Product Creation With A Ghost Designer = $$$ With Tracy Hazzard From Fanatics eCommerce TV With Justin Simon
The chances of pushing your product to market might be low, but it’s never zero. One way to increase your chances of marketability is by working with a ghost designer. In this episode of Fanatics eCommerce TV with Justin Simon, Tracy Hazzard reveals just how she helps clients push their products from an idea to being sold at major retailers with an 86% success rate. Tracy has helped pushed over 250 products out into the world. She shares just how she and her team do it and gives invaluable advice for business owners looking to launch their own products. The secret sauce is giving up quick. Tune in for much-needed advice before you venture into product creation.
Listen to the podcast here
We got asked a lot here at Fanatics Media, how do I find and create products? How do I pick which are the right products to sell? We have some expertise in this area. I like to think we are knowledgeable and can help and guide you. Our guest has got so much more expertise than we do. We’re going to pick her brain a little bit and learn a little smidge of everything she can tell us.
We are thrilled to have Tracy Hazzard here with us. She is the CEO of Hazz Design. You’ve heard of ghostwriting, but have you ever heard of ghost–designing? That’s exactly what Tracy and her company do. They’ve ghost-designed, meaning they designed for somebody else’s name 250–plus consumer products. That number is inching up towards 300. She’s the co-inventor. She’s got 37 patents and an Inc. innovation columnist. Her products haven’t done that well realistically over the course of time. It’s been a very slow market for her. They’ve only done about $1 billion. Tracy, I want to thank you so much for joining us.
Thank you for having me.
We appreciate it. Two hundred fifty products, how did you even get started down this road?
No one’s going to believe when I say this, but there are two of us designers in the business, full-time. It’s my husband and me.
Do you guys have 47 hands, 36 brains, and a partridge in a pear tree?
No, we do have a great team under us but we want to make sure that our hand is in all the designs. We’ve kept it ourselves. We don’t have an agency model.
How did you guys start? How did the process work?
To be able to do that prolific amount of design work, we have to have a good system. Over the years, we’ve refined it to a point at which it’s the reason we’re so successful. Seven out of ten products fail at retail. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a big brand, small brand or just starting out, it’s just the odds. We have 8 out of 10 successes, so the reversal of that. It’s actually almost 9, it’s 86%.
You guys are slacking. If you can jump that up 4%, then we’d be impressed. Not anybody is going to be able to do what you guys do. What’s the secret sauce?
The secret sauce is giving up quick. Everyone else out there tells you, “Don’t give up on your idea.” If you don’t give up on your idea early enough in the process, you spend too much money and time. I don’t mean to give up on them forever. I call it my discard pile. When you’re playing cards and you discard something that’s not right for your hand at this moment, that’s how I treat our ideas, products and designs even. It might be a rendering that didn’t work out and we’re like, “Next time.” It sometimes comes back up to the top at the right time. We treat them a little more casually. Our ideas are not our babies. They are just ideas and we’re going to have ten more tomorrow guaranteed. That’s how we do it. We treat them like that. Through our system of being able to check them along the way, we give up on them quickly so that we have time to get to the good ones.
You didn’t start with 200 products. Nobody does that. I’m guessing, you started with 1, 2 or 3 early on. What took you from less than a handful to a dozen to multiple dozens to, “We got this covered?”
First, I tried to do it myself. We had a business back in the late ‘90s, early 2000’s called ttools, which was TT for Tom and Tracy because that’s the two of us. That’s our business back then. We’ve been working together for almost many years.
You still like each other.
We do. We still spend 24/7 together. That’s part of the reason that people are fascinated by our business. It’s like, “They’re still doing it.” We had this business together with tech tools back in the late ‘90s when the first PalmPilots came out. It was stylus pens and accessories for handheld computers. We thought we’d start an eCommerce company at the height of eCommerce. We did some great things, except at the end of the day, we were still making pens after three years, then 9/11 happens, things tank in business, the dot-com bubble burst. We were pretty well-diversified and protected but we weren’t getting to making new products and designs. What we wanted to do was to do a lot of products.
