts.

Meet one of the hottest startup trends–mass customization.

The internet is now host to countless companies selling custom-designed furniture, throw pillows, rugs, eyeglasses, T-shirts, shoes, handbags, computers, skateboards–you name it.

Technology has obviously made reaching customers from the far corners of the globe possible. But how do mass customization companies make selling one-off products profitable?

Balancing Customer Choice With Production Capacity
From a revenue standpoint, offering customers a seemingly infinite number of choices may seem counterintuitive. But those in the mass customization trenches say that in some ways, it’s a more efficient way to run a retail business.

“With traditional, non-personalized goods, you have to produce thousands in the factory and then sell them all,” Crawfurd says. “What we do is on-demand production. We don’t need to go out and buy thousands of meters of fabric. There’s very little waste.”

The trick is finding that sweet spot between offering your customers enough options to keep them satisfied and not overwhelming your production system, says Dan Olszewski, director of the Weinert Center for Entrepreneurship at the Wisconsin School of Business.

“From the customer standpoint, you want it to look like you have millions of unique products, even though you may only have a few different degrees of change for each,” Olszewski says.

ShirtsMyWay offers just 25 fabric choices. But factor in sleeve length, collar type, cuff type, pocket shape, stitching options, monograms and the like, and the design possibilities seem infinite.

For decade-old web retailer Smart Furniture, based in Chattanooga, Tenn., mass-producing the individual components of the custom shelves, entertainment centers and other furniture the company sells is key.

“We can adapt to unique customer needs as they change,” says founder and chairman Stephen Culp. “It’s like Legos for adults.”

Still, you don’t want to throw your customer into option overload, says Jennifer Velarde, founder and president of Chicago-based custom handbag retailer 1154 LILL Studio, which also got its start 10 years ago.

“You want to simplify your model, but you want to be unique,” says Velarde, whose company trots out five to ten new handbag templates a year, with fabric and other customization options changing each season.

Selling the ‘Design Your Own’ Experience
Selling one-of-a-kind products is only half the equation. The other half is selling customers a creative experience that lets them fiddle with colors, patterns, textures, shapes and sizes online to see exactly what their masterpiece looks like before clicking the ‘buy’ button.

“Our best customers are there because they love playing with fabrics,” Velarde says. “It’s about finding a concept that people are excited not just to purchase but to talk about with their friends.”

For this reason, having a superhero-strength website with user-friendly navigation is crucial. Ditto for top-notch quality control that ensures the right order ships to each customer.

“We take a lot of complexities on the back end and we make it very simple for the consumer,” says Culp.

Culp likens his business model to a three-legged stool, equally reliant on design, technology and customer service.

He takes answering customer questions so seriously that the half-dozen customer service agents he employs have design backgrounds.

“You’re not going to call us and feel like you’re dealing with incompetence,” he says.

That’s not to say customer service has to be a huge financial hit.

As Olszewski points out, “The customer is investing time in creating the order that you would have otherwise had to do on your end. That’s another cost savings.”

Growing Slowly, Keeping Costs Down
Slow, organic growth has been essential for these three custom retailers.

“We started with one product line with a business model that can be a blockbuster and made sure we understood the ins and outs of it to the nth degree,” Culp says of his Smart Shelves brand, which today accounts for 20 percent of his business.

Rather than follow up his freshman effort with another original product line, seven years into the business Culp began recruiting high-end furniture makers like Herman Miller and Steelcase to sell custom versions of their products on his site. Today Smart Furniture features nine such brands.

Velarde didn’t start her business online, but at a street fair. From there, she moved to a storefront (today she has three) and hired sales reps to take handbags and fabric swatches to private parties in people’s homes (she now has about 60 reps in 40 U.S. cities). It wasn’t until her sixth year in business that she added a robust customization feature to her website, which today accounts for 20 percent of 1154 LILL Studio’s business.

But Velarde wouldn’t have done it any other way.

“The party model has definitely been a huge part of our growth,” she says. And all that customer face time yields a goldmine of product feedback you can’t always get online.

As for Crawfurd and Yang, although their profits have grown exponentially since hanging their shirt-making shingle and they’d like to launch other product lines eventually, they’re not in any immediate rush.

