How Buyer Feedback Can Put You on the Right Track

A home decor product designer used retail feedback to improve her line

Clothing designer Michel Stong is working on a new line of home decor goods. They include one of her passions: Tillandsia planters

There are two ways Michel can go about bringing her new collection to market.

She can design the product, iterate, release a finished product.

Then use sales to validate the retail potential. Her focus would be pricing strategy, merchandising and marketing at shows.

Or she can ask for retail feedback from a buyer who is already well informed about the market before she gets too far a long.

Imagine machine learning that extrapolates the future pitfalls from historical data, but a person.

“Often, designers get further along without ever knowing if their product is right for the retail floor,” says Alexandra Sklar of the Merchant Home.

Michel Stong is has an advantage over other designers. Michel decided to ask for feedback from Lily Chau of Acacia.

Lily sells home decor goods at her store Acacia in the Mission. Michel wants to sell her goods that match the profile of the Acacia customer. Good taste, priced well above what you would find at a Pottery Barn.

This is part 1 of the story of Michel’s progress and how she is making improvements to her line and even building a new line of business.

When to ask Feedback

Michel isn’t a total noob. Her collection of housewares has the attention of retailers.

But she has her sights on home decor products.

Michel was focusing on airplants, because Tilandsia is one of her passions.

While any part of the business is great for feedback, it’s best to choose a new product in your collection. Or when you wonder how a product will do with a certain retailer.

What kind of feedback will you get?

Retailers aren’t going to tell you how to redesign your product or change your brand.

Their main area of interest is:

  1. Does it fit their customer’s aesthetic?

2. Will it answer all the questions that will most likely come up in the customer’s mind?

3. Is it ready to be displayed at their store?

There’s no downside

Makers who are much further along fall into the trap of “I got this covered”.

This is great for your ego but can create frustration if you don’t get the interest of retailers.

Before moving too far a long with doing the legwork for sales, Michel realized that the product wasn’t ready.

“I do believe that my accessory business is really in its infancy stage and I may have jumped the gun with showing it. “says Michel.

Once you give yourself the gift of vulnerability, it’s easy to move forward. You are free to create a product the market wants.

When you look for feedback, try to weed out the parts from friends and family. They love you. They want you to succeed. They want to be nice and offer encouragement. While it’s great for your ego, it’s not always great for business.

Most of the time you can get unbiased feedback from retailers at tradeshows (If you ask) but you have to hope for the right retailer to show up.

When retailers and makers work as a team, it becomes easier to gain that unfair advantage.

The Product:

Lily from Acacia thought it was unfinished. Michele started seeing the flaws with the piece.

A couple of comments that were particularly helpful:

She felt the ‘off the shelf’ hook was not a good choice.

The disc that holds the airplant was hard to see.

The Packaging: Improvements

Most designers think about packaging as an afterthought. Michel is much ahead.

What do retailers look for in the packaging?

“It has to tell your story, a clean look that fits the aesthetic of the store you are approaching and a place for the retailer to add your price” says Katie Gaertner of Inner Richmond Store Whistle.

While the packaging looked good, the concern was around the functionality of the packaging on the shelf.

How would the customer take it out of the box and then replace it?

The viability of plants shelf life was concerning. How it would live during the shipping process.

The overall concern was that it wasn’t a completed piece for wholesale. Shipping, shelf life, presentation and the overall look.

“I am now in the process of redesigning per Lily’s comments and have changed the ‘look’ to a more sleek and less industrial look,” says Michele

Next Steps

Michele plans to address the packaging first, then figure out the airplant hanger design.

Great approach. When you show people something, they can tell you what’s wrong with it. Then all you have to do is go back and fix it. Not our quote but David Kelly from IDEO.

You only need one product that sells really well to make 80% of your business.

Good luck!

We’ll have updates on Michele Planter in a follow up post.

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