Is Anyone Giving You the Real Truth About Your Product Creation?

by Jane Button on February 28, 2011


Is Anyone Giving You the Real Truth About Your Product Creation?: 5 Tips to Find Out if You Have a Marketable Product

By Jane Button

Were you always told by your Mom or Dad that you were the best, the smartest the most beautiful and then one day you discovered it might not be completely true?  It's like discovering that there is no Santa Claus or the tooth fairy is really a lady in a bathrobe who looks strangely like your Mom. 

It's the same when you create a product to sell…there are well meaning people out there (like your friends and family) who want to protect you and think they are helping you by not being completely straight with you.

That's what happened to me with my first product. I really don't like to admit this, but the first item I made to sell was a Felt Christmas Tree Skirt. I couldn't find a skirt for my Christmas tree that I liked so I decided to create one and then sell it wholesale to Nordstrom.  I figured this was going to be easy – I had good taste, a good sense of design and color.  Piece of cake!

At first I tried to knit one using my knitting machine – but that was way too much trouble and would cost way too much – so I decided to use felt. Regular felt was hard to find wholesale at the time, but I was able to locate an alternative called "Fun Felt" that was washable and not flammable, even thought is was light weight and didn't feel like real felt.

My friends and family all said they thought the skirts were not only a great idea – but they loved my samples – I was really smug. 

I designed 6 styles, created line sheets with drawings, had a price list all ready and was sure I was on my way to make thousands of dollars each Christmas. I had a friend who knew several buyers at Nordstrom so I was fortunate to easily secure an appointment with the Regional Gift Buyer.

When I got to her office I carefully unpacked my samples and put them out on her desk.  I didn't quite understand the look on her face at first but later on I realized it was TOTAL SHOCK at my products which were "Home Made" at best instead of "Hand Made" and in retrospect looked like my young children had made them. 

Buyers can sometimes be abrupt, but this Nordstrom buyer was direct, considerate and completely straight with me.  She could have laughed in my face and asked me to leave. Instead she took the time to critique my Tree Skirts with regard to the product concept, the designs, price, manufacturing and marketability.

One by one she went through the various criteria. And when I left her office I realized that I had learned a valuable lesson – I could have returned from the appointment feeling totally humiliated, instead I came back energized. She had told me EXACTLY what to do if I wanted to sell to the Nordstrom Gift Department.

Wow! How great was that? Someone told me what I needed to hear and not just what I wanted to hear.

In my case, I simply had – a bad product only a mother could love. But just how do you know if your product is good or good enough?

Here are my best 5 tips for finding out if you have a marketable product – without embarrassing yourself like I did:

  1. Investigate your competition – and remove the emotion of your attachment to the product for the moment.Look at the design, workmanship and creativity of their products vs yours.  Go to stores where they are sold. Compare your product in a realistic way – apples to apples not apples to oranges! This may not be the most fool proof way – but it is a good first step.
  2. Gather a group of trusted advisors or a focus group and have them critique your products. Do a presentation and then have them fill in an anonymous questionnaire where you ask questions about the products.
  3. See if your friends or family will actually BUY from you when you tell them you have your product ready to sell. If no one buys after they've told you how great your product is – pretty good indication they're not being really upfront with you.
  4. Work with your mentor, consultant or coach to assist you with a product review and critique in getting your product retail ready for the marketplace.
  5. Sell your product direct to consumers through your own website, craft fair or Etsy type site – or even on consignment (not my favorite way of selling by a long stretch). This is probably the least effective way as there is a lot of effort before selling anything and consignment can sit for a long, long time.

It's always best to test the market first. In my case I tested with a Nordstrom buyer who happened to give me excellent advice. I would not advise this approach! Rather start with any of the 5 steps above before you make an appointment with an important buyer or sales reps. Most cases do not turn out like mine.

And if you'd like a comprehensive product review and critique contact my office and we can discuss the options for your product line – so you know before you go!

© 2011 Jane Button International Design2Market Success

WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR E-ZINE OR WEB SITE? You can, as long as you include this complete blurb with it: Online creative product mentor Jane Button publishes "Design 2 Market News" weekly ezine packed full of with tips to help make you money from your Sewn or Knit Product, Design, Gift, or Craft Business. If you're ready to take off the training wheels and turn your creative passion into a profitable business, get your FREE tips now at

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Susan McKenzie March 1, 2011 at 11:58 am

Jane, these are incredibly valuable tips… Thank you for sharing from your life experience so that we can benefit from what you've learned!

Sharon O'Day March 1, 2011 at 7:26 pm

So much of this advice applies to online products as well as physical products, Jane.  It's so easy to fall in love with what we've created … and we all need that system of honest checks-and-balances to keep our enthusiasm and expectations within the realm of the realistic.  Great post!

Victoria' March 2, 2011 at 12:55 pm

This is spot-on advice, Jane.  Thank you!  It would definitely work for non-physical products as well, and is a solid foundation for anyone developing a new product.

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