“We want to focus on doing one thing very well,” says Crawfurd.

“It’s so tempting to add a few more variations,” Culp says. “But each time you do, you complicate your business in multiple ways. You’ve got to strike the right balance.”

26
Nov

How to Create a Logo

How to Create a Logo

With a well-designed logo, potential clients can instantly discover how your business can serve them.
¬†Your logo is a visual representation of everything your company stands for. Think of McDonald’s golden arches or the Nike swoosh-these two impressive logos embody these companies well. But many companies still skimp on developing this key identity piece.

Ideally, your company logo enhances potential customers and partners’ crucial first impression of your business. A good logo can build loyalty between your business and your customers, establish a brand identity, and provide the professional look of an established enterprise.

Consider Allstate’s “good hands” logo. It immediately generates a warm feeling for the company, symbolizing care and trust. With a little thought and creativity, your logo can quickly and graphically express many positive attributes of your business, too.

Logo Types

There are basically three kinds of logos. Font-based logos consist primarily of a type treatment. The logos of IBM, Microsoft and Sony, for instance, use type treatments with a twist that makes them distinctive. Then there are logos that literally illustrate what a company does, such as when a house-painting company uses an illustration of a brush in its logo. And finally, there are abstract graphic symbols-such as Nike’s swoosh-that become linked to a company’s brand.

“Such a symbol is meaningless until your company can communicate to consumers what its underlying associations are,” says Americus Reed II, a marketing professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, who’s conducted research on the triggers that lead consumers to identify with and become loyal to a brand. But building that mental bridge takes time and money. The Nike swoosh has no inherent meaning outside of what’s been created over the years through savvy marketing efforts that have transformed the logo into an “identity cue” for an athletic lifestyle.

Growing businesses can rarely afford the millions of dollars and years of effort required to create these associations, so a logo that clearly illustrates what your company stands for or does may be a better choice. Even a type treatment of your company’s name may be too generic, says Placitas, New Mexico, logo designer Gary Priester, principal of gwpriester.com, the Web arm of design firm The Black Point Group. Priester believes customers should be able to tell what you do just by looking at your logo.

Getting Started

Before you begin sketching or learning how to design a logo, first articulate the message you want your logo to convey. Try writing a one-sentence image and mission statement to help focus your efforts. Stay true to this statement while creating your logo.

But that may not be enough to get you started. Here are some additional tactics and considerations that will help you create an appropriate company logo:

  • Look at the logos of other businesses in your industry. Do your competitors use solid, conservative images, or flashy graphics and type? Think about how you want to differentiate your logo from those of your competition.
  • Focus on your message. Decide what you want to communicate about your company. Does it have a distinct personality-serious or lighthearted? What makes it unique in relation to your competition? What’s the nature of your current target audience? These elements should play an important role in the overall design or redesign.
  • Make it clean and functional. Your logo should work as well on a business card as on the side of a truck. A good logo should be scalable, easy to reproduce, memorable and distinctive. Icons are better than photographs, which may be indecipherable if enlarged or reduced significantly. And be sure to create a logo that can be reproduced in black and white so that it can be faxed, photocopied or used in a black-and-white ad as effectively as in color.
  • Your business name will affect your logo design. If your business name is “D.C. Jewelers,” you may wish to use a classy, serif font to accent the letters (especially if your name features initials). For a company called “Lightning Bolt Printing,” the logo might feature some creative implementation of-you guessed it-a lightning bolt.
  • Use your logo to illustrate your business’s key benefit. The best logos make an immediate statement with a picture or illustration, not words. The “Lightning Bolt Printing” logo, for example, may need to convey the business benefit of “ultra-fast, guaranteed printing services.” The lightning bolt image could be manipulated to suggest speed and assurance.
  • Don’t use clip art. However tempting it may be, clip art can be copied too easily. Not only will original art make a more impressive statement about your company, but it’ll set your business apart from others.
  • Avoid trendy looks. If you’re redesigning your old logo, you run the risk of confusing customers-or worse, alienating them. One option is to make gradual logo changes. According to Priester, Quaker Oats modified the Quaker man on its package over a 10-year period to avoid undermining customer confidence. But don’t plan to make multiple logo changes. Instead, choose a logo that will stay current for 10 to 20 years, perhaps longer. That’s the mark of a good design. In fact, when Priester designs a logo, he expects never to see that client again.

