a common observation is that most successful small businesses have a very limited range of products.

I’m not going to discuss services.

There are many reasons to limit one’s products:
1. cost of production is lower through higher volumes
2. NRE (non-recoverable engineering) is greatly reduced over the life-cycle of the company, and can be spread across the greater volume.
3. marketing is simpler: the brand message is straightforward and requires little transformation across the course of a year.
4. sales are simpler: if the business sells through salespeople or reps, the pitch is short and sweet and the ordering process is singular. If the business sells direct or through a website, maintenance and updating are less intensive.
5. accounting is simpler. one or few product types, and less ‘fuzzy’ stuff like NRE means that numbers are based on more concrete knowledge.

I’m sure there are other reasons, but those are the big ones.

As the designer for a very small business, I observe this trend frequently in the fashion world. Businesses thrive (or appear to) when they limit their product line, do it really well, and spend most of their effort on brand and sales.

unfortunately (or fortunately?), as a designer, this limiting approach is boring. The fun part of work is making new stuff.

there is a parallel aesthetic choice to simplicity. I have deliberately simplified my aesthetic over the past ten years, and the evolution of brook there, in order to allow for reproducibility and quicker customer understanding. (you can check out my earlier, visually dense, style on my flickr page: years 2001-2004)

To the outsider, it may appear that a small company like ours makes only one product:  clothes.  And while true, we make a wide range within that category: women’s dresses, shirts, coats, hoodies, skirts, yoga, lingerie; men’s shirts and tshirts. Each new pattern costs between $500 and $1000 to develop- labor costs- and the cost of that pattern, plus the subsequent samples, is spread across the garments that are actually produced for sale.  Every new style also requires photos, a web page, space on the order form…etc.

One approach to simplification we have taken is minimizing the fabric styles.  Sourcing only a few types of fabrics, and adding detail through dying and recycled trims.

however, I am frequently wondering about how to walk the line between creative output (which works best in plurality) and the simplified message that makes for an easier sale.

I haven’t figured it out yet.

Posted by:Brook DeLorme