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Archive for June 13th, 2011

A Baby’s Illness Was Responsible for One of the World’s Most Revered and Iconic Brands

Monday, June 13th, 2011

by: Geoff Ficke

A Baby’s Illness Was Responsible for One of the World’s Most Revered and Iconic Brands 

There is barely a household anywhere in the world that is home to a baby that does not have a supply of Gerber Baby Food in the cupboard. The product is ubiquitous. The label is one of the most recognizable in the world. The story behind the germination of the brand is a testament to the old adage of   opportunity arising from ones life’s experiences. 

Daniel F. Gerber owned a Michigan-based Food canning Company in the 1920’s. In 1927 his seven month old daughter Sally became ill. Mr. Gerber’s wife Dorothy took little Sally to the child’s pediatrician. The Doctor advised Mrs. Gerber to put young Sally on a diet of strained, hard foods. This was an unusual prescription for that time. 

In the early 20th century babies were not usually put on a hard or strained food diet until about the age of one year. Strained foods were a chore to create requiring a lot of preparation, boiling and mashing. There were no shelf ready strained fruits and vegetables. Mrs. Gerber took the task home and went to work. 

Daniel Gerber became interested in the straining process and quickly saw the Marketing and Sales opportunities that he believed a line of strained, canned, prepared foods would offer. After much testing, Gerber began to make strained baby food in five flavors: peas, carrots, prunes, spinach and vegetable beef soup. The Brand was almost an immediate hit. It was convenient and babies loved the product. Within six months Gerber Baby Food was being distributed nationally.

The Gerber Baby Food Company did a very clever thing to find a logo for its packaging. The Company publicized a contest for artists and consumers to submit drawings of possible label icons. The charcoal drawing submitted by Dorothy Hope Smith won the contest. The baby drawn was not Sally Gerber, but Ann Turner Cook, her neighbor’s child. Ms. Cook has been the famous Gerber Baby ever since. 

Sally Gerber played an interesting role in the Gerber Baby Food Company. As a 10 year old in 1938, she went to work in the firms Consumer Relations Office. She answered personally each letter sent by Gerber customers, and she continued this practice for many years. Ms. Gerber became a Senior Vice-President of the Company, a nice consolation for not being the face on the jars. 

Today Gerber offers more than 200 products sold in more than 80 countries with labels translated into 16 languages. The Company has expanded into Infant Toys, Youth Accessories, Juvenile Safety Products and Life Insurance for young families. Gerber controls more than 80% of the United States Baby Food market. In 2007 Nestle purchased Gerber for $5.5 billion. 

A baby was sick more than 80 years ago. Concerned parents took the baby to a doctor. The prognosis was to treat the child with strained fruits and vegetables. This everyday occurrence, one of the situations that every parent faces, resulted in discovering the process that birthed of one of the world’s great Consumer Product Brands. Smart Branding and Marketing, mated with an Entrepreneurial sensitivity for opportunity resulted in the creation of a Company which has enriched lives around the world. Oh… and the label is still one of the cutest ever seen on any product.

Entrepreneurial Creativity Is Still Rife in the Fashion Jewelry and Cosmetic World

Monday, June 13th, 2011

by: Geoff Ficke

Entrepreneurial Creativity Is Still Rife in the Fashion Jewelry and Cosmetic World 

My Product Development and Marketing Consulting firm has had a busy spring introducing a slew of new products in international cosmetic and jewelry industry trade shows. We participated in the largest Beauty and Fragrance Industry expo, Cosmoprof in Bologna, Italy. Immediately after Cosmoprof we were off to Basel World in Basel Switzerland, the premiere international couture watch and jewelry show in the world. This past week we finished a new Fashion Jewelry product launch at Couture Las Vegas, the exclusive American trade show for luxury jewelry product. 

These industry specific trade shows draw store buyers, distributors and vendors from every corner of the world. Cosmoprof offers products from the giants in the Cosmetic world such as Proctor & Gamble, Estee Lauder, Cosmair-L’Oreal and Shiseido. Basel World and Couture are utilized by internationally famous brands such as Harry Winston, Richemont, LVMH and Bulgari. All of the biggest players attend these expositions. And yet, the most interesting, exciting and well-shopped stands are often those representing small, entrepreneurial start-up businesses

The entrepreneurs we visit at beauty and jewelry trade shows are unique. They are among the most creative artisans you will find anywhere. Their display will be smaller than the multi-national brand powerhouses, and their marketing miniscule. But their passion, intensity and ability to find a path to success against long odds and heavy competition is often inspirational.  

