Designing Your Product For Online Sales – Interview With Tracy Hazzard From On The Shelf Podcast With Timothy Bush
The pandemic has made a huge impact in a lot of aspects in our lives, including how we market our products. In a time when almost every business is pivoting online, how do we make our products special so they would stand out in this heavy competition? Timothy Bush sits down for a conversation with product design and development specialist Tracy Hazzard as they dive into how you can grow your business in the online world. They also discuss the difference between selling your products online, selling your products in store, and how design plays a big part of that. Tune in to this episode to learn more about growing your online sales and the importance of understanding your target market and catering their needs.
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I know you’re normally used to me going on and on by myself but that is not the case now. We have Tracy Hazzard from Hazz Design. Welcome, Tracy.
Thanks for having me.
This is our first interview so don’t judge me too harshly.
Tracy is going to tell us a little bit about what they do. She’s going to speak specifically about the difference between selling your products online and in-store and how design plays a big part in that. Why don’t you start off by telling people what Hazz Design is? What do you guys do? We’ll get into the meat of it.
My husband and partner and I have been on and off doing it together, believe it or not, designing for many years. It is a specialty consulting part because we specialize in mass retail. We’re ghost designers. The things that you buy at Costco, Walmart, Target, Sam’s Club, pretty much every major retailer we’ve been in before. You don’t know that we designed it because our brand is our client. We have 250 products that are on the market and they do about $750 million for our clients.
It’s like a ghost author, where you pick up a book, you think it’s written by somebody but it was really written by somebody else. Are you like that when it comes to design?
Yes, ghost designers. We’ve even worked for some major celebrities. Even they don’t always design themselves.
Over 250 products or $250 million in sales is what you were saying?
It’s 250 products that generate about $750 million in sales.
I didn’t want to short you by $500 million. That’s fantastic. Where can people find you?
Do you also have your own show as well?
We do because we handle everything from brainstorm all the way to the box. We don’t ship anything. We don’t do anything. Where we stop, you start. We have a show because part of the process over the years we’ve learned is 3D printing. We have a show called WTFFF!?, which stands for What The FFF and FFF is Fused Filament Fabrication or 3D printing. We love it. It’s been a great new way to design quickly and iterate fast. Sometimes for those that need a small run test and can’t afford tooling, it’s also a great way to do that as well.You have to start somewhere to grow and succeed. Today that starts online, and it's a very big shift. Click To Tweet
I am super 3D printing deficient.
There are a lot of people who are.
At some point, maybe we’ll have to do a show on that but now, we’re going to talk about selling your products in brick-and-mortar and online, the differences between the two. What advice you may give to some of our beginning entrepreneurs out there that either have a product idea that they’re still in the planning phases or have a production product and are looking at ways to take it to market.
From the name of your show, On The Shelf, I am assuming that your readers want to be on the shelf and who doesn’t? You’re talking about tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of units of something. Who doesn’t want to be there? You got to start somewhere and now that starts online. It’s a very big shift. The majority of the products we were designing, maybe even years ago, were always going in-store first. Maybe there was a test in-store but it would go in-store first. Now, almost always, they want to say, “Do you have online sales and how have the online sales been done?” They’ll consider bringing it in-store. You have a different design problem now.
First of all, I agree with you. In fact, most of the time, when I’m talking directly to a buyer and I’m introducing them to a new item, while we’re speaking, they’re punching in that item online and looking it up on Amazon to see what the reviews are. What are people saying about it? How many stars it has? How quickly it comes up? Amazon has almost become a selling social media for products. Buyers are using it as a vetting tool, one, to make sure that pricing is solid and two, to find out, are there any major design flaws? Those are going to show up quickly by customer information and review.
It’s because of that, typically, our clients already have a significant product line and we’re expanding it or taking them into new areas. They already maybe do $100 million of sales already or more. That’s my typical client. They were at a disadvantage now and have not turned their ship. There’s a huge opportunity for someone new to come in with a great new product, kill it out on online sales and get a store placement from that.
That’s because the big guys who are already doing this and want that in-store shelf sale they don’t care about. They want to do factory direct ship. It’s because of that, they don’t spend the time to promote their listings. They may throw it up online but they don’t really do the whole backend work that you can do now as a seller yourself. They aren’t getting their listings to see that traffic that someone new who puts a marketing effort into it can do. You could get your placement because of that.
Are there things that people can do differently? You were talking about one of your clients that maybe wanted to turn that ship and make that shift. Can they go online the same way that they’re going to brick-and-mortar?
No, they can’t. That’s the problem now. A lot of them want to do that. They’re like, “We have excess inventory of this and let’s put it up online.” My answer is, “It’s a black office chair, everything’s black. It doesn’t look good in a photo. You have to think this through.” There are a lot of design differences. It can be as simple as photographing different and making sure you have good details or it can be, you need a different model. You need a different design.
That’s what we look at closely when we advise our clients. In general, when we give out tips and advice and your listing online is a little thumbnail. That’s all you’ve got. If you follow Amazon’s model, it’s got to have a white background. It’s silhouetted. If your product is white, you can hardly see it. You have troubles there. Thinking carefully about how that listing looks compared to all the other ones is so critical because that’s the number one way someone’s going to click. They’re going to see something that interests them that looks different. It doesn’t have to be so radically different. It has to look stylishly different. That’s the first simple thing you can do.
In conversations you and I have had in the past, that’s where you guys shine. That’s in your wheelhouse is taking a product and changing it to make it stand out. Do I remember that right?
No, that’s exactly what we do. We don’t believe in me too products. We believe that a product needs to be extremely special. We call it Me-Only Products. We hold 35 patents. We understand the inventor and those that have something special and how important that is. It’s not through patenting. It’s also through having something that is a unique proposition visually and resonates with the consumer. For the most part here, the consumer is a woman.
That’s where we start to shine because there aren’t a lot of women designing out there when you talk about going factory direct. Tom and I have made some years to make ten trips to China a year. I don’t think either one of us has ever come across an engineer or designer in China that is a woman. If they don’t understand the US market and women then they really cannot resonate and connect. There’s a great advantage to designing yourself here.
Let me ask you this because I know a lot of my readers are, have their heads now going, “Darn it. I spent everything I had to bring this product to market. Now you’re saying it might not do well online because of differences or similarities it may have with other online products.” Is there anything that they can do to their product as it is without having a complete redesign for online? Is there anything they can do to make it stand out?
The first thing is the photograph. You can take a better photograph of it and take it from a better angle. You can shine a light on it so that if it has a metallic finish, it shows up and it doesn’t just look black or white. It looks pearl. You can do some things like that to make it shine. In this case, you should hire someone to take a great photograph for you, who understands what they’re doing because that is your critical point to the market.
Especially with packaging and photography, if that isn’t your current business then don’t do it. Step away and this is not the place to skimp in your packaging, presentation and photography. Number one is good photography. The iPhone is out. Don’t set it on your counter and take an iPhone picture.
This is not a case where you want to skimp there because you have that problem. You don’t want to skimp. Another thing that you can do, though, is to consider it’s not all that difficult to push back on a lot of your manufacturers or suppliers and think about making a different color online. This is a method you can go about doing. When we start online first with a client and then go online to in-store presentations and sometimes we hold their hands and make buyer presentations, we know exactly how it works. When we do that online first, we design the product differently online, then we’re going to present to the store.You should hire someone to take a great photograph of your product because that is your critical point to the market. Click To Tweet
For instance, we did a gaming design product at one point. The colors are brighter. They pop maybe a little more oriented to a very specific demographic of a gamer. First-person shooter games are very hot. Maybe it’s more suited for that but then when it sells well, for instance, you would go into Target and you would present to them and say, “This one’s selling well.” For the Target customer, because this is going to be in store, we think it needs to be this set of colors and this difference. We show them their variation. That also works because the last thing that Target wants to do, although they want to know that Amazon sales are happening, they don’t want to compete head-to-head with it. They want their own thing. It gives you that opportunity to have a variety already ahead of time.
I’m going to spin back to what you said is pushback on your manufacturer. If you’re ordering 5,000 units and you’re at a 5,000 unit minimum, how would you recommend that they push back to get them to do, let’s say out of the 5,000, let’s do 1,500 in a separate color? Is that something that they can do? What advice would you give them on pushing back that way?
If they’re not being flexible on their minimum order quantities and I find that a lot of our manufacturers that we work with are very flexible on it, to be honest with you because they understand that a lot of things are going test first, online first and the minimum orders are lower. If they’re not willing to negotiate on that, they’re willing usually to mix materials or colors, whatever’s necessary to make that full minimum order.
Are you saying if somebody is rigid, you might want to look for a different manufacturer?
Yes. That’s the case. We don’t find that with the people we work with because we nurture our manufacturers as we go through the process, which is a whole another subject. We find that they so eagerly want the business and want to do what’s right. If mixing up the colors or the finished types are going to help it sell, even mixing up packaging, doing a different package set for one store versus another. If you were taking your 5,000 units and running them in various stores and giving them each a different package design, they’re willing to do that too.
That brings up another point but before I say that, one, hire somebody to take a good photo. Two, maybe have a different color for your online then you’re going to take your brick-and-mortar business. Three, you mentioned packaging. A lot of clients come to me and ask me, “If it’s going to be online, do I have to have a pretty package? Where can it basically be a brown box with a black stencil on it?” What is your thought on that?
You don’t have to have it packaged beautifully online. You need to have it packaged if it needs instructions or whatever can happen but it’s a better sign that you’re a real company having not just a one-off product. When you’re going to go and then present later to your buyers in-store, you’ve got that already done and ready to go. It gives you credibility all around that you’re a better brand. It also makes it a little easier for people to refer you. It feels professional.
One of the things we always say is that selling your own product into retail is a marathon. It’s not a sprint. You have to be all in. You have to make that decision, “I am going to sell to retail. I’m not going to dabble in it.” You’re right by finishing out your packaging whether you’re selling online or in-store, shows that you are all in. This is what you’re going to do.
That being said, I would give you the caveat because it’s a marathon. If it’s going to compromise the quality of your product itself because you have to allocate money for packaging, online first. Especially in the first three months when you’re building your listing, the packaging isn’t as important because you’re practically giving away those samples. You’re practically giving away those first units. It’s probably okay if you need to wait. Plan it in and make sure you do it before you start presenting to in-store buyers.
I want you to think about your niche? I know this sounds strange for a designer to say this because the design of the product should be the design of the product and it should work for everyone but sometimes you need to think of that niche market because you’re online. You have the opportunity to reach someone very specific, narrow. That’s how you’re going to do it with your advertising. You dial in a demographic and the bloggers that you want to reach and the reviewers that you want to use your product. It’s focused.
Think about your product is very focused for that market. It’s okay for it to have descriptions or alternate packaging or even alternate colors and designs that are targeted on that particular niche market that you would never do when you went into the mass market. When you go in-store, you would make it more generic. I think that that’s one of the things you need to think about. Do I have and can I resonate with a targeted market?
If you can gain traction with a targeted market and have that design be reviewed high then that’s going to help it sell in the general market, even if you have to make design changes later. I call it MMP. That’s what I’ve been calling it. It’s Market Message and Pricing. I know you talked about pricing, which I thought was a great episode, by the way, because pricing is an art. It’s not Math. I keep telling people that. If you have considered it in that order before you design your product, finalize your design or start making a run then it’s going to be an easier product to market and sell.
Often entrepreneurs or inventors are so focused on getting it produced. Getting it so they can hold it in their hot little hand and say, “Here it is.” They’re not looking at, “This is going to be huge. This is going to be massive so I should have thought about pricing before, looking at this or that.” They’re trying to do that step of getting it produced and then all the backfill starts to happen. They can get into some problems that way.
I see that happening a lot especially with inventors. You get focused on the making of it, that the invention and the market itself is the thing. If you don’t know you have a market for it, you shouldn’t be making it yet.
It sounds simple but it’s not. One quick thing I want to mention because you brought it up about pricing so that people have a real conceptual concept around it. Some of my clients go online first but they don’t create a pricing strategy for everything. They go online first and online especially if it’s on your own website. You can get yourself, “It costs me $10 to make it and get it here. I’m going to sell it for $20. I’m going to make you make $10. I’m rocking.”
They haven’t done their entire strategy, which includes specialty, clubs store, big-box and online, they forget that at some point they’re going to have to put a 50-point or a 45-point retailer in the middle of that mix. They’ve created this pricing history online and are stuck at that point. When you’re talking about pricing, I want to make sure we put that out there, make sure you do your whole strategy first. Even though it could be two years before you go to retail or big box, you want to have that strategy and work that into your online focus as well.
You have to have a bigger picture of the whole thing. I spent two hours on the phone with a mentorship role for a friend. They were trying to decide finally wholesale pricing for a kit that they were selling. Now they’re selling a case and it was so confusing to them as to how to price this. It was because he hadn’t thought out his whole strategy of how his whole business was going to work. He had been doing individual services that were involved in this kit, providing those services himself.
When he was looking at it, “The kit cost me this.” I kept saying to him, “It’s not about what the kit costs you. It’s about the overhead costs to make that kit, the program costs for when it gets on the shelf.” There are so many factors that go into it. You have to look at that and say, “At the end of the day, is this a profitable business for me? Is this a profitable product for me?” If it’s not that then why are you doing it?
We always call it the, “Not can you do it but should you do it exercise.”
“Should you do it?” I say that so many more times to people like, “Should we make this product? You can hire me but should you?” That’s a bigger question. It is.
It’s one that I find that people don’t like to go through that sometimes because they have blood, sweat and tears into their product. It’s like going on Shark Tank and having Mr. Wonderful tell you that your product needs to be taken up behind the barn and shot.It's not just about getting the best price. It's about making sure that you have a good brand and a company behind it. Click To Tweet
I feel for people. When I get these inventors all the time and I want to say, “Your product’s great.” Sometimes you shouldn’t say that to them. There’s a nicer way to say it than it should be shot and I tried to do that. I do this with Tom. He jokes. It’s like a brick over the head thing, I’ll say, “This is terrible. We shouldn’t make this. It’s not what we should be making.” He’ll go back. The next time it’s amazing. It’s perfect. It does exactly what it was. That constructive criticism, taken well, can make a product successful.
I agree with you. There’s no nobility in leading people on. It leads to complete disaster.
One other thing about designing for in-store because it’s good for people to understand, it’s not just about getting the best price. It’s about also making sure that you have a good brand and a company behind it. You’ve talked about that a few times on the show already. If you’ve given it away too cheaply because you doubled or tripled your cost of goods when you went online, you’ve already established yourself as not having enough value.
If it’s selling for more online and a buyer sees that, they’re going to say, “There’s a greater value here than I expected. Normally we sell these things at half that cost and this is still selling well.” Now you created a value for that. I always encourage it’s a lot of it is about how you market it and not about what it is. Go out there and put out the best value proposition you can.
I’m not going to make her repeat that. If you want to write that down, you need to reread and take some notes. In fact, you need to reread and take notes on everything Tracy said.
It’s the same advice. My father told me that if you don’t go in and ask for the right salary when you go for your job interview and you ask for that money, you’re not going to get it later. If you’re putting it in-store, that’s your ask, time to go in with the price. You can always have a sale and bring the price down but you can’t raise it later.
You definitely cannot raise it later unless there’s an economic meltdown and fuel’s now twice the price. Most big-box retailers are looking for value year over year. They’re not looking for next year, you’re going to raise your price.
We build that in when we design our products for our clients. We have an office chair at Costco. It’s $99, which is an incredible value. It’s hard to make a chair that can sell for $99. We built it in from the beginning that it would have longevity. It wouldn’t be seasonal. What happens is that we built in the ability to keep the price by decreasing our cost of goods, being able to leverage the tooling and reduce the amortization of that and do various things to be really efficient.
At some point, your buyer will come in for either a price break or demanding to keep the price the same when everything else, the cost of materials and costs of shipping and everything’s going up around you and now you have to keep your price stable. You cannot go to the bottom. You don’t have any room to move. You’re going to lose your spot.
I’m not sure I’ve mentioned it too much in podcasting but in all the things that I write, I’m always giving the advice, “If you have a great first year at Costco, that’s not the time to go out and buy a cabin and fail.” You need to take that money and reinvest it in your product and bring your costs down. By the way, you’re up against people every year. It’s because you’re in for one year doesn’t mean that next year you’re going to get the nod.
You have been in Costco for several years with your chair but I’m sure every year, somebody is knocking on their door saying, “Take ours instead of theirs.” You have to have something to show the buyer and say, “This is how we’re supporting Costco. This is how we’re supporting the member. This is how we’re showing value year over year.”
It’s in its fourth year and went into its fourth iteration. We’ve won it back three times. Every year, the test from some other vendor comes in and my client panics. I sit back and say that we have three advantages. One is that we already know how well we designed it so that we can continue to be better pricing. We also know that we understand the consumer who’s buying it. When we do our next model, we already have a hint as to who that is. They have the job of trying to look different than ours or being an exact knockoff. We have the advantage of saying, “We know what that customer wants next.” We go through those things. We have an advantage because we built it in, to begin with.
