Socially Proactive Business is bigger than Acholi Beads. In an effort to remove some of the barriers that people face in entering this sort of business, and also to invite discussion and advice, I’m open-sourcing our business model. This continuing series, Open Circle, will share many of the challenges we have faced and the best practices we’ve established for making Acholi Beads successful on both sides of the world.
After choosing your partners and a local visionary, your choice of what product to make and sell is the next critical decision. The key to choosing and developing a product is that it should stand on its own in the target market. That is, regardless of the story behind it, people want to buy it because it’s just that attractive.
Acholi people, our partners in Acholi Beads, have a great sense of style. The challenge is that it’s very different from American style, so how do we work with them to create jewelry that Americans love? Here’s a quick plan that can help you identify and develop a great product that can be produced by people in a culture that is very different from the target culture.
1) Find a product you believe the American market will love, and that your partners will be able to produce, and bring it back to the States to test. (If you can’t narrow it down to one product, bring five and see which works best.) Ask your friends if they like it; get a booth at a local festival and try selling it; go to a local boutique and ask them if they’d like to stock it. If it is a total bust, try something else, otherwise…
[Alternately, find a product that Americans already love that you believe your partners will be able to produce, like beanies.]
2) Use the feedback from the market to improve the product. Consider designs, colors, and materials that will make it more attractive to the American market. Be creative! Don’t hem yourself into traditional designs. Remember, the most important thing is to create a successful product. Make new ones, sell them, and get more feedback, etc.
3) Give your partners in the developing world very specific design parameters. Remember, they have never been to America so you are their only window through which to view the American market. They want to make successful products, so teach them what Americans love.
4) Continually innovate with your partners. Keep your product fresh and developing over time by changing colors or patterns and by introducing new designs.
5) Once you have a product that works, focus on it. Get great at it. Build a brand around it. Don’t branch out to new products too soon.