The Couture Las Vegas Jewelry trade show is an ode to luxurious human adornment. There are no Costume Jewelry or mass market products on display. Show management vet’s every product entry and allows only the most beautiful, unique and exclusive lines to be offered. Attendance is strictly controlled and buyers are invited, there are no walk-ins.  Nevertheless, there were dozens of small artisan jewelry producers, all offering a range of product created from a novel medium that they had discovered, executed and perfected. The result is innovative jewelry lines that are able to find a niche in the congested world of Couture, High Fashion Jewelry.

The story is the same at Cosmoprof Bologna. There are over 3000 vendors selling every imaginable type of Beauty Product. Aromatherapy, Cosmetic Implements, Cosmetic Applicators and Accessories, Skin Care, Bath and Body Care, Fragrance, Hair Care, Hand and Nail Care, Baby Care, Men’s Treatment, and Color Cosmetics of every type, description and price point from all over the world are on offer to buyers and international distributors from 120 countries. Still, once again, the small producers enjoyed a terrific opportunity to differentiate themselves from their mega-competitors. Their booths were busy and interest levels in  the newest products and concepts was at an all-time high.

Cosmetics and Jewelry are industries where we see incredible entrepreneurial activity.  The barriers to entry are not as difficult to hurdle as in many categories that require large technology and financial commitments. If you are creative, driven and have a passion to compete there has never been a better time than the present to be a fashion entrepreneur.  Nimble innovators are always in demand.

How Did One of the Fashion World’s Earliest Great Innovators Lose Everything by Lack of Innovation

Monday, June 13th, 2011

by: Geoff Ficke

How Did One of the Fashion World’s Earliest Great Innovators Lose Everything by Lack of Innovation

It is startling to study an empires crumble, decline and ultimately perishing on the ash heap of history. It happened to ancient states such as Egypt, Rome, Athens and Macedonia. The Knights Templar had been the world’s pre-eminent military and financial colossus in the Middle Ages but they are no more. In more modern times we have seen the commercial decline and disappearance of Horn & Hardart Restaurants, A&P Food Stores and numerous department store chains such as Jordan Marsh, John Wannamaker, Woodrow & Lothrop and Montgomery Wards. Major airlines and automobile companies were launched, soared and then failed.

The scale of these failed enterprises was often so great that it is hard for observers to get their hands around all that went wrong and caused these spectacular failures.  Recently I was reviewing a fashion treatise and read about a long ago innovative pioneer of Haute Couture who became an icon of his age before losing everything in one lifetime. The tale is cautionary. 

Paul Poiret was born into poverty in Paris in 1879. At an early age he was apprenticed to an Umbrella maker. The odd bits of fabric cuttings that were tossed as waste interested Poiret, and he began to take them from the trash. He used this detritus to fashion clothes for his sister’s dolls. Each dress was accompanied by a pattern that he drew and saved. 

While still a teenager Paul Poiret took his pattern drawings to Madeline Cheruit, one of the grand dames of Parisian fashion in the late 19th century. She bought 12 of the drawings for reproduction in her atelier. Sensing opportunity, the young Poiret began to sell all of his patterns to the various Paris garment houses. In 1896 he was hired to design for the prominent Jacques Doucet. Poiret’s first creation for Doucet was a red cape which sold 400 pieces. 

Mr. Poiret established his own fashion house in 1903 and made an immediate impact with his unusual for the time “kimono coat”. The shop became famous for stunning window displays, fabulous parties tied to each seasons collections and Poiret’s pioneering use of modern Branding and Marketing techniques. The garments he produced were very expensive for the day and only the most discerning clientele purchased from the House of Poiret. 

Poiret expanded into Furniture, Household Décor and, most importantly Fragrance. He was a pioneer in Licensing his name. The entry of a fashion house into the Perfume business was also a first and would set a precedent that created one of the most successful Marketing Strategies and Sales Models still in wide use to this day. In 1911 Poiret’s Parfums de Rosine was launched and the world of Haute Couture and Perfumery would never be the same.

Parfums de Rosine was launched and publicized by throwing an extravagant Persian themed soiree at Paul Poiret’s palatial Parisian estate home. The news coverage of the event and the perfume that inspired the party is evocative of promotional techniques still used today to introduce Luxury Goods. 

Also in 1911, the photographer Edward Steichen collaborated with the House of Poiret to photograph a collection of gowns and accessories. The photos were published in various magazines. This is considered the first use of “Fashion Photography”. Prior to this fashion was illustrated when placed in print. 

Poiret’s most famous design contribution to garment production was a technique he created called “draping”. This was a radical departure from the more rigid Tailoring and Pattern Making methods used in the past. This style of sewing enabled Poiret to create loose, softer looks like Harem Pantaloons, Lampshade Tunics and Hobble Skirts. Most appreciated by women seeking comfort was Poiret’s elimination of the ubiquitous, restrictive, uncomfortable corset from his collections. 

