Let me start with a little behind-the-scenes information. Those of you who have been long-term followers of the blog might remember seeing a comment Liesl made a year or two ago about this. For others this may be news.
We do a lot of things here in the studio with a very lean team. We produce Oliver + S patterns, Liesl + Co. patterns, and Straight Stitch Society patterns. Liesl designs Lisette patterns and works with Butterick to develop them. She designs fabric collections under different brands for different markets, and she does instructional videos and teaches workshops. That’s a lot of balls to keep in the air for two people and a group of freelancers.
We do all of these things because we’ve found that no single product, brand, or activity produces enough income to allow us to have a sustainable business. Oliver + S patterns pay Liesl’s salary and mine and provide our health insurance. Patterns from our other brands cover overhead costs. Fabric collections pay for our freelance help. And so on.
The fact that no individual brand or product provides a majority of our revenue means that we need to choose where to focus our product development time so that it will provide the best return on our investment. If we invest too much time in product development for a brand or category that is stagnating, we will need to rob Peter to pay Paul when invoices come due each month.
This also means we need to be extremely careful about agreeing to take on new opportunities that come our way. We find that we have to say “no, thank you” to many opportunities that we are approached with because we don’t see that the market or revenue potential justifies the time we would need to invest. We also have to say “no” to ourselves a lot. There are projects we would like to work on that we don’t believe the market will support. As much as we would enjoy working on some of these things, we just can’t justify doing it if we want to maintain a fiscally sound business.
That’s why we’re taking very seriously the answers you gave us to the question, “If you could choose the types of patterns we were to develop over the next year, rank the following in order of your preference.” Here’s what you told us you want to see us develop, in order from most desired to least desired.
- Girls to age 12
- Women, sizes 0 to 20
- Boys to age 12
- Non-apparel projects
- Women, sizes 16-34
We weren’t surprised at the order of the top three items on the list. Our Oliver + S girls patterns always sell well (better than our boys patterns), and our Liesl + Co. patterns for women have been building a following since we started producing them. Your responses underscore what our sales tell us. This makes us feel confident that we’ve spent the last year developing the right mix of products.
We were somewhat surprised, though, by the order of the three items at the bottom of the list. We’ve been seeing market activity that was leading us to believe there was enough interest in plus-sized women’s apparel patterns to justify moving into that field. We had placed that on our plans for later this year and next.
But so many fewer of our customers were interested in that category than were interested in seeing us do men’s patterns or more patterns like our Straight Stitch Society brand that we have decided not to invest right now in expanding our Liesl + Co. sizing beyond size 20. We’re not writing off this idea completely. Maybe with future growth of the Liesl + Co. brand enough demand will develop that this will become more of an opportunity for us to pursue.
We also gave you the opportunity to write-in things that you would like to see us develop. Some of the more frequently mentioned suggestions we received included the following:
- Patterns for girls over 12
- More patterns for boys
- More patterns for knits
- More challenging patterns
- A blazer pattern
Most of these things, unfortunately, fall into the category of “It’s a great idea, but we can’t justify doing it right now.” We don’t see that market demand for patterns for tween and early-teen girls is large enough to support us moving into creating patterns for it. The situation is similar for patterns for boys. We will continue to develop Oliver + S patterns for boys, but until our sales start to show us that more people are purchasing them, boys patterns will continue to be outnumbered by the volume of girls and unisex patterns we release.
We often hear from our most dedicated customers that they would love to see us release a four scissors pattern. We also hear from people pretty regularly who would like us to do a blazer pattern for boys. Again, these are good ideas, and we would love to be able to add both of these things to our line. The truth, however, is that we don’t see enough market demand for either to justify developing them. We wish that we had the ability to do items like this. They would add to the diversity of the line and provide new challenges for those of you who want them. But, again, unless we’re confident that an item will sell at a level that justifies the expense we have to undertake to develop it, we just can’t let ourselves move forward when we know we will see more success developing other items.
But we won’t say no to everything or say no to these ideas forever. Developing more knit patterns is an interesting idea. We follow the market for knit fabric. A few years ago, there was a rapid, significant increase in cotton costs. This caused fabric prices to rise across the board and forced manufacturers to pull back significantly on the amount of knit fabrics they were producing. Cotton prices have since fallen, and we’re seeing more knit lines appearing again. This allowed us to do the Parachute Polo shirt for our most recent release. If the selection of knit fabrics available continues to increase, we will be there to produce more patterns that make use of knits.
Deciding how we allocate our product development time is perhaps as much art as it is science. We have numbers and can get feedback (like your responses to our survey) to point us in one direction or another. But there are times when we decide we’re going to take a risk and try something new because people might like it when they see it. That’s what Liesl is doing right now. She’s in the midst of a big project that we will be releasing next fall. It’s not a typical sewing pattern, but we think you’ll be excited about it. It’s something she has really wanted to do for a long time now, and we’ve decided to go ahead with it even though we have no way of determining how strong demand will be for it. We’re really hoping it will be a hit….