Watch Your Colors

One thing you need to be careful of as you explore color options is cost. Your five-color logo may be gorgeous, but once it comes time to produce it on stationery, the price won’t be so attractive. Nor will it work in mediums that only allow one or two colors. Try not to exceed three colors unless you decide it’s absolutely necessary.

Your logo can appear on a variety of media: signage, advertising, stationery, delivery vehicles and packaging, to name just a few. Remember that some of those applications have production limitations. Make sure you do a color study. Look at your logo in one-, two- and three-color versions.

Hire a Designer

While brainstorming logo ideas by yourself is a crucial step in creating your business image, trying to create a logo completely on your own is a mistake. It may seem like the best way to avoid the high costs of going to a professional design firm, which will charge anywhere from $4,000 to $15,000 for a logo design. Be aware, however, that there are thousands of independent designers around who charge much less. According to Stan Evenson, founder of Evenson Design Group, entrepreneurs on a tight budget should shop around for a designer. “There are a lot of [freelance] designers who charge rates ranging from $15 to $150 per hour, based on their experience,” he says.

But don’t hire someone just because of their bargain price. Find a designer who’s familiar with your field . . . and with your competition. If the cost still seems exorbitant, Evenson says, “remember that a good logo should last at least 10 years. If you look at the amortization of that cost over a 10-year period, it doesn’t seem so bad.”

Even if you have a good eye for color and a sense of what you want your logo to look like, you should still consult a professional designer. Why? They know whether or not a logo design will transfer easily into print or onto a sign, while you might come up with a beautiful design that can’t be transferred or would cost too much money to be printed. Your logo is the foundation of all your promotional materials, so this is one area where spending a little more now can really pay off later.

Using and Protecting Your Logo

Once you’ve produced a logo that embodies your company’s mission at a glance, make sure you trademark it to protect it from use by other companies. You can apply for a trademark at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Web site.

Then, once it’s protected, use it everywhere you can-on business cards, stationery, letterhead, brochures, ads, your Web site and any other place where you mention your company name. This will help build your image, raise your company’s visibility and, ideally, lead to more business.

Creating a logo sounds easy, doesn’t it? It can be. Just remember to keep your customers and the nature of your business in mind when you put it all together. In time, you’ll have succeeded in building equity in your trademark, and it will become a positive and recognizable symbol of your product or service.

26
Nov

Bridal Fashion

Bridal Fashion

It seems like a daunting industry to break into, but you’ll be surprised how easily one entrepreneur did it.

Bridal Fashion

Startup Costs: $5,000 to $50,000
Home Based: Can be operated from home
Franchises Available? No
Online Operation? Yes

Business Overview
What: Design and manufacture bridal fashions or wedding-day attire.
Advantages: Start part-time and build your business without making a huge investment; it’s creative and challenging.
Challenges: Advise the bride and groom on appropriate wedding attire protocol and options. Must be creative and passionate about fashion design and able to keep up with bridal trends.

The Market
Clients are couples seeking traditional wedding-day attire or clients seeking bridal-related wedding attire, such as bachelorette-themed clothing.

What You’ll Need to Get Started
All that’s really necessary besides talent and experience in fashion design are a sewing machine, design drafting table, patterns and pattern-making materials, a manufacturer/supplier for materials, a phone and business cards.
To get attention:

  • Attract business through ads in the local Yellow Pages, in the society or wedding section of your local paper and in special bridal supplements.
  • Establish a relationship with local wedding-oriented vendors–florists, photographers, videographers, caterers, hotels and country clubs, bakeries and cake decorators, jewelers and musicians.
  • Leave your brochures with all contacts and ask for referrals.

Q&A With Designer Heidi Kolas

bridal fashion designer Heidi Kolas about how she started her successful business, Rock Star Bride .

