Dive Into a New Product Category
Therein lies the first step toward finding a new product category:
1. Follow your hunches, which usually come from one of two places, says Phil Minix, senior vice president of catalog and tours marketing at Reiman Publishing, Greendale, Wis., which produces the Country Store catalog. “First, you have your core offerings — and then you have this hunch about a fringe offering that’s shown a lot of life.
“A second way to discover a new product hunch is to look at the market,” he continues. “If you see a lot of products in a particular category at trade shows and in magazines, give them a test in your catalog.”
Both Minix and Revello say that in the catalog world, using focus groups and surveys is a process that usually doesn’t yield helpful information, especially for smaller to medium-sized companies. The problem, says Revello, is that people tend to not always be truthful. “They sometimes fill out the form the way they want to appear and not the way they’d act in real situations. I think it’s always better to go with your hunches, and then test items on the page,” she says.
Ashton Harrison, president and co-owner of lighting supplies catalog Shades Of Light, Richmond, Va., offers this suggestion: “Go with your best buyer’s gut feel. [Then] research the field. Find an expert and hire that person as a consultant to hold your hand through product development.”
Next, decide what competitive advantage you can offer. “This is the most critical factor for success,” she notes. “Define your focus, and stick with it.” That’s how Harrison took her business from just lighting products to launching two new catalogs: Rugs Under Foot, started in 2002, and Curtains on Call, launched in 2003.
Interestingly, she adds, “When we decided to add curtains, we ran a focus group, and the feedback we got was almost opposite from sales results. So buyers’ gut feel may be the best guide for new product areas and ideas.”