From the overwhelming success of TopsyTail to Snuggie’s initial slow start, transforming into a success story, the market sees thousands of new products every year; but only few rise to iconic status. Accessory Brainstorms explores some of the winners and losers of the past decades and recognizes key elements they share or lack, which may influence their outcomes.
Bang! From Unknown to Renowned:
TopsyTail – early 1990’s, was the first fashion/hair accessory tool to appear on a TV infomercial. Huge demographic: ‘If you can ponytail, you can TopsyTail,’ ‘magically’ turns a ponytail into numerous innovative hairstyles. The well-made commercial caught on with the public and was broadcast globally. Supported by sales, top notch public relations, demonstrations and videos in department stores, TopsyTail was then sold at mass market retailers for $15 and included an instructional video. TopsyTail went on to become a $100 million success story, catapulting its inventor, Tomima Edmark onto the covers of countless magazines.
Side note: TopsyTail started out with sales to small boutiques and did not make headway until it was repositioned into department stores by national sales representatives. The first product-run contained flaws that made the tool vulnerable to cracking. The inventor quickly removed the stock, reworked the manufacturing and oversaw quality control for the entire life of the product. She also successfully defended her patent against knock-offs, which seemed to appear overnight once the TV commercial was aired.
REM Spring Hair Removal Tool – 2009, manually used spring-like tool removes facial hair; invented in Israel and brought to the US by a savvy young businesswoman, was originally marketed to beauty professionals, beauty shops and spas through demonstrations and sales at beauty products trade shows. Discovered by a New York sales representative who arranged to sell it into mail order catalogues nationwide, REM Spring eventually landed on the pages of Skymall Magazine. With its consistent exposure in catalogues and high perceived value that has not diminished over time, this single product, which solves a universal problem for women, has sold in the million of units. REM Spring recently added a line extension, a hair growth retardant gel geared to the same demographic, which builds further its market niche of non-electric, non-depilatory hair removal.
Side note: REM Spring is has spawned various copies in lower price points with no negative sales impact on REM Spring ‘the original,’ which retails for $19.95.
Avon Skin So Soft – still going strong after more than 20 years. Originally marketed as a skin softener, women found it to be a standout product in terms of its effectiveness even healing cracked skin and preventing stretch marks. Marketed exclusively through Avon’s army of personal sales representatives and through home parties, the company already had a big hit on its hands when it was accidentally discovered that Skin So Soft has attributes of a Bug Repellent. The market for this product has grown exponentially into a diverse and large demographic, which includes use in the military, with gardeners, construction workers, athletes and sports fans, and for use on pets and horses. Skin So Soft, which sells for $10 and under, has sold multi-millions of units and has also been found to be useful in 100 different ways from grease and gum removal to cleaning and softening leather.
Busts! Remain Unknown:
Polaroller – mid 1990’s, well designed ergonomic handheld rolling icepack. Its cardboard box was bulky and did not clearly reveal the use and beauty of the product. The product sold in mail order catalogues and through TV shopping programs with explanation and demonstration, but failed at retail stores, most likely because consumers saw the box, but could not see the product inside. Already in production and stocked with the boxes printed, the inventor was denied rights to use of the name due to a pre-existing trademark. The rights to manufacture the product were subsequently purchased by a foreign company and it is not commonly known to be available in the US.
Side note: The trademark should have been researched and cleared prior to use. See-through, possibly clamshell packaging designed to show the product and its features, would have clarified the use of product upon first viewing at retail.
Retail shelves are overcrowded with products that compete for attention. According to industry experts, a product has only 6 seconds to lure a consumer in, so product inventors must make sure their packaging grabs attention. When choosing packaging or display options, consider incorporating eye-popping colors that draw attention. Packaging must suit the product and speak directly to its target market making sure it communicates idea, mood, spirit, and personality of the product.
Bowrette – mid 1990’s, intended as a follow-up product to TopsyTail, the Bowrette was a barrette that transformed scarves into hair bows. The product was a casualty of poor timing, arriving on the market at the end of a trend cycle for hair bows. It served neither the same nor a vast demographic as did TopsyTail. It did modest sales through advertisement call-ins and on the Internet.
