Denim HQ – Having A Great Product Is Not Enough To Succeed

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With the best will in the world sometimes the greatest artisans, designers and skilled crafts people don’t know how to sell the amazing things which they produce. This is a state of affairs I find particularly tragic as I hate the idea of beautiful and useful things which should be enjoyed sat unloved and unused, and the people who spend their precious time making them going unrecognised and unrewarded whilst the populace eagerly fills their homes and hearts with mass produced, cheap tat. It is almost inconceivable that the same person who takes their thoughts and inspirations and turns them into a physical item could have no idea about how to tell people about their awesome thing or things, sometimes it is an issue of confidence, sometimes the craftsman is simply a little introverted and sometimes they just need a little affirmation that what they do is good and that people really do like it. Apart from the product itself there are another few key considerations in making what you produce a success, so let’s take a look at a few of them.

Branding

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This is an all encompassing term for things like your company name, your concept, how you advertise, where you advertise and who your target audience (the people who will buy your “thing”) are? The importance of picking a name for what you do cannot be overstated, your brand name is your introduction, it is your first impression and if it isn’t memorable or conjures the wrong image then it can sink you no matter how good your product is. Denim and work wear brands fall mainly into a very small niche when it comes to naming a brand with the common traits tending to be to pick something very masculine but with an element of history, heritage or nature around it. I considered making my own “work wear brand name generator” for this post, but after writing a list of words commonly used I realised that it would offend just about everyone in the business.

The absolute golden rule of branding is to know the market, especially in something for this niche. For something so creative and high quality there are actually fairly narrow parameters, people tend to know what they like and what they don’t, straying outside of these limitations before you are a known quantity can be a mistake as I have learned personally.

Audience

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In a previous piece I briefly looked at the niche within a niche, and this is where those narrow limitations come into play again. Some of the most successful brands in this market are a direct representation of their owners good tastes, some of those who fail miserably are the result of brand owners not realising that their vision and tastes do not suit their market. For example, if G Star Raw tried to move into the heritage/ repro market I have no doubt it would be an abject failure as it is simply not what their design aesthetic lends itself too (plus they have an established market), the same would happen if Iron Heart took a move into hip hop influenced street wear.

Knowing your audience allows you to tailor your marketing in terms of where and how you advertise, what promotions you run and how to engage through social media. If you don’t know who you are selling to then you won’t learn how to sell to them.

Personal Communications

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When you operate in a small market your reputation is everything and even the smallest interactions can leave a lasting impression which you may never alter. Customer service is a huge part of this at every level, not just pre and post sale, in the advice you offer, in the speed of your response and in the conveyance of personality. There are certain brands and retailers whom I have had past dealings which were less than satisfactory and I will more than likely not go back to them again, and more so I will not give them a recommendation if someone asks my opinion on their service.

To have a great product(s) is not enough, and customer service is not just about how nice and polite you are when things are going well it is more to do with how you respond when things don’t go so well. We all make mistakes, and we are all the victim of bad luck now and then but keeping the customer impressed with how you deal with this will be a key feature of repeat custom and enhanced reputation.

Price

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There is a concept known as the Veblen effect, in its most basic form the Veblen effect refers to an item being perceived as high quality simply because it is expensive, this is more relevant to high fashion but is also a factor in this market. There are simple truths in this market which effect price, namely..

– Manufacturing in Japan is expensive.
– Proprietary materials are expensive.
– Paying a fair living wage to those making the raw materials and garments makes the supply chain more expensive.
– Imported goods carry additional costs.
– There is a cost to innovation.
– There is also a cost attached to manufacturing the old way, it is slower and requires more skill.

All of the above are factors obviously impact price, and the margin of profit made on a quality pair of Japanese made selvedge jeans will be less than a high street retailer makes on their sweatshop produced jeans, plus their jeans number their sales in the thousands every week which gives the high street market power to buy and produce in massive bulk, thus reducing costs. There is a thought that you should aim for at least 60% margin on what you sell, in this niche that is all but impossible. In all honesty if you can get 50% you have done unbelievably well, most common margins of profit are around the 25 – 35% and if you can’t live with that then you might be in the wrong business.

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Hopefully this has given a little food for thought to anyone who wants to get into the manufacturing game, take some time to think about what you want to achieve and do seek opinions from trusted sources. You don’t have to listen to them but it is sometimes good to have your own thoughts and suspicions validated. As I have previously stated on DHQ I am always happy to help to promote and advise new brands, you don’t have to listen to me but what do you have to lose?

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