During World War I Paul Poiret worked for the French military making uniforms. When the war ended, he returned to his fashion house and found it in ruins. He worked hard to resurrect his glory years. However, while he was away serving the war effort, other designers had emerged and they utilized more modern styling and garment construction techniques. Poiret’s designs had always been visually unique but were not well constructed. As he had once famously said he only aimed for his dresses to be “read beautifully from afar”. He continued to work in his old way. 

New designers, notably Coco Chanel, House of Worth and Elsa Schiaparrelli, had begun to offer simpler, sleeker silhouettes and their work employed far better construction than did Paul Poiret’s. As clients fled to the newer fashion houses Poiret suffered further loss of financial supporters and was forced to close his couture house in 1929. Poiret was bankrupted. Upon liquidating inventory the House of Poiret suffered the indignity of having leftover clothing sold by the kilogram for use as rags. 

Until his death in 1944 he lived as a pauper in the streets of Paris. His genius had been forgotten. Occasionally he would be seen by his contemporaries painting street scenes to eke out a few Francs before eyes would be diverted from the discomforting vision of a past hero of French Haute Couture being so dramatically reduced. 

Paul Poiret during his early career was attributed with being the fashion equivalent of Pablo Picasso in art. He introduced “modernism” to Haute Couture”. For a short time he lived as a potentate and enjoyed vast fame, fortune and popularity. Then it was all gone. What happened?

In the worlds of style, fashion and consumer products you are never the greatest, only the latest. The Companies and Brands that last and pass the test of time constantly evolve. The House of Poiret did not. Styles had changed, consumer tastes changed and the increased demand for better quality product required more attention to detail. Poiret still produced clothing with a “look” that screamed Poiret, but no longer excited the most exclusive, wealthiest clientele that had supported his House in the beginning. He did not evolve and grow. 

Ancient Rome stagnated and died of lechery. Juan Trippe built the greatest airline in the world, PanAm. After his passing PanAm went into a long, slow decline and is now permanently grounded. The grand Cosmetic Brands Frances Denny, Hazel Bishop and Germaine Monteil are no more. Bonwit Teller, once one of the world’s best specialty department stores, was liquidated years ago. These entities, like the House of Poiret, enjoyed their time in the sun but did not stay current, adjust to social or market realities and all disappeared.

Seek Out Honest Criticism of Your Business Plan And Learn to Accept and Act on It!

Monday, June 13th, 2011

by: Geoff Ficke

Seek Out Honest Criticism of Your Business Plan And Learn to Accept and Act on It! 

Four decades ago I studied a college course in English Literature. W. Somerset Maugham’s famous novel “Of Human Bondage” was required reading. It was a bit of a slow go, but one line has stuck in my cranium and been of particular use in my business career; “People ask you for criticism, but they only want praise”. 

No one really enjoys being criticized. Criticism can be deflating and trigger a wide range of human responses ranging from defensiveness to aggression. Most people cannot see themselves as others see them. Pointing out a person’s personal shortcomings can be mean even if the comment made is true. 

If I tell a lady that her makeup is garish, while the point made may be accurate, I risk hurting a relationship we may have had by stating what I see to be obvious. I might tell a baseball shortstop that he is lousy at turning double plays. The shortstop has two options: he can disregard my observation and continue to play as before, or he can work harder to perfect his fielding skills. It is in business matters that criticism needs to be sought out, analyzed and acted upon, if the points made emanate from a valued source. 

My Consumer Product Development and Marketing Consulting firm reads hundreds of Business Plan proposals and reviews countless New Consumer Product submissions every year. Probably 80% of these ideas for new products and enterprises we dismiss out of hand for a variety of reasons. The other 20% we review in more detail and find that many actually do possess real commercial possibilities. Still, only a handful of these will move into development stages.

Why is this? 

There are numerous reasons why a project successfully makes it to market and 75 others go nowhere. One of the biggest is that successful entrepreneurs learn to accept, understand and act upon criticism that is given by experienced critics. Most people cannot accept criticism of a product or project that they have invested energy, time and creativity into developing. A comment we often make is that the entrepreneur “has fallen in love with their product” when they cannot tolerate pointed observations. 

Love is an impossible to quantify emotion. Successful business opportunities are highly quantifiable. There are costs, margins, plans, goals. The Business Plan is the skeleton of the proposed enterprise. If the plan, read skeleton, is flawed, the enterprise is doomed. The best time to discover flaws is when the business is in concept form and changes can be easily made and incorporated into evolving strategies. “People ask for criticism, but they only want praise”.

I cannot remember the last time I read a Business Plan that did not require revision(s). When I write Business Plans for client projects I usually wind up editing the proposition several times at a minimum. I always ask others, those whose opinions I hold in high regard, to critique the document. We then discuss their points of criticism and come to the best possible solution available to address and overcome issues. 

