Before I continue with this post, let me clarify that this article is based solely off of my own experiences and learning, and things that I have concluded myself. I have never taken a class in entrepreneurship, and so do take what I write with a grain a salt, as I don’t want to be the reason you waste your life-savings starting a line of dinosaur-shaped scissors only to go bankrupt. That said, I have learned a lot about product and business concept design over the last year Thousand Years has been running, and so I want to break down what makes a successful product/business concept, and why it works so well.
People who want to start their own business enjoy the creative and managing freedoms of being your own boss, and need to spend time brainstorming and thinking about how to streamline your business, how to make it more efficient, and how to better market yourself to the public. However, rather than discussing these things in this article, the focus will be primarily on the actual concept of your business itself, or the product that you are developing.
My Thoughts on What Works:
I find that generally speaking, successful small businesses depend on the younger demographic, ranging from the end of high school to the late 20s. The reason this works is because it not only ensures a stable (and somewhat uninformed) market for whatever they are selling (kids are more susceptible to ads and are bad at dealing with money), but also that you are almost guaranteed prolonged success as that generation of loyal customers ages.
Take Band-Aid, for example. Invented in the 1920s by an employee of Johnson & Johnson, the idea eventually grew to become the standard brand of all bandages for minor lesions and cuts, even colloquially. It exemplifies a successful product design: it’s simple, effective, for the common person, somewhat inelastic (an essential good), and cheap for you and for the manufacturers. For the most part, however, its success is due to the fact that it had carved out its own market by creating a product that improved upon a time-honoured solution to cuts and abrasions (i.e. dressing a wound with gauze, etc.).
Therefore, I find that the most successful businesses or product lines start off with a concept that itself has huge potential (not only in the eyes of the beholder, mind you). To start, you can go two ways:
1) Take a product or service that is fairly common and taken for granted, and reinvent it.
2) Take a product or service that is fairly common and taken for granted, and take it back to its roots.
Let’s talk about the first option, reinvention. What I mean by this is that you take something that is relatively common but still an almost essential need/service for the middle/upper-middle class, and put a hip new spin on the concept itself by essentially making it cool to buy your product/service in a niche sort of way. Niche-appeal works because it’s unique and original, and something that not a lot of businesses have the balls/sense of cool to try out. The key, however, is to limit your scope to just one or two things that you really specialize on, putting more emphasis on it than the average do-it-all store and thereby providing an above-average product/service (as perceived by the customer).
One great example is the delicious Grilled Cheese restaurant in Kensington Market. They take the time-honoured taken-for-granted idea of grilled cheese, something you would never think to pay for, and turn it into something that in the end is sold for 9 dollars. Something that you theoretically could make for less than 1 dollar. Their gourmet grilled cheeses are actually quite delicious (I’m a huge fan), and work well to create that unique niche no other restaurant can. Another example is the now-ubiquitous Silly Bandz. I still find this product ridiculously stupid but I have to admit that they ingeniously carved out their own niche of… elastic bands, and packaged the product in such a way as to make them collectible and authentic. I met this little kid who was seriously into these rubber bands, and he told me all about how to tell if the Silly Bandz you buy are real or counterfeit. How do you even MAKE counterfeit rubber bands?!?
Let’s examine the second method: going traditional. What I mean by this is that you take something that’s pretty commonplace, something that you probably would never think to only sell, and sell it at an above average price, by appealing to the heritage factor of time-honoured traditions that we all think means an above average product/service. Now this is a little more complicated as you can actually take this in two ways as well. The first would be taking an already time-honoured product (like a wine, or something) and really go Luddite/handcrafted on that shit (like some candy makers, or Schwartz’s Deli). The second option, which I personally view as more unique/having more potential, is that you take a product that is relatively common as an urban need, and contrast it with the aesthetic of traditional/handcrafted.
Moleskine is an exemplary case of taking something that is a relatively urban requirement (notebooks/pads, which now have funky designs on the front, or hiphop/futuristic images to appeal to the urbanites), and putting a classical spin on it by both upping the price, and using two things that scream classy/mature: leather and aged paper. This aesthetic (the aged paper is not truly aged, but just yellowed artificially) combined with the high price creates the idea that their product must be worth something more than your average Staples notebook, and their product description leads you to believe you hold in your hands a handcrafted (not really) piece of heritage, passed down from the likes of “Van Gogh, Picasso, Hemingway, and Chatwin”. Actually their product description is slightly misleading, making you think that this company is actually the same one that sold these legends their notebooks of fame, but all the same it is written with finesse and an excellent idea of the brand concept they are going for (pretentious as they may be, I will admit I own two of them).
Now this is not to say that you can’t establish a disgustingly successful small (hopefully going on large) business without these two methods. But these are just what I have found works with the successful companies I’ve seen/heard of/gone to/bought from, and also what I think is a surefire way to success in this modern era. These are my thoughts only, and not something written by a business analyst of 20 years, so take from this what you will/want. But with all this in mind, hopefully you’ll come to understand what is going on under the hood of the beautifully designed Thousand Years Apparel, and the difficult processes that we must go through in order to try to become successful. We still appreciate every inkling of support we get from you guys, and words can’t describe our gratitude towards our loyal customers and friends/family.
That said, our snapback is very unique, and we’re going for a classy look that trailblazes itself into your wardrobe, a gateway for other original pieces and smart dressing. It’s a little retro, a little classy, and a touch of fresh all bundled up together, and it truly illustrates what we at Thousand Years Apparel are going for in our new line. It’s a term we’ve created because no other words or trends could define our image: urban eclectic. It’s a little bit of this, a little bit that, but classy, clean, and all rolled up into fresh & accessible apparel that you can mix and match into your outfit. Get ready for a huge week of releases for preorder, as we’ll be releasing everything online next Tuesday.
Now I leave you with the best bedhead I’ve had in a while: