Three paths to product nirvana

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In a brisk, high-speed panel discussion at NRF 2018: Retail’s Big Show, the heads of three small companies discussed highly disparate approaches to the same goal: product nirvana — defined as the moment that occurs when the product, the channel, the presentation and the perceived value of the whole offering attain a kind of perfection in the mind of the consumer. Moderated by Corinne Ruff, editor of Retail Dive, the panel consisted of Oliver Bogner, founder and CEO of Brandable; Cricket Lee, founder and CEO of Fitlogic; and Kevan Wilson, general manager for retail partnerships with b8ta.

The session began with a brief overview of each company, beginning with Cricket Lee of Fitlogic. The company, Lee said, was created to solve a problem that bedevils the vast majority of female shoppers: Finding clothes that fit. The current sizing system for women, she said, was established in the early 1950s; it is not standard, and is based on physical proportions that are actually found only in a relatively small percentage of women shoppers. Her solution is a three-part set of different overall body type characteristics, within each of which any woman can derive a two-number body code that precisely describes her body.

Lee’s overall goal, and that of Fitlogic, is to see this system adopted by all vendors of women’s apparel, so that shoppers can focus on style and other aesthetic elements, knowing that the garment — regardless of maker — will fit. To demonstrate the possibilities of her system, she created a company called Little Black Pant, based on the ability to provide any woman of any size with at least one pair of pants that fit. “I’ve sold $10 million worth of black pants,” she said. “It works.”

Brandable, based in Los Angeles, operates a little like a Hollywood television studio, except that instead of matching up actors, writers and producers to create programs aimed at a certain demographic (interest, enthusiasm, whatever it might be), it matches up products with “influencers” — people with a large fan following who are interested in promoting a certain product to a certain demographic. There are Brandable influencers for toys and games, cosmetics and wellness, pets, food and drink, and numerous other categories.

“We’re talking about product nirvana here,” Bogner said, “and what is that? It’s the perfect product. The perfect product today is a product that consumers love, appeals to the masses, sells for a price where everyone can make money, is a value to the consumer, achieves merchant objectives and so on. The great thing about partnering with influencers is that we’re able to create products that people are talking about, that trend online — and part of what we do is create a demand for those products.”

How do influencers help achieve product nirvana? Bogner uses the example of Kanye West. “He’s a musician, rapper, icon, husband to Kim Kardashian, a topic of conversation — he’s a spectacle. He helped save Adidas, right? Adidas gave him a seat at the table, and together they created a product that became Yeezy by Kanye West. According to Forbes, Yeezy helped save Adidas. Yeezy became product nirvana.”

Last up was Kevan Wilson of b8ta, which operates actual physical stores — nine flagship stores and 70 boutiques within Lowe’s home improvement stores. b8ta specializes in new Internet of Things-related products, and has a strict try-before-you-buy policy. The basic assumption is that, while people like online shopping, they are reluctant to use the online channel to buy new, somewhat experimental products that they don’t really know how to use. At a b8ta location a consumer can get a thorough demonstration (by an associate who actually understands the product) and the chance to try it for themselves. “We know there’s going to be showrooming,” Wilson said. “We’re fine with that. We don’t care.”

To make this work, b8ta first of all selects their associates carefully and treats them well. Secondly, the company has removed from its business model any incentive to do other than what it says. The manufacturer (b8ta calls them “makers”) pays a flat monthly fee to have its product displayed and demonstrated in the store. If it sells, they get 100 percent of the proceeds. The salespeople are not on commission; if you play with something for an hour and don’t buy it, they make just as much money as if you bought four of them.

Photo by Jason Dixson Photography.

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