AS A business consultant with a special focus on the craft
and small-scale manufacturing sectors, I have come to recognise a number of
shared traits among entrepreneurs and business owners engaged in the design
and manufacture of products.
Chief among these is a tendency to assume
that when sales are down and things are tough, the product must be the problem.
If this is the case, the solution becomes very simple – make more, and hopefully better, products.
Spurred on by creative passion we dive headlong into the
development of new ranges and better mousetraps, but very seldom do these
efforts result in the repeat business and economies of scale that all
manufacturers need to sustain their business.
In fact the opposite is often
true, and the costly and time-consuming process of product development leaves
us with less money in the bank, a room full of redundant samples and no more
customers than we had before we started.
In truth, when things are not going well it is very seldom
the product that is the problem. Of course, it is a given that you need to have
a marketable and viable product or product range to capture the interest of the
market and find customers.
However, it is all the stuff that goes on around the
product and its journey along the value chain that will determine how
successful your business is in the long term.
Sometimes referred to as your critical success factors (CSFs), this includes areas like marketing, costing
and pricing, administration, communication, customer relationship management and market access - in other words, the 360 degree business environment and how you
manage it for maximum success.
Simply put, you can have a highly desirable and well
thought-out product range, but if your marketing is non-existent or your
business communication is poor, you will always struggle to find repeat
Similarly, a good product that is incorrectly priced because of
production challenges or a lack of the tools and knowledge to accurately cost
and price it, is doomed to failure. Either it will be too expensive and nobody
will buy it, or it will be sold too cheaply and you will make no profit, or
even a loss.
Both scenarios have only one ending, and it is not a happy one
for your business.
A twofold solution
The solution is twofold. Firstly, any creative industries
business needs to pay as much attention to the other critical success factors
as it does to the product and the product development process.
The craft sector
is littered with examples of great products that never made it, and great
product designers who can’t seem to build a sustainable business in spite of
their undeniable talent.
This is partly because they do not pay enough
attention to the other CSFs, and partly because they do not base their
designs and products sufficiently on what the market wants or needs.
Secondly, you need to be circumspect and do some planning
before embarking on a product development process. Speak to your customers; they are an invaluable source of feedback in terms of style, colour, price
points, packaging... the list is endless.
Also, do some research and assess current and future trends
and whether they complement your design ethos. Finally and most importantly,
approach the development of new products in a holistic fashion.
develop needs to be viable not just aesthetically but also from a
manufacturing, costing and pricing, raw material availability, marketing and
The next time things are slow and the temptation arises to
embark on a new round of product development, pause before jumping in to look
at the big picture and you will greatly increase your chance of success.
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