|Hit a sales wall, now what?|
I've been running a business for about 5 years now, where we basically offer RF technology type products that we manufacture ourselves. These products mainly include antennas and other accessories for radio hobbyists. The products are fairly unique, as most are not offered by larger companies, and tend to focus on a niche market.... Basically, if I see a few people say they wish they had such and such, I try and make it. We've also started to dabble in products for commercial applications, such as the transportation industry and government. We've grown each year since I started, approximately doubling our sales each year. The problem is, I think we've hit a wall. Since the beginning I've used the most basic methods for self promotion... Posting on related email lists and forums, looking for back links on related directory sites and complimentary biz sites... I think we've done a good job at getting the word out, but it's still not enough. It's to the point now where we are at a very pivotal position... We get just enough business to create a maximum level of responsibility, yet not quite enough to really make it feel like we've made it. If there was a way to break out and get those extra sales, I think it would make the difference and justify the effort.
I think our prices are reasonable... People always want things cheaper of course, but we price fairly competitively, so I don't think that's the problem. I'm wondering if using non-internet based promotions would help? Maybe some magazine ads? Sometimes I wonder if we're not doing anything wrong at all, and there just simply isn't enough market segment to warrant the kind of sales we're looking for. That would lead back to trying to break into more corporate type sales instead of individual hobbyists. But that's really a whole different ball game, and I'm honestly not sure how to approach that. We've been contacted a few times by people involved with gov/mil procurement, but they were fairly low level. When it comes to that kind of stuff, I get the feeling your image starts to matter a lot more than when you're selling to private individuals. I worry that our image may be a bit too small-time for those types of customers. Maybe that's unfounded though.
Sometimes I do think there's more room for growth with hobbyists as well though, because I will often see people ask for advice on what product to buy for a certain application, and our company rarely gets mentioned by the people who answer... Not as much as I'd like to see anyway. Sometimes I think it's really hard to get customers to break out of old habits and try something new... I guess I'm looking for the secret that makes you become that 'go to' company for certain products, to the point where when people ask for advice on where to get something, other people refer them to us a good portion of the time. I see other companies that do get that kind of rep, but it's just not us yet.
At this point, I'm just looking for suggestions I guess.
Thanks for any ideas,
hobby / corporation: I have sold 15000 safety widgets to the British Army in Kuwait and I was by myself - no employees. Requested a wire transfer and it was in the bank 4 days after and 5 weeks later the widgets were delivered.
It doesn't matter these days how big / small you are, as long as you can deliver and inspire confidence.
Maybe your image does not inspire confidence.
Sometimes price can affect an image. A too low price can suggest a home made solution vs a solid trusted product.
Steady growth is good for business, it enables the business to allocate resources for forseen growth. Fast growth can lead to growing pain such as cash flow, lower profit margin even eventual collapse if not properly managed.
There are two types of marketting:
- Conventional: Corporation has gobs of money and runs a multi million dollar add.
- Guerilla: Small guy/ corporation with little cash but lots of time to think up of ways to get noticed and generate sales.
I believe you and I fall in the Guerilla category.
Running adds can be effective if well tergetted or futile if it is run for too short a period of time or is poorly targetted. For me at this point running adds would be a sure way to drops bundles of money with little Return On Investment.
Have you considered a pay per click campaign? It can be measured for effectiveness and does not need to be costly.
Have you considered posting new products regularely on the lists you speak of? Say, 1 new product / month?
Feeling like you've made it? You won't feel like you've made it... ever.
I had the blues the other day - it happens when working by myself for extended periods of time and sought advice from an olf friend. He replied, you've got food on the table? The bank is OK, your business is growing? What else do you want?
Self starters and entrepreneurs, seldom sit back and tell themselves they made it. We are making it ... NOW!
You are talking about branding. Every product you make, print your name on it in BIG letters. Think TOMMY HILLFIGURE - The letters are so big, there's little room for a sweater underneath.
