by: Geoff Ficke
Several years ago my marketing consulting firm reviewed a most clever, novel, exceedingly commercial concept in casual footwear. We met with the designer who had created the collection and were excited by everything we saw in the initial presentation. The footwear possessed a universality of use and amazing styling cues that would make them a “must own” for every woman interested in shoes, meaning every woman everywhere. As we signed a secrecy agreement with the designer, I cannot provide specifics about the features and design of the footwear in this article.
We left the meeting with the confidence that we had reviewed a shooting star product and vibrant new creative force in the footwear category. But we also left with a disturbing inkling that the design wiz was not going to take the appropriate steps essential to successfully market the product. The business and creative elements were at odds in our young wunderkind. He left us with the impression that he knew what he had to do to achieve his goals, but he did not have the drive, fire in the belly or decisiveness so necessary to get to the commercial mountaintop.
We advised the young man, as we do all entrepreneurs, that time was not his friend. Always assume that someone, somewhere is working, probably inadvertently, on a similar product or concept and might beat you to market. This is prudent paranoia. It does happen and more often than you think. This is why successful entrepreneurs are unceasing in pursuit of their dream.
Several meetings and many phone calls later, our young designer was still unable to pull the trigger and push ahead on a product launch project. He wanted to improve the sole profile. He then wanted to change the color assortment. Next, he decided the factory was not complying with his directions. This went on and on for months. Of course, we could see what was really happening: he was afraid of success. We have seen this many times and the symptoms of this malady are always obvious.
We gave up on the designer and the footwear project gradually and reluctantly. We still loved the product and the future potential that could be mined by launching the brand. But we realistically saw that this opportunity would be doomed by his lack of commitment. We moved on.
Sadly, this week I was walking through the local shopping mall and was stopped in my tracks by a window display. A famous national chain store had a floor display in the main window, back lit, fully stocked and merchandised, with over 200 pairs of the footwear we had reviewed several years ago. I immediately caught my breath and entered the store to learn more. I thought, “Maybe he did get to market after all and good for him”.
A quick chat with the store manager, however, confirmed that the novel footwear we had reviewed several years ago had been pushed to market by a rival designer, with a similar product, a lady with a clever branding program and the line was enjoying huge success. I called several contacts in the footwear business and found out that this product had no relationship with my wunderkind designer. The young lady behind the brand I saw in the store window had started with a few stores, enjoyed excellent initial sales, secured a receivable financing deal and aggressively rolled out her merchandising program to national chains. Distribution was growing rapidly; she was introducing new styles, and was beginning to advertise in fashion magazines.
This is a sad, really sickening example, of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Having a wonderful new product, service or concept that is market ready but not moving on the project is such a waste. I phoned the designer we originally consulted with and asked him if he knew about the competitive product that had beaten him to market and secured his niche. After browbeating the competitor’s product as being inferior, he could only state that he was working on a better version of his original concept. He could offer no timeline on when the brand would launch.
I take no joy in stating that I doubt that he will ever successfully market footwear. I equally hate to state that there are many more than a few aspiring entrepreneurs that will experience the same fate. “Time is not an entrepreneur’s friend”, is not just words, but a fact.
Geoff Ficke has been a serial entrepreneur for almost 50 years. As a small boy, earning his spending money doing odd jobs in the neighborhood, he learned the value of selling himself, offering service and value for money.
After putting himself through the University of Kentucky (B.A. Broadcast Journalism, 1969) and serving in the United States Marine Corp, Mr. Ficke commenced a career in the cosmetic industry. After rising to National Sales Manager for Vidal Sassoon Hair Care at age 28, he then launched a number of ventures, including Rubigo Cosmetics, Parfums Pierre Wulff Paris, Le Bain Couture and Fashion Fragrance.
Geoff Ficke and his consulting firm, Duquesa Marketing, Inc. (www.duquesamarketing.com) has assisted businesses large and small, domestic and international, entrepreneurs, inventors and students in new product development, capital formation, licensing, marketing, sales and business plans and successful implementation of his customized strategies. He is a Senior Fellow at the Page Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, Business School, Miami University, Oxford, Ohio.