What would you recommend people do first if they’re interested in starting a wedding fashion business? Get to know the wedding industry first. Whether as a bride, groom or complete outsider to the wedding business, I recommend doing research before jumping in. The wedding industry is unique and full of information that you can only learn by being a part of it. Attend wedding networking events, visit industry websites, connect to those already working in it, even visit a bridal expo and talk to both brides and vendors. By doing this, you can determine how your fashion concept can fill a market need for brides and grooms.

How did you get started? The concept of Rock Star Bride came to me after my own wedding. It’s very popular for brides to wear a matching hoodie/pant set while getting ready for [the] big day, often featuring “Soon to Be Mrs.” or “Bride.” However, I felt many of these products didn’t match my own personality and style, and that was my “aha” moment. Rock Star Bride was developed as an edgier, more fashion-forward bridal apparel line; something that even looks like what the bride might already have in her closet. Once I had the initial product line developed and ready, I started attending local bridal shows and events to get in front of brides and, I hoped, sell my line. As the enthusiastic response increased, I optimized our website, [including its] shopping capabilities, and expanded the product line.

Do you think now is a good time to start up a bridal attire business? My own motto is, “No time like the present.” The wedding industry has not been immune to today’s economy, despite its being claimed as recession-proof until now. However, if you have a unique idea or product line, you should move on it before someone else does. Ideas bubble up quickly in the wedding industry! My advice in this economy is to move slowly (but not too slowly) and test ideas in front of brides, if you can, before going all out. Brides have no problem telling you if they like something or not. Take advantage of this while finalizing your line.

What kind of person does it take to do what you do? You have to be ready to wear all hats, whether it’s marketing, sales, fashion design, web development or sourcing and securing vendors. If you don’t know something, be ready to learn even if it’s just the basics. You also have to have a strong sense of what you want and what your final products should look like. A fashion line is your vision, and you’ll be leading others in executing that vision. Without this, your line is not going to be consistent, and you’ll leave your team and customers confused.

What kind of training and background are necessary? I personally have an advertising and marketing background, and a love for creativity and fashion. But that’s not to say someone from a finance background can’t launch a wedding fashion line. If you have that conviction of an idea being successful, you’ll find a way to fill in the other gaps. Always hire people smarter than you, they say. Find people who “get it” [and] what you’re trying to do . . . It’s not hard to find these people, just have a conversation with them [about] what you’re trying to achieve. You’ll see the telling smile or spark in their eye if they want to help you with your idea. Avoid working with people who don’t get your idea–they won’t be passionate about helping you achieve your goal.

Would you say it’s common for those planning their own wedding to decide to start up a wedding-related business? I would say it’s common for former brides and grooms to start wedding-related businesses. It’s often based from a bride or groom not finding a particular product for his/her wedding or receiving bad service from a wedding vendor. I did this myself with Rock Star Bride . . . Plus, the wedding industry is fun! Attend a bridal show or wedding networking event, and it’s a very social scene. Everyone is excited to be there. Someone is always handing out martinis. Who doesn’t want to work in a fun industry every day?

How much capital did it take for you to start your business? The first year, the initial capital for product materials, creative services, marketing, web development and events was approximately $5,000.

How did you establish your prices? A number of factors went into determining prices for Rock Star Bride. First, we examined our competitors’ prices to ensure we were comparable. We looked at what we were offering brides vs. what competitors had available. Was our product unique enough to justify a higher price? Or were we on par with them? Next, we examined similar non-wedding products that brides might buy for their own everyday wardrobes. What would they pay for a “normal” screen-printed hoodie to wear over the weekend? The prices for Rock Star Bride are set to be comparable to both sides. We don’t believe in jacking up the price just because it’s bridal. Our prices have stayed pretty consistent since we started; however, we do send brides shopping offers and discounts.

What are your closing words of advice to would-be wedding fashion designers? The wedding industry loves creativity and new ideas! The response and support are practically immediate. But be sure to protect your name and important assets, as weddings are still a lucrative business. Also, it’s OK to be a small vendor in the wedding industry. There are a number of small wedding companies, as many can only offer services in a certain geographical location. So don’t be afraid to enter the wedding industry just because you won’t be the biggest vendor or the product line with the most depth. It’s perfectly acceptable to be small, niche and local.