We realized our role is not great at taking it all the way, “Let’s find people who already are in the channel, already have Best Buy shelf space, or whatever it is that we want. Let’s work with them to do great products.” That’s what enables us to do that number of products because I don’t take them from ideas all the way through and continue to sell them and manage them through their life. We manage it for maybe nine months to a year worth of time, wherefrom the idea all the way through to the end of the very first run. We manage it all the way until the first run is approved on the shelf somewhere.
You or your husband has an idea, or other people can come to you with ideas.
Yes. It works in multiple ways. We have an idea. People come to us with an invention or an idea, and this is the predominant part of what we do, they come to us and say, “I want to enter this category at retail. I want to enter this market. What should I make?”
How do you determine the analytics or the understanding of this would be a good product for you to make?
That’s a great question because that’s the hardest part. If you don’t do that research or if we don’t get a client or someone who wants us to take the time to do that right, then we don’t take them if they’re in too big a rush because that’s where the research happens. We study what’s on the shelf. Even if it’s an eCommerce product, we study what’s on the shelf because that shows what has the majority traction. It can be a mistake to watch the numbers on eCommerce because they’re algorithmic. There’s a whole bunch of things that go into it.Ask outside your circle to your target audience, 'Is this any good?' #Fanatics eCommerce TV #Justin Simon #podcastinterview Click To Tweet
Whether you’re promoted by Amazon, Walmart or Target, they’re being pushed by the organization there. They may have to do with them getting it out of the warehouse and not that it’s a good seller. It’s not a good way for us to watch it. We try to watch all of it together and we build our own proprietary database. We track all the statistics that we know work. There are about ten points of data we track. It’s not all that different from the Amazon FBA Jungle Scout Program that watches that. It’s like that but we do it manually per product category.
Different products are going to cost different amounts. To use your services, I want to create something in the cell phone category. That’s not electronic but some sort of accessory. I want to work with Hazz Design. What is the process? Fill me in because we know we’re going to see thousands of people to this. A lot of the questions we get are about product selection and product creation. They’re not as concerned with how to optimize once they have the product, but they don’t know how to do the product. Walk me through these steps if I want to work with you. What type of finances do I need to set aside to make something like that work?
Originally, we were exclusive and it was hard to work with us. We only took on a couple of clients a year. Several years ago, we switched that over as we started to expand our business into other categories and other areas, as we started to do more eCommerce work because it was faster. Instead of nine months, a project might take us three months. Because of that, we changed our whole model of business. You can pretty much access me for an hour at a time, do as little as that and say, “Let’s talk and check. Do I have a good idea? Is this going to go?” I can’t take all the time to do the research in that but usually, there’s a quick gut check and a few market factors that I can check out and take a look at. If you’ve done your Amazon tracking and your Jungle Scout, and you give that to me, then we can make an even more educated guess about whether or not you’re on the right track, where you need to go, or what’s your next step. That’s the easy way to go into it.
We have also been working on a community that’s going to launch. That community allows you to be in access on an as-needed basis. Now, you might need to decide what you want to make, but in two months maybe you need help with a vendor or sourcing in Asia. We’ve got that covered for you too. If it’s not us, it might be our partners, but people that we’ve vetted and worked with for over ten years, most of them. We try to make them accessible on an as-needed basis. You can do it with as little as a couple of hundred dollars to probably a full program. When we do a full-blown and get somebody on the shelf, it’s a $10,000 a month retainer for at least a year. Any range in there though works.
That’s interesting because there are a lot of people who have set aside money. You’ll see people on Facebook Amazon group saying, “I’ve got $200 but I want to get on there.” You’re like, “Go to the store, buy yourself some lunch because you got no shot.” There are those people, and we get calls all the time, “I’ve got $10,000, $20,000. I don’t know where to start.” Having the ability to consult with you is vital. Were talking with Tracy Hazzard, the CEO of Hazz Design. This is such a fascinating topic for me because I love the design aspect of building your own product. You guys ghost-design products as well. What is the hardest part when you get into design and engineering? You’ve got your concept, you know what you want, you run your analytics, Tracy signed off on your idea, now the production, the design and the engineering. What do you find most people stumble at? What do you find to be the hardest parts?
