Friday, July 31, 2009

The Magic of Smaland

As a parent, you have to love IKEA. Drop off your kids to play while you find your way through the maze of goodies relatively unencumbered. As a retailer, you have to wonder if this could work for you. In the spirit of McDonald's classic PlayPlaces, IKEA has found that the investment pays off. Parents buy more because they're happier and free to shop. They even feel obligated to buy more in return for the childcare service. On the way out you can also grab lunch for 2 for under $10. Every time you leave the house with kids in tow, it's an adventure. By serving every part of the adventure, IKEA gets more of my dollars.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Snobject: Nutcracker by Bruno Christensen for Menu

Falling soundly into the category of desirable objects, this nutcracker by Bruno Christensen for Menu may also work well!
"makes cracking even the hardest nut fun and easy. made by bruno christensen, the unique design makes it equally easy to use. just place the nut on the metal plate and cover it with the rubber dome. give the dome a light tap and the nut will be ready to eat, with the shell cleanly removed and ready to be thrown in the bin. the solid stainless steel base, domed top in black rubber and non-slip rubber bottom to protect against scratched table tops, all bear witness to attention-to-detail for appearance, quality and practicality. the real genius of this nutcracker is the ribbed metal fitting on the underside of the dome that ensures that only a light tap is needed to split the shell."

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Storespy: BTS is coming!!

This year stores started getting ready for the Back To School promotional period in January! Retailers are desperate for this period of promotional-goldmines. I for one love the approach to retail at this time of year: get customers in and out as quickly as possible. Just look at how easy the temporary supply bins make it to find what you're looking for! If only this level of effort were put into retailing year-round, we'd have happier consumers and happier retailers.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Lesson 02: How to Think of New Ideas

I know I'm promising an awful lot with that title, but idea creation is what I do. Even when I'm not working, my mind keeping chugging away, randomly spitting out ideas every time I bump into an opportunity. Friends and family don't love shopping with me. After a decade or so of training your brain leaps happen spontaneously, even when you're just trying to pick out a toothbrush. Here are some basic techniques that can help you make a few leaps right now:
Focus: No need to re-invent the wheel if it's not broken! Write down your problem. Draw it. Break it down into steps, parts, and sequences. Think about the minute details and elements creating the experience with the product. Pick the most important element of the problem. Now we're ready to attack it without the distraction of all the other parts.
Example: My toothbrush isn't comfortable. Toothbrush = bristles, head, neck, handle, rubber pads, cover/case, stand, batteries, switch....The toothbrush feels OK in my hand, it's my mouth that's most uncomfortable. The bristles are scratchy.

Shift Your Viewpoint:
If you just stare straight at the wall you'll never see the path that goes around it. You have to look at it from another angle. Take out the dictionary. Flip to a random page and point at a word. Take that word and ask yourself, how could my solution be like this word?
Example: Scratchy toothbrush bristles + egg = eggs have layers, yolk inside white, maybe the bristle can be layered, a hard core with a softer outside, firm for pressure yet gentle on the gums!
Pair your Problems: Trying to kill two birds with one stone requires you to find a new kind of stone. Take two elements of your problem and see if one solution will fix them both.
Example: Scratchy toothbrush bristles + inflexible head = if the head were made out of a softer material it could flex more, the bristles could be part of the softer head, maybe the entire toothbrush is a hard core with a soft covering!
Think Backwards: It's often easier to find your way home than to go somewhere new. You know what your problem is. So imagine the ideal experience and trace a path back to the problem.

Example: If my toothbrush is comfortable then it fits my mouth, my gum line, my teeth...a piece of gum fits my mouth and teeth...maybe my toothbrush head can squish and conform to fit my mouth just like a piece of gum!
There are many other techniques for thinking "laterally," as opposed to linear thought, which tends to take us down existing paths. To find a great idea you need to jump off the side. Check out Edward DeBono's classic books for detailed info on lateral thinking techniques.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

OXO + Staples = $?

It's been a few months since OXO and Staples announced their collaboration. Now products are on the shelf. Gotta say, "office" was a good choice for expansion into a new product category. It's a close periphery to kitchen...everyone knows what to expect in the junk drawer, and half of it belongs in the office. Very easy to switch loyal kitchenwares customers over to purchasing OXO office gadgets.

The question I have is, will they go to Staples to get them? Target would've been a no-brainer, but luckily many Staples are right next door to a Target, right?