Recently I was presented with a wonderful Gourmet Food & Drink Accessory product prototype and Business Plan. The item possessed the almost perfect utility of being potentially a product that should be in every kitchen pantry in the world. Features and benefits, design and performance of the product were strong.

My job requires that I provide honest criticism as I consider how best to Package, Market, Brand, Promote and Sell a product. My team analyzed the submission and we became concerned about an engineering feature that would add significantly to cost of tooling and production, while not really adding to the already excellent utility of the product. This superfluous feature was also going to add a good deal to the cost of packaging the product. Unfortunately, the owner of the project was so totally committed to this design cue to the extent that she could not fathom not including this element in the final product profile. She could not accept valid criticism, even though this point was to be the difference in realizing a successful launch, or no launch. 

We do not criticize simply to be confrontational. We do, however, often raise an objection to an element in order to see how well prepared the entrepreneur is in defending their proposition. When we criticize we are seeking to strengthen the products potential by addressing issues that buyers and distributors will certainly target. Decision makers always zero in on the product’s perceived flaws.  

As a young entrepreneur I was initially exposed to project criticism by a wise, grizzled investor. He told me, “You know what is right about your plan. You need to learn what is wrong”. I found out what was deficient with his help, made the necessary design and marketing adjustments and launched. This gentleman’s mentoring wisdom helped make my first venture a success and has enabled me to spend almost four decades launching a host of other Consumer Products, New Companies and Entrepreneurs.

In any business, whether a New Company or an established firm, success is achievable when criticism is tolerated, openly discussed and solutions discovered and executed. Do not try to win the argument for winning the arguments sake, unless the facts and evidence support your position. Be open to honest brokers and value their opinions. You will profit.

Using Trade Shows to Launch or License Your Novel Consumer Product Is Key

Monday, June 13th, 2011

by: Geoff Ficke

Using Trade Shows to Launch or License Your Novel Consumer Product Is Key

Each business day we are approached by entrepreneurs, small businesses, and inventors from all over the world seeking guidance and asking how best to launch and successfully commercialize their consumer product or service innovation. In almost every case investment monies are very dear. There is no one universal answer as every situation is unique. However, we find that we almost always include a suggestion of industry specific trade show participation as a key piece of the answer.

Every category of consumer product has an assortment of local, regional, national or international trade shows devoted exclusively to related products and services. There are Food Product and Gourmet Food Product trade shows. The Pet Product industry has numerous events. Ditto for Hardware Products, Toys and Games, Pool and Spa Products, Gift Products, Table Top Gifts, Hunting, Fishing and Outdoor Products, Sporting Goods, Home and Garden Products, Do-It-Yourself Products, Cosmetics, Jewelry, Wellness Products, Natural Products and, well…you get the picture. If you want to sell, license or introduce a consumer product there is a venue that is the ideal target of opportunity available for you to utilize. 

Why are trade shows so important? The answer is simple. In an impersonal digital world the internet has created an inconvenient and often insurmountable buffer between entrepreneurs and decision makers (buyers). In order to bridge the electronic divide you must be able to personally meet and educate the key decision maker on the unique features and benefits of your product. This is best accomplished at trade shows. 

Attending trade shows is an important part of retail buyer responsibility. It is easy for a buyer to accept an anonymous new product application from an on-line submission and electronically decline the offer. This is not only easy, but highly impersonal and a way to evade the additional work load that comes with adding new items to a stores retail mix. Management, however, expects buyers to not only attend trade shows, but to discover and bring home new, innovative products. 

On the floor of a trade show the entrepreneur can network, demonstrate and display their product and become personally familiar with key personnel in their class of trade. At every trade show I have ever worked there have been sales agents seeking new lines to carry and represent. There are competitors who want to buy or license new products that fit their space (or, beware, knock off your item). You will meet retail buyers from every conceivable size store, from big box to independent. The opportunity to properly present your product to the largest group of potentially important people is never greater than when you display your wares at a trade show. 

There are costs attendant to trade show participation. Travel, booth rental, display and sales collateral must be covered. There are also clever strategies available to minimize cash outlays while discovering how the decision makers in your space will react to your new consumer product or service. 

We just returned from a major high fashion jewelry industry trade show. Our client unveiled a brand new jewelry line by utilizing production quality prototype samples to demonstrate to the trade. Display was a one-off unit created by our preferred point-of-purchase manufacturer. Sales collateral was designed and produced utilizing a photo-shop graphic art technique. The result was that, with virtually zero inventory expense, the client was able to present his product and give every outward appearance of being an experienced, solid business, not a start-up. 

Orders are now being written, international distribution deals negotiated and inventory produced to cover commitments. This expensive step can now be undertaken with a high level of confidence gained by the experience realized by trade show participation. This is just one example of penetrating a highly competitive consumer product market while significantly mitigating financial risk.

Trade shows work and they are prevalent for that reason. Make use of them!