Business > Merchant Voice

Book review: Custom Nation

If you sell online, you can customise online, and if you don’t, you’re leaving money on the table.

So says Anthony Flynn, creator of the customised energy bar company, You Bar, and his co-writer sister Emily Flynn Vencat.

Flynn writes a compelling case in his book Custom Nation (BenBella Books, 2012) why brands like Zazzle, Threadless and PersonalNovel have created enormously profitable businesses by introducing customised products and services.

He points out that customised aka “bespoke” items were once the province of only the very rich. They ordered bespoke clothing, perfume, jewellery, furniture, decor, homes, cars and holidays – and they still do.

The only difference is now, many customised products for all of these products and services, and more, can be ordered quickly, cheaply and effectively online.

Flynn said after industrialisation brought mass-produced items to well, the general public, the exclusivity of customised products only increased their prestige.

And then a number of things happened which has led to an explosion in customise-it-yourself (CIY) businesses.

Fast internet connection, cheaper website design, increased confidence in online purchasing, widespread internet access, niche advertisng and fully automated shipping software made it possible for a product of one to be ordered and shipped.

The disposable, in-built redundant quality of mass production has lost its appeal, Flynn argues and as people strive to become more environmentally friendly and to create less waste, it makes perfect business sense to allow customers to build exactly what they want.

Customers value their own time and effort in creating something from scratch and therefore are less likely to carelessly throw it away.

Flynn illustrates how CIY products offer new and existing brands free publicity, higher prices for comparable mass-produced items, free market research, a bigger slice of the gift market, repeat sales with lower return rates, a stronger online presence, a way to sell to customers without upsetting your retailers, greater customer loyalty and more sales. Included in this section is a sample press release CIY retailers could use, along with the one he sent out which promoted a new YouBar with bacon bits.

He offers an exhaustive list of businesses in different countries which sell CIY items online using custom design tools. When he wrote this book last year, there were 87 of these websites alone selling t-shirts, with cars, shirts, giftware and bags making up the top five categories.

Flynn mentions three service providers who can create a configuration tool for customers to make their own products; one charges over $100K, another for about $10K, and a third which takes a percentage of your customised sales. I had hoped he would provide a comprehensive list of these types of providers but it was missing.

Customisation can run from something as simple as M&Ms’ wording on and colour choice of their chocolate candy (“Happy birthday darling”) to Ford offering customised cars. But the opportunities to create something unique for our customers are there for all of us.

Elizabeth Hollingsworth
Elizabeth Hollingsworth
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