Article in Business Week's Innovation section

Friday, July 24, 2009

StoreSpy: WS Sandwich Cookie Cake Pan

On the shelves now at Williams-Sonoma, the next in a long line of super-sized treats. The Goldtouch Sandwich Cookie Cake Pan reflects the trend of giant baked desserts, which I helped launch a few years back with the design of Wilton's Giant Cupcake Pan. Can we guess which cake-sized dessert will come next?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Polaroid Lives On, Sort of...

You still can't beat a Polaroid for pure nostalgic emotional appeal. I last owned a Polaroid when they made the Joycam, which came out about the same time as the I-zone - remember that?
Not long ago, Polaroid discontinued their iconic instant print camera, presumably due to the fact it was old-fashioned and not making them enough money. They shut down the film factories, too, and we creatives freaked out. Polaroid film has never been more expensive!

Then, in a misguided attempt to redirect the company, they developed a new digital camera that prints photos instantly on sticky-backed paper, the PoGo. The prints are crystal clear and hi-res - everything a Polaroid shouldn't be. They left their brand's core value behind. Sure, we all love that the print is instantaneous but that trick would get old soon. What made people fans of Polaroid was its intrinsic emo quality, the look of a captured moment.

They should've asked themselves, how can we offer the core value of our product in new formats? They needed to take a big step into an entirely new arena. The answer most likely would've been something like Poladroid software, or any of the other vintage-effect apps that make your too-crisp, too-clear, too-real digital snaps into something more warm and fuzzy...a Polaroid. Could they have reinvented themselves as a software company? Maybe, maybe not.

Read more in this well-written Article in Newsweek

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Snobject: Blik Surface Graphics

I love vinyl wall decals. We have them in our son's room, and they were much much easier to put up than the pattern I painstakingly stenciled on our walls in Chicago years ago...check them out at Blik. This is Bunny Family Anomalies:

And, you can vote for new patterns based on Threadless original T-shirt designs, which for almost 10 years has offered a social venue for designers to submit their original shirt designs with the potential for a real pay-off.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Has it Really Come to this?

I almost can't believe I just read this. According to the article:
"After U.S. retailers posted 10 straight months of sales declines, some chains are trying to bring holiday spirit — and revenue — to the summer with "Christmas in July" promotions.

Both Sears Holdings Corp and privately held Toys R Us are holding wintry holiday-themed events this summer ahead of their back-to-school promotions, which usually start around the end of July."

While some marketers who aren't worth their salt are saying "everyone could use a little Christmas right now," I agree with this guy:

"It's very odd," he{35-year-old Todd Smith of Chicago} said. "It makes me think they're desperate."

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Death of Crocs?

According to this article on MSNBC, the much loved and equally derided Croc may be on its way out. The company swung from a profit of $168.2 million in fiscal year 2007 to a loss of $185.1 million last year. In its annual report, Crocs said that an independent auditor expressed concerns about "conditions that raise substantial doubt about our ability to continue." Its stock price has plummeted 76 percent.

Why? The market is saturated due to the product's longevity, footwear is trending in new directions, the company was ramping up when its product's potential was flattening...all good points that logically add up to the decline. But why hasn't this company re-applied itself? You can't tell me there are no more good ideas for this material. It's nearly indestructible, anti-microbial and infinitely moldable. Here are three good categories to explore off the top of my head:
  1. personal accessories: belts, bags, bookbags (builds on existing category)
  2. bath and water products: storage, toys, yard (utilizes brand's capital as a kids product)
  3. eating on-the-go: transitional products for car, stroller, school and office to manage, cool and protect foods (explores an entirely new category with the same primary purchaser, moms)

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Snobject: CB Herb Keeper

Ok, this doesn't really qualify as a Snobject but I had to post it due to the sheer number of times I've tried to sell this idea. Now someone finally made it for Crate & Barrel - an herb keeper. Simple compact storage that keeps you from throwing away 75% of the fresh herbs you buy. Bravo!

-- Post From My iPhone

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Verdict: Ziploc Evolve Baggies are...

Lately we're barraged by commercials preaching about "green" products. Companies like Clorox and Proctor & Gamble are really stepping up their efforts to offer green products. Unfortunately, it's all just a marketing angle. The sick thing is, they're pioneering new and better materials and techniques, yet only applying them to NEW offerings at higher price points!

