I was walking down 5th Street in South Miami Beach an hour ago and it hit me like a ton of bricks as it suddenly occurred to me why I was not getting my message through and why my sandals were turning out to be a harder sell than I thought they should be.

And here’s the problem. The problem is we are creating a new market. I mean isn’t that what you call it when a person or a company has done some innovation and they are attempting to deliver something new?

If that’s true then a more comprehensive problem statement would sound something like – How do you create a market when you don’t have some market force like pent up demand (or a new technology), a huge advertising budget, or celebrity endorsements?

Henry Ford brought an affordable car to market just at the time the world was ready for lots of cars; but didn’t quite know it (Daimler conversely was anticating that a chauffer availability problem would keep a damper on demand). So Ford was not just one of pioneers of the automobile industry, he as such helped to create that market. As part of that market creation Mr, Ford sagely observed that ‘If you ask people what they wanted, they’d say a faster horse’.

So how are our sandals creating a new market? I best articulated this when talking to the Israeli guy who owns the Italian shoe/sandal place around the corner. I said, ‘We want to compete somewhere in the middle between the cheap mass-produced Asian crap and the expensive luxury brands manufactured primarily by hand in Italy’. He liked that. And with that he finally understood how my sandals fit into the bigger picture (because they sure as hell didn’t fit into his expensive store).

So this problem is playing out in the Miami retail environment. Namely, there isn’t a shop that’s been able to accommodate us because we don’t fit. We don’t belong in the cheap beach stores that sell the plastic flip flops and we don’t fit into the high end expensive Italians shoe stores. And it just occurred to me, there’s nothing in between.

And concurrent, ‘Why would you want to build a sandal that doesn’t wear out’? That’s what the Israeli guy asked me. ‘That’s stupid’, he said.

And he might be right, but for an entirely different reason than what he was suggesting. I mean that I worry from time to time that what we are trying to do is stupid because we might be solving a problem that doesn’t exist. But I remind myself that is the negative way to look at our situation.

And I remind myself that there is a new market of people out there that want both quality and durability. And that we as a company bring a necessary and ecologically important solution along with our products that is embedded into each pair of our sandals through the use of recycled material as well as our low impact manufacturing processes. And someone that truly had their marketing hat on could speak to the great possibilities for some industry revitalization (Mexico’s failing huarahe industry) and job creation given just some modest successes.

Large modern companies solve the market creation problem by using two approaches. One, they have huge advertising budgets so they just throw a ton of money at it, and two, they use celebrity endorsements. William Gibson opined that 80% of a modern product’s budget was spent on advertising.

So how do we, a start up, create a new market when we don’t have any compelling market force (they’re just sandals for crying out loud), an advertising budget or celebrity endorsements?

That’s the statement of the problem as I see it.

PS – But I would love to hear from you if you think my logic is flawed.

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