In our industry, the term “new product” gets tossed around a lot. I hear it mostly in emails from vendors, and it typically sounds something like this: “Check out the new products we’ve just added…” And it’s followed by a guitar strap, a clip-on tuner, etc. These certainly aren’t new products for the industry, so I think what they mean is they’ve got products in their lineup that are new to them. Sometimes the pitch shows a low price for the new items, and as a retailer, low prices can be tempting. We’ve bought a few of those lower-priced offerings over the years, but usually we buy them only once. A lower-price offering on common accessories often (not always, but often) translates into lower quality or decreased attractiveness to the consumer.

Over the years, I’ve developed an axiom for what it takes to launch a successful new product. I’ve pitched this idea to other retailers and to some of my reps and vendors, and since I’ve received general across-the-board agreement on this axiom, I’m going to throw it out here, and go over two ways it applies to our stores. For good or ill, here it is:

There are only three ways to offer a new product that will sell successfully. (For the sake of this axiom, all products will be presumed to be desirable by consumers.)

  1. The product is unique. Truly nothing else like it is on the market, so when the product hits, it has no direct competition.
  2. The product is the same as existing products, but with a significant improvement in quality or functionality.
  3. The product is exactly the same as an existing product in all regards (including quality), but it is significantly less expensive.

So, to successfully introduce a new product, it needs to be desirable and either unique, better or less expensive in comparison to existing products. We get products pitched to us in these three ways pretty much every day of our retail lives.

Think about your accessories. Every supplier you have is offering guitar cables, just one example from a long list of staple accessories. When a new cable offering comes your way, the manufacturers make pitches along these three lines. The cable they want you to buy this week is different from all others, or better than all others, or it’s a screaming bargain (buy 10, get 10 free). The shielding is better, they’ve added a kill switch, it’s not made in China, it has a lifetime warranty, it has a prettier outer sleeve, the tips are plated with Kryptonite, it’s handmade by garden gnomes, etc. For this new cable to succeed in the industry, it needs to be unique, better or less expensive. For it to be successful in your store, it may have to only be one of those three things in comparison to the products that you already stock.

Thinking about these three ways a product can be successful can help you when picking new inventory for the store. You can modify those three qualifications and use them when adding new products. Let’s say you already stock five SKUs of guitar polish. You’ve selected them carefully. One is a general cleaner, one is pure polish with no abrasives, etc. Each one fills a different need. If you’re thinking of adding a new line of polish, ask yourself — will it be unique in your lineup, or better than the other products, or more cost-effective? If all three of those answers are ‘no,’ then you’re duplicating what you already have, and the product may not increase sales. It may just spread the same sales across a wider number of SKUs.

If the items you’re thinking of adding are attractive because they fall into the “less-expensive” category, let me add one caveat to that success method: The item has to be less expensive without sacrificing quality of function or construction. Remember, the third successful product qualification included the new product being “exactly the same as the existing product in all regards,” so don’t lose sight of that when cost becomes a factor. If you can get an identical cable for 30-percent less, that’s great for you. If you get a cable that’s 30-percent less because the manufacturer cut corners on materials and construction, you’ve just bought a future roster of disappointed customers.

So, we can use these three descriptions of a successful product when stocking our stores, but I mentioned we’d find another use for this axiom, so here it is: Apply this axiom to our actual retail stores. To draw in customers, and especially to draw in repeat customers, I think our stores themselves have to fit one of those three methods.

Our stores have to offer retail shoppers something unique, something better or something less expensive — or a combination of all three. Trying to base a retail store on selling the lowest-priced stuff would be a waste of time and money. The race to the bottom has already been won by the internet. Trying to bring in customers based on having the lowest prices is an arena I think would be best left to Amazon and other price-based internet sellers.

The first method should suit our stores well, though. Let’s focus on selling items that are different from other stores in our area, and different from what our customers saw in our stores the last time they were in. When a customer says, “What’s new?,” we should be able to pick up a recent product addition and say, “This!” There are certain stores in my area I don’t go into any more, because the last three or four times I went in, I saw exactly the same items as on all the other visits. There’s nothing interesting to see any longer, nothing new, nothing novel. I already know what they stock, and it doesn’t change. An item doesn’t have to be unique in the industry to be unique in our area.

The second method is to have products that are improved; better than similar products. Going back to our guitar cable example, maybe a $15 guitar cable is your bread and butter, but remember not everyone likes bread and butter. Maybe you should stock a few $50 cables. If they sell, restock them. Change up your string selection. Keep the bread-and-butter strings, but try a few boxes of something that strikes you as improved or unique. If you stock EJ16s, also stock EXP16s, and tell your customers why they should try them. If you stock Regular Slinkys, also stock the Pardigms. Be ready to tell your Slinky customer why he should try a set. Try something totally different, and stock something like MJC Ironworks strings. They’re corrosion resistant and come packed in a cool can. Your store may be the only one in the area that is stocking these newer varieties of strings, and that may be all it takes to make your store a destination.

There are a lot of other examples, but do something to add some uniqueness to your store. Make your store a place with new things, novel things, different guitars than what your customer saw the last time they were in, better products, and be ready to tell the story of those products when your regular customers come in. Make your store the kind of place your customers look forward to coming back to, to see what’s new and cool and different from the other stores.

Happy trails.

No more articles