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Keeping the Balls Rolling

Conforming to industry and customer tastes put a happy ending on this handmade's tale.


Think you have the best product on the market? You may still have to adapt to meet the standards of your industry and customers.

Before

Jerry Swain, 36, started Swain Creations, the maker of Jer's IncrediBalls, in 2000 to sell the chocolate-covered peanut butter balls he'd made for friends since college. He offered the candies in two sizes-12 pieces per lb. for the larger size and 20 pieces per lb. for the smaller size.

During

Swain soon realized the smaller confection accounted for 95 percent of his sales, showing customers were more interested in the number of pieces than the weight. Unfortunately, the nontraditional 20-piece count meant he couldn't purchase standard tray dividers, but had to have them custom-made, bumping up manufacturing costs. Worse, the big-name retailers wouldn't bite-the product name's sexual overtones, which might have been amusing in college, had no place in high-end gourmet retailing. And when you're selling chocolate, it's the packaging, not the product, that whets the appetite. Tasting the product is actually the last thing a consumer does!

After

Today, Swain's chocolates have a new name--Jer's Handmade; a new Web site (www.iwantchocolate.com); and new, blue packaging that spotlights its delicious appeal while adding a touch of fun. The number of pieces per box has been changed to 24, adapting to the industry standard of a product count divisible by 12. Retailers from Costco to Nordstrom now carry the product. Costs are down approximately 20 percent, and 2002 sales should exceed $250,000. Moral: Even though you might have an appetizing idea, remain flexible enough to change the ingredients to fit the market.


Elizabeth J. Goodgold is CEO/chief nuancer of The Nuancing Group, a brand consulting firm in San Diego, and author of the monthly newsletter Duh! Marketing.

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This article was originally published in the October 2002 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Keeping the Balls Rolling.

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