One of the great things about selling at Costco is that once you’re in, you have to kick yourself out, either your product is poor, your logistics are poor or you’re not able to show value year over year. Once you’re in and the product sells well is generally going to be the manufacturer that screws it up, if anything.
You still have a target on your back for it. Everybody else wants that spot, so they’re coming after it aggressively because they know it’s going well but you do have to screw up to lose it. It’s on you.
That’s a heavy burden. I had a good friend of mine, a former colleague that used to sell audio, video equipment into Costco. He won the business over Vizio but every year Vizio was breathing down his neck. You could tell when that time of year came because he wouldn’t take phone calls. He was so stressed. That account is for big business and the thought that Vizio, a huge company, is breathing down the small company’s neck but he won it year over year because he did the smart things. They were always looking at what Costco’s best interests are as well as their own.
Unlike other mass retailers, they direct sources but Costco doesn’t do that for the most part, except in some food areas and other areas like that. For the most part, most of them like decorative accessories and all those other products, there’s no direct sourcing that can happen on top of you but that happens at Target, Staples, Sam’s Club and Walmart. You’re competing against your customer at the same time that almost all those other places. Costco is nice in that respect.
We didn’t mean to turn it into a hate Costco event.
We do love Costco here.
We’re both big fans of Costco. Any last-minute pieces of advice that you can give to folks out there remembering not the $100 million clients that you are used to but people that are starting out and hopefully, at some point, will be the $100 million and even more? Any parting words?Constructive criticism taken well can make a product successful. Click To Tweet
You need to recognize if you need design help, especially. If you’re all about the function, the taste of your food or you need packaging help, you have to recognize that those are your weaknesses. You can try to learn it but the design is not one of those things you should learn. It’s not learning how to code at a WordPress website or something like that. There are no templates out there. There’s no clip art. It doesn’t work like that, for designing a product and experience means a lot. You can’t just teach that. I wish I could. I try hard in my blogs and while I’m out there in the show trying to talk to people about the importance of design but I can’t really teach them how to do that themselves. It’s not a DIY thing.
If you don’t have it, try to seek it out from someone who understands your market. They don’t necessarily have to understand your product but they need to understand your market. If you’re going to go to a graphic designer to create a package for you, make sure they’d done retail packaging and check that. I’ve seen some horrendous packaging come out that while they look pretty, the information is so unreadable. It’s not usable when it’s on the shelf. It doesn’t attract attention and you’ve paid good money for that. You need to make sure that you’re hiring the right person for that.
That’s probably the best piece of advice. If you can go back to something Tracy said early in our conversation but understanding who is buying your product or do you even know how to speak to that person or that demographic? If you’re honest with yourself about, first, “Who’s buying my product?” and second, “Do I even know how to speak to that person?” If your answer is no, you need to go find somebody that knows how to do that. You need to go find somebody because you can put the same amount of money in and speak to the right people. You can put the same amount of money in to speak to the wrong people.
All our clients are not $100 million clients. I should be careful with that. We take a lot of inventors each time for the year but they’re serious about it. They’re serious about the tactics and getting to market. The reality is a lot of them come to us because they’d done it wrong. They spent tens of thousands of dollars doing it wrong or trying to do it themselves and it’s not happening. You can waste a lot of time.
For the most part, we can do products within 3 to 6 months quickly. For some of our clients, we designed hundreds of products in a year because they go from trade show to trade show. We’re constantly filling it. The design process is fast and easy for us, the development processes, too. The issue with that is, if you take time to get to market, you’ve lost that market nowadays. Paying a little bit more but getting it done faster is money in your pocket. Getting it done rather than you trying to do it yourself and some of them learn the hard way.
She’s available. You can have those conversations directly with her. If you want to find us, you can find us on Twitter @TLBConsult. You can find us on Facebook @TLBConsulting. You can always find us on our website at TLBConsulting.com if you want to reach out to us via email. Our show is now on iTunes. On The Shelf on iTunes, it’s available. If you liked what you read, please hit subscribe and go check out Tracy’s show. Tracy, thanks so much for taking the time. We stretched it out a little bit there but all great information. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you taking the time to talk to our readers.
Thanks, Tim. I appreciate you having me. We’ll talk again.
We will. We brought up several topics that we need to discuss. Hopefully, we’ll be able to hash that out later. Thanks so much. We’ll see you On The Shelf.
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