Most people stumble with pulling the trigger. It’s a fear factor. They are like, “Am I right? Am I wrong?” They don’t have the success rate we have so they know that statistics. It’s not even just 7 out of 10 products fail, but only about 2% of inventions make money at all. That’s scary when you go into thinking that you spend a lot of money on patenting and all of those things. Pulling that trigger is scary for a lot of people. When you’ve done your homework and you’ve asked a few experts, that’s the most important part. Please ask outside of your circle to your target audience. Is this any good? What happens is if you ask experts in the industry, they know better. It’s highly likely that you’re on the right track and you just need to take that next step.
Let’s not go and buy 10,000 pieces of anything but take that next step. That’s probably the hardest part for most people. For me and for our business personally, the hardest part is that we get so many great ideas and clients who wasted too much time and money. We can’t help them now. They spent all this money patenting. My number one pet peeve is to stop spending $10,000 patenting. Spend $10,000 testing the market through Amazon or some other way. Let us get going on your concept because I can do so much more for you because that’s just an indicator if you’re on the right track. You can be sitting on a patent that now is no longer valid because what I need to make it market-ready might shift, and now your patent is not even useful anymore. Those kinds of things, that’s my frustrations. I wish I could catch people sooner.
From what I understand, I’m not a patent attorney, but if you have first to market proof, you at least are the leader in the clubhouse to get the patent.
We recommend provisional patenting but at the right stage. After you’ve prototyped it, refined it a little bit, then provisional patents. We have a seven-step process. It’s our fourth step. We don’t patent too soon. That’s another thing. We do recommend it because the provisional patent is extremely important. Even in mass retail, people put patent pending on it just to say patent pending because the product will probably be in and out of the market before the patent would issue. You do it anyway because it is important.
I don’t want to name names but I know some people who have messed up the patent process a couple of times. Now, thanks to YouTube and all of those things, we’re much more educated. You mentioned the big retailers. I don’t want to say the hardest because there are going to be a lot of fascinating aspects. What’s the most interesting part of taking your product and getting it into one of the big box retailers, the Costcos, the Best Buys or Cost Plus if that’s who you’re targeting.
No one has ever asked me what’s the most interesting thing. The most interesting thing is buyer dynamics. It’s the whole way the buyer system works. A buyer is a person you go and meet with to show them your product. They’re buying it in a category, but what drives them is so different from company to company. Sometimes, they say crazy things like, “If it’s not succeeding on Amazon, then I don’t want you to even show it to me.” “You’re Costco. You’re a leader.” “We don’t lead. We want to do the best product that’s out there on the market, but we want to know what’s already going to succeed before we bring it.” They say things like that and you’re like, “Whoa.” What drives them has been the most interesting and the most a-ha thing to me.
As we go and do it, we always have that in the back of our minds. Is this product that we might be introducing in the eCommerce is step one. Does it have legs that could go all the way onto a shelf somewhere? If so, we already know that from the beginning when we set out with something. We say, “If we market this right and if we hit the target audience, it’s the perfect Bed Bath & Beyond product. If we don’t, maybe it’s a Walmart.” We look at that and we start thinking about it from day one because what we want to build in is some success story. We can tell that buyer to get over their own problems and issues. They all have them because they have pressure from their bosses and their organization as to what they’re being measured on.
Has Hazz Design reached the stage where you have such established relationships with some of the big box retailers that you can call and say, “Joe, Jen, I got a new product. You’re going to want to at least take a look at this.” I know you’ve got different buyers for different stores who are looking for different things in different seasons. Can you make the one phone call ala Shark Tank style and at least set up that meeting?
I’m laughing here because a couple of years ago we did this funny animation video that was done by friends of my daughters at Orange County High School of the Arts, OCHSA. It’s a take on the Schoolhouse Rock, I’m Just a Bill. This is I’m Only a Design. The idea is that it’s like bureaucracy to the nth degree. The funny part is there’s this whole thing that we think we have a buyer relationship and then the buyer gets moved. We do have a good reputation there. When you go in and they were to say, “Tracy Hazzard wants to see you at Costco, she designed that chair that we’ve been selling for five years straight.” They’ll be like, “We’ll take a meeting.” It can happen but not in every category. One day a buyer is selling furniture and the next day they’re selling diapers. I’m not kidding you. That’s how it works. You never know.
