Time was, watches, mops and sofas enjoyed life spans exceeding that of a new Madonna movie. But then, along came IKEA, Swatch and Swiffer to say hey, it's OK to cast off once-enduring commodities.
We Americans crave items that allow us to do more, go faster or look stylish. In a land of plenty, where the garbage collector shields us from viewing our largesse, companies are quickly hopping on the planned-obsolescence bus. Mitchell Goozé, author of The Secret to Selling More: It's Not Where You've Been Looking, If It Were, You'd Have Found It Already (IMI), says the trend is driven by our short attention spans. "A 'long time' in the U.S. is two years," explains Goozé.
Ever at the forefront of innovation, entrepreneurs are finding ways to make their products-even those that don't seem like obvious contenders-members of the ephemeral class. One way to do this, Goozé says, is to "make people more comfortable that it's OK to dispose of items." Goozé cites Old Navy as an example of a retailer that gets the trend-the clothes are so affordable, customers don't feel guilty tossing them after their 15 minutes of fashion expires. For higher-priced, more durable items, Goozé recommends entrepreneurs adopt a Xerox approach: Give customers an incentive to trade in and up by offering a good value for an old machine.
Another strategy is to "package products in smaller, user-friendly, throw-away containers," says Kathy Peterson, president of Kathy Peterson Productions Inc. in Tequesta, Florida. A crafts designer, author and TV show host who shows consumers how to make their own projects, Peterson says her industry has eagerly embraced the use-it, dispose-it movement with items ranging from disposable paintbrushes to no-mess paint pens.
Meanwhile, Mother Earth-minded entrepreneurs would be wise to start thinking about where all those landfill-lovin' wares will alight. There's bound to be gold in them thar hills of garbage.