Reinventing your company or product is another way to regain your cool. Consider Madonna, who constantly reinvents herself to get attention. Along the way, it's given her longevity in a tough business. Reinvention is especially important if your product isn't multidimensional. "There's not a lot you can build on to a pet rock," Smullen says.
Razor USA LLC had the product for the 2000 holidays with its Razor Scooter, which flew off shelves at toy and gadget stores. "The way people responded before they even knew what it was, you knew it would be a hit," says Carlton Calvin, president of the Cerritos, California, company.
He was right. By summer 2000, Razor was shipping 250,000 scooters a week. Soon the Razor Scooter was everywhere, from the cover of The New Yorker to a question on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.
Inevitably, the product started cooling off with consumers. Orders started dropping. "It was pretty precipitous," Calvin says. "It was like, 'Hurry up, hurry up; I need to get as much as I can.' And then it was, 'Whoa, we've got enough. Don't send any more." Scooter sales have fallen off considerably. "It's not the new-new thing anymore, and it's also fully saturated in terms of people having it," Calvin says. Which begs the question: So now what?
Calvin realized scooter crazes come and go every 20 years. So while the Razor Scooter was still hot, he was already thinking about a follow-up product. Studying Southern California culture to find something new, Calvin, 40, noticed the old-fashioned pogo stick was getting popular in trendy circles and decided it would be the next toy he would reinvent. The result is the Airgo, an air-powered pogo stick that can be adjusted for weight, folded up and carried in a backpack. Like the scooter, the Airgo is sold at toy and sporting goods stores and The Sharper Image, and it's being marketed mainly through live product demonstrations instead of print and TV advertising.
But will the Airgo take off like the scooter did? Time will tell, but by the end of December, Airgo sales were already three times the company's projections. "It's an innovative product," Calvin says. "Pogos have been around a long time, and there's been a resurgence in their popularity before." Another product in production is the "Punk," a minibike that's been trendy in Southern California.
Above all, don't be afraid to try to top yourself. Calvin suggests keeping your ear to the ground for trends, putting a lot into a unique design and having patience and confidence while your product inches toward critical mass. Says Calvin, "You have to be able to go through the trough while you're waiting for your next product to get hot."
Chris Penttila is a Washington, DC-based freelance journalist who covers workplace issues on her blog, Workplacediva.blogspot.com.