Many brands, and their founders, dream of creating their own unique, custom products, packaging and supplies. It’s a great way to differentiate your company in a crowded marketplace. But customization comes with a price.
So, when is the best time to shift from off-the-shelf to custom creations? It’s part science and part instinct.
Well before you’re ready to go custom, you should be getting prepared. That means identifying the basic supplies that your brand utilizes the most in addition to those that are most critical to your success. Start seeking out vendors who can create custom versions for you and find out the minimum orders. By the time you’re close to purchasing the minimum quantities, you’ll want to be ready to go custom. And before you get there, you have a lot of work to do. I’ll share more on this in just a moment.
Trusting Your Instinct
Going ‘custom’ is a risk. In most cases, when working with suppliers and vendors you will need to make a large financial guarantee on something that you haven’t even produced yet. Depending on lead times and volume, you may also be creating long-term supply; this includes less flexibility for making changes. The best place to start, with lower risk, is to start customizing widely used, everyday supplies. But regardless, there is risk and you have to be ready to take it.
Doing the Work
Customization requires a hefty time commitment to research and development (R&D). You’re no longer picking something from a catalog, that exists today. Customizing certain aspects of your product, packaging and supplies sounds exciting, but it requires working with designers, engineers, manufacturers and others to ensure you’re creating something that works while being a strong representation of your brand. Depending on the complexity, the R&D of a single supply could take weeks to months or even more. Factor in the design and development timelines before making promises to deliver the goods.
At Edible Arrangements, I wanted to go custom from day one. Of course that wasn’t possible, so we started with a plan to get there. At the beginning, I would buy items that were abundantly available (and affordable). Then I shifted to standard from the off-the-shelf items as our business started to blossom.
When we started growing quickly, I hand-picked key supplies that were most important to us such as fruit skewers (for food safety) and containers and packaging (for the branding impact they had on our customers). Eventually all of our products’ packaging and supplies shifted over to custom creations.
It took time, patience and commitment to make this happen. And there were a lot of lessons learned about product development and inventory management along the way. In fact, a custom shark container, that I was sure would be a hit back in 2004, may still be sitting on a few Edible Arrangements store shelves today.
This article has been edited and condensed.
Kamran Farid is the co-founder and former Chief Operating Officer of Edible Arrangements® International, the creators of fresh fruit bouquets and fruit hand dipped in gourmet chocolate. Over fifteen years he was instrumental in growing the brand from one store in East Haven, Connecticut to over 1,300 stores in 14 countries and counting. Farid has a depth of expertise in building a brand from infancy into a global powerhouse. His newest venture, Kamran Capital Group, aims to help small businesses grow smarter. Connect with @kamranf on Twitter.
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