What we do is we have partners that are sales reps that have been in and out of those organizations on a daily, monthly, weekly, whatever it takes in the types of them and specialists in the various retailers, whichever one it might be, because it’s nuanced. You don’t want to make a mistake there. You don’t want to go in yourself. I don’t even want to go in myself. Although I will go in there with them because the power of what I have to say as a successful designer means something to them when I get there. I let them do it because if you make dumb little mistakes like you don’t call the assistant buyer or you don’t email them and you try to call, they penalize you and they won’t see you.
Tracy is going to be very surprised when I handcuffed her in my wrist and we go in with my design just to make sure she’s going with me. We’re talking to Tracy Hazzard, the CEO of Hazz Design. It’s a two-person amazing design firm, 250–plus products, almost $1 billion in sales, co-inventor of 37 patents. You’ve done furniture, tech and gaming. Number one, what has been the most successful product you’ve done? Number two, what’s been the most surprisingly successful product you’ve done?
Our office chair at Costco that I was referring to before is our most successful product. If we were a musician, that’d be our platinum record. You don’t get something to last in the cyclical and seasonal way that Costco works to sit there for almost five years.
I’m pretty sure that chair is in my home office.
It probably is. It’s in a lot of home offices. I’ll go to an office and I’m like, “There’s my chair.” It was good. It’s $99 so that price point is where that’s in.
Thanks for my chair.The secret sauce is giving up quick. #Fanatics eCommerce TV #Justin Simon #podcastinterview Click To Tweet
You’re welcome. That and of itself feels good. That’s always been one of our great successes. It was twenty in the making because I had worked for Herman Miller on the very first mesh chair ever introduced to the market. You can’t make a platinum record overnight. Anyone who tells you it’s an overnight success is lying. It took us twenty years to make the perfect product.
The most surprising ones, gaming chairs. They’re like gaming rockers. As a mom, I hate them because they have wires everywhere and all of that. I was like, “Do I want to design something that I don’t even like?” Surprisingly, they were the most fun to design in the end. The research showed that girl gamers were on the rise. We got to make some fun ones. We got to add details and I got to pull in and say, “Let’s get rid of these wires because mommas hate them.” You take what you don’t like and you turn that into something successful.
I’m about 6’1”. I’m about as smooth as gravel. I have been in these gaming chairs and there was nothing worse than trying to get out of them. You’re like rocking back and forth. I’m going to check with your office chair. I can’t help with I’m sitting and I can’t get up situations. You see the changes from Amazon. I know your clients are going to be not only on Amazon but all kinds of eCommerce.
When Amazon changes things like they’ve done with stopping sellers from fourth-quarter sales on last-minute notices, changing the review process, which has been a huge issue for new products, especially what I like to call them the take them and go products. Little things you can put in your pockets, the little plastic things that don’t cost that much money but you sell 20,000 or 50,000 of them, you’re home free. Now people are having problems getting those reviews and getting search engine results. How have those changes impacted what you guys do and the way that potential clients of yours and people who want to get into the business approach you?
It’s interesting because it’s expanded my ability to help them. Over the years, we built this incredible network of blog sites, podcasts, and other things at which we use for research and information. We also push tests things through. We do test markets and other things to see how things are working by using these sites. We’ve always done that. Now what’s happening is we’re going to be able to push back through to get people to come and find your products, buy them on Amazon. You don’t have to be doing using these review sites where you’re giving it away for 90% because these block sites are high niche.
If you’re selling a gardening product, all these people care about are gardening or they wouldn’t be following this podcast or this particular website. They’ve opted into something that they’re passionate about, where those review sites have such a large general audience who were just looking for discounts. At the end of the day, you’re going to end up with more people willing to review anyway because they’re passionate about what it is. If your product works for them, then that’s great.
Is that something that Hazz Design offers on the side, that ability to market to a targeted specific vertical?
