Let’s talk about a company that gets it. That company is BetaBrand. In my eyes, there’s no way they won’t become a major primetime player in the apparel industry. Why? Because they’ve figured out to a way to shift part of their product development duties onto their customers. And in the commercial market we operate nowadays, saving time, energy, and resources is about as real as a competitive advantage gets.
How did they cleverly accomplish this? They benignly created a business model where they release a new article of clothing weekly, and only in limited amounts. (The NY Times ran a great article on their business model here.) Don’t get it twisted, this is shipping at its finest: getting a product on the market quickly, as soon as it does what it needs to do. But when you look at it closely, Betabrand is essentially creating a small amount of working prototypes, which minimizes their risk, and letting the market take the development from there. If a product just isn’t up to snuff, their run dies once the stock runs out. However if a product enjoys moderate success, then they tinker with it and you’ll see some type of new iteration down the line. For runaway successes, they then transition these to “permanent” products, like their Disco Pants or Reversible Smoking Jackets.
All this sounds like duties that a Marketing Manager or Product Development Manager would handle back in the 1990s. This was of course risky back in those days, both for the firm and for the manager’s job. This leads to risk aversion, and risk aversion stifles creativity.
By fundamentally transferring the later stages of product development onto the consumer, they foster creativity, save money on managers’ salaries, AND to top it off they line their pockets with money in the process by selling these “prototypes.” This sounds like a Win-Win-Win to me. Kudos, Betabrand. Well played. Well played indeed.
Let’s see how long until other companies wisen up and start to mimic Betabrand’s model…