Side note: Products that are subject to evolving trends, local style preferences and variations in consumers’ tastes are generally not well positioned for major national sales success.
Franties – 1996, the first panties with built in fragrance. Franties came in three styles with time-released scents that lasted up to a year of laundering. The scents were keyed to the color of the panties; the rose tone reflected the scent of wild rose, ivory emanated the scent of vanilla, etc. Franties were offered in a large size range and were hypoallergenic. The product launched at J. C. Penney and Marshall Field’s department stores. The attractive packages were stacked on a table in the intimate apparel department. Without publicity or advertising by the retailer, there was no draw for consumers to seek out the product. Lost in a sea of big name brand products, sales went flat. Although the product received mostly favorable reviews, some found the scent to be too strong, (causing attention to it) before multiple washings. There was also some criticism of the placement of the fragrance patch in the center top of the panty, taking ‘center stage’ so to speak.
Side note: A specialized product, not supported by a major brand name, should have been launched in completely different venues. If Franties had been placed in lingerie and gift shops, it could have been positioned, promoted and romanced by shop personnel. Since Franties were available in sizes up to 3X, they could have been offered as a featured item in specialty large size apparel stores. Launching in the correct channels of distribution will make or break a product. Some consumers may have preferred that the scent and its placement be more discreet in intensity and location. This could have been resolved with proper product testing prior to the launch.
Industry experts say that four of five new products will fail in the marketplace, so product testing is essential and should be done prior to investing heavily in a product. Due to advances in technology and social media, there are several effective and inexpensive ways to test products without hiring a professional testing company. Once your product is patent pending, you might consider creating a website and driving targeted traffic to it by advertising on Google AdWords. This will give you an indication of consumer response and interest. You can even utilize your website as a survey tool, similar to a focus group, to ask people if they would be interested in purchasing your product and if so, at what cost? Using social media such as Facebook or LinkedIn may also be a great way to gauge interest from people you trust.
Unfortunately, there is no magic formula for success. It takes more than a great invention to create a successful launch . The “busts” had issues with packaging, lack of advertising and testing, and failure to reach a wide demographic.
Bang then Bust! First Unknown then Renowned:
Snuggie – 2008, non-patentable blanket with sleeves, originally minimally marketed by small companies as the Freedom Blanket and The Slanket, had very limited sales. Then savvy DRTV company, Allstar Media, tweaked the item, and created an iconic and humorous TV spot calling the product “Snuggie.” The product, which hit a note with celebrities, was much discussed on TV talk shows and its commercial and parodies spread virally on You Tube and blogs. It resonated with the public and went on to sell 20 million Snuggies by 2009 on TV and through mass market retailers. To further the craze, the company created line extensions including Snuggies for Pets, Snuggies for Kids and Customized Snuggies.
After examining the success of the “bangs” it becomes clear that these product launches had certain things in common. They were very useful to the consumer whether they created new hairstyles, removed unwanted hair or had multi-functionality for personal or household use. They advertised wisely or received much publicity, and effectively spread their messages to the masses. TopsyTail, with its exposure through TV infomercials, reached a worldwide demographic through its advertising. Skymall Magazine and catalogues generated consumer awareness for REM Spring, and both Snuggie and Avon Skin So Soft benefitted from word-of-mouth and well-placed publicity. In all cases, the products were affordably priced below $20.
So, if you are aiming your invention towards a big “bang,” carefully consider patents, product testing, packaging, publicity, advertising, and price point. You must do your homework because, as the old adage goes, “you don’t get a second chance to make a good first impression.” With the right dose of research and marketing know-how, your invention can make quite a big “bang” with the potential to become the next must-have product .
Joan Lefkowitz, an original marketer of TopsyTail ™, is president of ACCESSORY BRAINSTORMS, NYC, a licensing agency, sales representative and consultancy for Fashion/Beauty Accessory and Lifestyle Inventions. Accessory Brainstorms is always looking for inventions in these categories, and offers one-on-one consulting. ACCESSORIES Magazine awarded Joan for “Most Inventive Products” and cited her as one of the 100 most important accessories industry “Movers and Shakers”. Contact at www.accessorybrainstorms.com.