It was our secret that we did to boost our clients in the beginning, so we looked good. As we’ve gone along, it’s become so highly needed because our clients have expanded in the eCommerce area. What has happened is that we are starting a whole new website around it that’s going to allow us to have people just request that. In a sense, we’re a liaison to communicate and pick the right one so we can match your product with the right sites. We communicate back and forth with those sites to say, “Are you interested in doing this?” Most of them will say yes because they have a relationship with us and they’ve done it before. They know we wouldn’t push anything to them that we didn’t think was already a good product.
Is it too early to give us that website?
It’s not too early but all you can do there is go and type in your email address, it’s CPRev.com. We’re calling it the Consumer Product Revolution.
We’re going to have Tracy back for sure when we get that site up and running and find out more. We‘re going to talk about that. You are a big proponent of 3D printing and what it may mean to product and design. Talk to us about what you believe the future holds on the 3D printing front.
We use 3D printing on and off for several years for prototyping for clients, doing things in our own models, and all of that stuff. The reality is I thought, “It’s just plastic stuff. It’s just a prototype.” I didn’t take it very seriously but then desktop printing came about. My husband-partner, Tom, kept bugging me to buy us a 3D printer. After using it for almost six months, we hadn’t made anything that I thought was Instagram-able. I thought, “If it’s this hard for us who’ve been designing for several years, then how is it going to ever be consumer-ready?”
What I learned when we finally got it right and we started making the product was there are forms, all sorts of designs, things that you can do, and ways to personalize things. The a-ha happened for me when I realized the biggest problem at retail, Amazon, all of these things is inventory. How much do I buy? Do I buy too much? Is it sitting on the shelf? Is it turning fast enough? There is zero inventory, but a design file is sitting somewhere online. That’s it. Zero inventory in 3D printing. In a zero inventory world, we can do so much more from a design standpoint and be consumer-relevant. We can test so many more things. That’s what I’m most excited about. The problem is that the whole system isn’t set up to handle it yet. It’s going to take quite some time.
Tracy Hazzard is the CEO of Hazz Design. If you’re looking for an equivalent excitement as far as Tracy and 3D printing, look at Chicago Cubs fans in potentially winning the World Series. That’s what that looks like. You talk about a zero inventory environment. How quickly could you turn around something on 3D printing? Let’s say you have your design and I tell you, “We’re selling out quick. I need 1,000 or 5,000 units of this widget.” What is the timetable versus a factory situation?
The thing is that’s a myth in the market that the timing takes too long. It doesn’t quite take too long. The desktop printers take too long. The industrial printers that you would use to manufacture something, they don’t. You can print batches of things. They have farms of machines at some of the factories that I’ve seen. They print out 3D print Invisalign braces, those ones that move your teeth and they look invisible. They’ve been printing those in a farm situation for years now and they generate thousands of them a day. Each one is individually matched to somebody’s mouth. The hard part or the length of time isn’t the printing. It’s the design-time from the beginning.
To do a good design, Tom and I have found it takes somewhere between 100 and 200 hours of design time. That’s not a lot in the scope of overall how long it might take us to design a product in Asia and get it done, but it’s dedicated time to design those. It’s a lot of design labor, which is expensive labor compared to anything else that you do. If you spend 100 to 200 hours, what you can ensure is that at the end of the day, that product is safe. It’s consumer product-ready. It’s a safe product. It’s easy to manufacture in those farms and facilities of 3D printers. It depends on the materials you go to, the time that it takes, but the design time is probably the longest time you’ll spend.
Looking into your future crystal ball here, how long of a time period do you see this moving on from manufacturing of products to moving from manufacturing to let’s call it 85%, 90% 3D print?
Eighty-five to ninety percent is probably ten years away in reality. It won’t be in every category. I know people are saying, “You can print out your own clothes.” I don’t think it’s going to happen in textiles. The materials are not there yet. They need a lot more research.
Electronics are going to be a problem on that too. You’re looking at a simpler design. That may be the wrong term but something less cumbersome.
One or two different materials combined together can happen. Limited amount of hybrid products. Things like that can happen. We’re going to start seeing the tip start to happen sometime into 2018. That’s my prediction. Mattel is supposed to be coming out with a 3D printer that is for kid’s ages where they can make their own toys and everything. As we see that generation come up, that’s why I say ten years because that generation is coming up. I talk to kids every day who have been 3D printing in their classrooms, who are passionate about it, and who are excited about what they’ve learned. To them, the minute you’ve held that object in your hand that you conceptualized, it’s addictive.