Ziploc Evolve Sandwich and Storage Bags are made with 25% less plastic, manufactured using 50% renewable wind energy, and sold in 100%recycled boxes. That's great. And Ziploc didn't make these changes to all of their products because.....why? They can charge you more for a new product because "green" is one of your "core consumer needs." Sigh. The Verdict on Evolve Baggies:
To get an Excellent rating, Ziploc needs to step up to the plate and offer the kind of products that only they can produce at a reasonable cost. They need to solve these problems:
  • make disposable baggies easy to recycle - get away from #4 plastics! It'll be a long time before everyone migrates away from disposables, so why not apply everything you're doing in the Evolve line to ALL your products?
  • make baggies easy to reuse - as with semi-disposable plastic containers, consumers will pay more for something with a longer life span. why not invent the washable, reusable, semi-disposable baggie? This could easily expand into a product line addressing storage, cleaning, labeling...
  • explore new materials - why can't our baggies biodegrade? Can we keep the lifecycle of each baggie contained to the household and eliminate the need for recycling altogether? This still supports a consumable product platform, cause people will always buy more, but wouldn't it be lovely if they turned into flushable waste when nuked?
At least there are companies out there doing it the right way all the time like Method, and now 100% reusable, recyclable Innate SS food containers (the lid pops into a bowl for nuking):

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

"Anything they buy at regular price must stand out."

In a related article on MSNBC, specifically about the clothing industry, retailers must go big or go home - your product MUST have the right attributes to sell in this economic climate:
  1. modesty: build on what the consumer already owns, helping them to feel frugal and responsible about spending money on their purchase
  2. value: consumers are expecting discounts...or at least to get a steal! make the value/cost ratio of your product undeniable. boldly point it out on packaging to encourage the sale.
  3. quality: encourage consumers by providing products that will last a lifetime, or at least have the quality of materials and manufacture to justify expense over it's lifetime. make this plain as day, especially if your item displaces a disposable item, which is an endless cash drain...

Time to Get Back in the Game!

If you're wondering whether it's time to start getting your ducks in a row again, maybe spending a little money to develop something new for 2010....well, it's time! If you're waffling, be reassured by the quote below from AdNews:

If you identify an opportunity today, you'll be lucky to have it ready to place with retailers in fall or winter markets, which means on the shelf by next April/May at the earliest. I expect there will be a flurry of frantic calls for development towards the end of the 2009 year, but that will really be too late to avoid rush tooling, airfreight, and not to mention Chinese New Year...get moving!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Quirky: Social Product Development

Here's a guy who managed to answer the big question: I have a great product idea, how the heck do I get it made? His original company, Mophie, made a bunch of Ipod accessories and launched at MacWorld, thanks to his parent's re-mortgaging their home. Now, he has a company called Quirky that will maybe, possibly produce your idea if you submit it with a $99/fee.

Gotta say, I hate to see a guy who took a big risk and had some success turn around and try to rip off other people's ideas. His company will make way more money from your idea than you ever will. But then again, he is assuming your risk....but still, this rubs me the wrong way. Great ideas are valuable and marketable, salable, profitable ones are rare creatures that you shouldn't just give away. True social product development would streamline the development process for the benefit of society, not to make money.

What is interesting is the idea of garnering commitments from consumers before producing a product (see the homepage). This likens product development to on-demand printing, which could be very neat if it actually works. Producing low volumes will make it challenging to hit price points, but if everyone in a country were given the chance to "commit" - it's a whole new way to raise capital.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Everyone Needs a Design Office

When people pop by the office to meet me they always have the same response: wow, this is where you work? Yup. Design offices are different. We have desks and computers, but we also have open spaces, communal tables and walls covered in a stream of consciousness that is ever-changing. There's *room* to think. There's music playing and the windows are open. You can almost always catch us jumping around, dancing, singing, and working on our feet, at the wall, making it happen.

I really think everyone should work this way. I'm reading a book called Brain Rules by John Medina that leads me to believe that everyone would work this way if given the chance. Medina is a brain scientist, and his book crisply outlines the rules governing how our brains work and how to make them work better. He's absorbed more information about brains than the rest of us could hope to know, and this is what he's found:
"What do these studies show, viewed as a whole? Mostly this: If you wanted to create an education environment that was directly opposed to what the brain was good at doing, you probably would design something like a classroom. If you wanted to create a business environment that was directly opposed to what the brain was good at doing, you probably would design something like a cubicle. And if you wanted to change things, you might have to tear down both and start over. In many ways, starting over is what this book is all about."
Read more and see videos with the delightfully nerdy John Medina on the Brain Rules Website. Read the book and you'll be ready to go tear it down and start over yourself, creating the environment you require and deserve to get the best out of your brain.