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Selling Strategies

Some market misperceptions stem from the way certain products get distributed. Products sold in drug stores or mass merchandisers are considered simply functional and low-cost, so the stores don't make any effort to improve products' perceived value. But products sold by surgeons or leading medical catalogs are perceived to be more effective and of higher quality. Patients assume their doctors only sell products they believe in and that meet only the highest standards.

The same feelings result when products are sold through high-end retailers. Customers believe the products have been screened by the retailer and must be top-notch. This idea plays into May's strategy of selling to day spas and salons, where women go to feel pampered and look great. These outlets strengthen her message that the pillow keeps women looking beautiful.

Many inventors attempt to sell their products to the widest market possible, a strategy that works for inexpensive products but doesn't really work for better quality products that can support a higher price tag. Don't let selling to a mass merchandiser or low-priced distribution network now prevent you from selling to higher-priced outlets down the road.

Hoping to enhance the perception of her product as high quality, May decided to manufacture the pillows out of a silk-like fabric and use a top-notch sewing process. Her efforts ensured that her product would sell not only in higher-end outlets, but for a higher price, too: $40 to $90 (compared with the $20 to $30 charged for traditional neck pillows). That helped May establish her product's premium image.

To find the right distribution network for your product, check trade magazines that target manufacturers in your market. These magazines are listed in the Gale Directory of Publications and Broadcast Media (Gale Research), which is available at larger libraries. The people featured in these magazines often don't mind answering readers' questions. A quick phone call might help you find out what networks exist in the market.

All inventors confront obstacles at one time or another. The challenge is finding effective solutions. If your product isn't selling the way you'd like it to or if people perceive it as not being unique when it is, consider changing your targeted distribution network as a strategy for turning the situation around. Doing so might provide the positioning your product needs to succeed.


Don Debelak is a new-business marketing consultant and the author of Bringing Your Product to Market(John Wiley & Sons). Send him your invention questions at dondebelak@uswest.net.

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This article was originally published in the February 2001 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Zzzzzz . . ..

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