I was at CES and they had the massive 3D printers. They’re spooling everything and you go, “That’s pretty cool,” and they go, “That’s a baseball glove.” They just 3D printed a usable baseball glove.” Sure it wasn’t leather, but now you have my attention. That’s very interesting stuff. Tracy, this has been a fascinating interview. I appreciate your time. This has been one of our more enlightening. I feel like I could talk to you for about ten hours. We ask all of our guests the same question at the end. With all the technology, apps, and software coming into eCommerce, there’s a lot of noise but there’s also a lot of quality. You have your own software that you guys have created. Outside of that, assuming we can’t steal it from you, what are the software and the technologies that you like in the space that you would recommend to either designer, eCommerce sellers, or anybody in the world and realm that you deal with?
That’s such a good question that you ask for everyone because there are so many things out there and so much noise. At the end of the day, what we find and the reason why it never matters to us, we’re experimenters, we’ll try anything new, we’ll go with it, and see if it is helping. At the end of the day, if it’s not saving us time and money, and it’s not allowing us to do what we want to do, we just give it up. That’ll be nice to have tried that. Let’s move on. Our process and our way of analyzing it overarch anything that happens. If we’re going to rely too much on that tool, that’s the mistake that a lot of people fall into. Jungle Scout is a great tool. It’s easy to use.
There are no problems with it. It does fairly well and it’s fairly accurate because I can look at my client’s numbers and go, “That’s about right they’re doing.” I know it’s accurate. That’s great but at the end of the day, if you don’t know how to interpret that, what that means, what that’s telling you, or if you look at it at the wrong time of year, that’s a mistake too. You pump it in and look at some stuff here in the fourth quarter and you’re going to be making such a mistake because it’s going to look way rosier than it is going to be for next year and you plan wrong. It is what you do with those tools. I have three things that I love to use every single day. I use Getpocket. It’s an applet and you can download it to your phone as an app, but you can use it on Chrome, Safari or anything like that.
I love that because there’s so much information going through us every day and I like to save it. I’m a consummate researcher and I know I might need that, but I don’t want it now. If I spend the time to read it now, I’d be all distracted. Anytime something comes into my inbox or I find on the internet that’s worth reading, I don’t let myself get derailed from what I’m doing. I add it to the pocket and I tag it with whatever it is that I’m going to do. It saves me tons of time. I was like, “These are all having something to do with the podcast I wanted to listen to. This has something to do with 3D printing.” I pull them up, I use them when I use them, and then I archive them. The other thing that I use that’s in a similar vein is I use a tool called Rollup, which I love.
I love Rollup, please tell everybody what it is because I use it too.
You need to use it with your Google Mail. Somebody will find me and they’ll unroll me in some email a thing. I’ll unroll myself and reroll my Google email. That way I can get almost like a newsletter of all the things I’ve subscribed to once a day. I scan it and I click on anything that I know is urgent, and then I pocket anything that I know is important. That’s it. I only review all that but it took a good 20% out of my email box. I love it. It is Unroll.me.
That’s one of the great productivity hacks. A step aside from design, a lot of people get easily distracted when they work, and your inbox can be overwhelming. A public service announcement from Fanatics Media and Tracy Hazzard, stop having 26,000 emails in your inbox that you don’t read. Use Unroll. Get it out of there. All your newsletters are going to come in one spot and you’ll be amazed at how quickly you end up with 30 emails in your inbox instead of 3,000. Also, not every newsletter is good. Anyhow, we’ll talk about that on a whole separate show. Tracy Hazzard, the CEO of Hazz Design. I want you to give the websites one more time to send people your way for both Hazz Design and the new website.
Hazz Design, that’s because Hazzard has two Z, and CPREv.com is the upcoming site that’s going to be a membership community to support both you guys helping to find places to get to them to review your products, but also have access to me and my team to ask them questions about anything you might have.
Tracy, thanks so much for joining us here. We appreciate your time. We are going to have you back. I want to talk more about 3D printing and the new website. I appreciate your time.