I'm not sure if it will comfort you but branding can take 20 years or more. Unless you got gobs of money - Think Apple IPod - 4 years.
I think that's your problem. What's the average age of your customers?
|I will often see people ask for advice on what product to buy for a certain application, and our company rarely gets mentioned by the people who answer |
Perhaps you and your employees need to be the ones answering those questions. You don't have make it completely one-sided either, mention yours and a competing product, just become the defacto go-to guy and then you may become the go-to company.
How do you think so-called experts get that label?
They just answer lots of questions and provide a lot information, usually as easy as that.
Start a newsletter, forum or blog (maybe all 3!) and get people to subscribe.
Because you don't seem to have the answers you need it's probably time to find out and then make an action plan to be THAT place they go with WHAT they want every time. Start a SURVEY and ask everyone you encounter online, on the phone or in person a) where (else) they go, b) what (else) they look for, c) and why they go to those places over you such as price, quality, branding, whatever.
Not that hard to do if you really want to do it.
[edited by: incrediBILL at 2:46 am (utc) on July 9, 2007]
You make good points palain... I think you hit the nail on the head with your example order... I don't think there's any reason why we shouldn't be selling in large quantities for gov/mil applications. The products are pretty much already there, they just need to be changed a little and morphed into a "pro" type version... ie: beefier, better components and so on. I think the biggest problem is my perception of what I thought was involved. I pictured endless testing and bureaucracy when dealing with the government, but I'm starting to see you're right... It's not as bad as it use to be. The government also seems to be ripe for the purchasing of innovative products right now. The tricky part will be not alienating the hobbyists, while at the same time, trying to create more of a professional image for the pro market, and somehow doing both.
As for the age range, we are all over the place. Mostly male of course, but it can be anywhere between teens and retired.
|As for the age range, we are all over the place. Mostly male of course, but it can be anywhere between teens and retired |
The average age of a ham radio operator is probably about 60 now. Decades ago nearly every high school in the country had a radio club; now almost none do.
I've noticed that Radio Shack has virtually stopped selling electronic components lately (resistors, ICs etc) Heathkit shut down 20 years ago.
Building computers was popular in the late '70s and '80s. I don't think our high school even has a computer club these days.
As an electronic hobbyist, I know the group is OLD! i guess there's some interest in robotics nowadays, but that's about it.
>> As an electronic hobbyist, I know the group is OLD! i guess there's some interest in robotics nowadays, but that's about it.
Hello? What about the PC hobbyist? Pretty booming business from what I see. Maybe not down to the component level but there's certainly a active sales business in assemblies like mother boards and video cards!
Yeah, I guess there's some interest too in overclocking if you call that "electronics."
Once there were several BLOCKS in NYC solid with stores selling military surplus electronics. I knew a man who built his own TV camera around 1960. He scrounged a used camera tube from a local TV station and wound the transformer to go around it with 20,000 turns of wire!
When I was a kid, I knew several old guys who were just like "Doc Brown" in Back to The Future.
Hams yes, that's an older group. But we sell ham products the least. We sell numerous items specifically designed for various government and commercial band monitoring, WiFi, DTV, MURS, GMRS.
MURS: Multi-Use Radio Serice
GMRS: General Mobile Radio Service
Wasnt familiar with those terms. Wikipedia as usual has plenty of info
DTV, meaning Digital on Air TV. Which many people refer to as HDTV, but that's misleading... Not all of the content is HDTV. I'm also looking to offer a couple products for the new Digital FM Radio, which seems to be gaining some momentum.
I think interest in electronics is dieing out.
As jsinger mentions people enjoy overclocking their PC, but little else. My cousin had a crytsl radio set for his birthday whihc I put together for him. I don't think people are interested in electronics like they once were.
I still enjoy having a tinker with various things (mostly seeing what i can power using solar and wind), and still spend hours in Maplin (big UK electronics score), but haven't got the time for much more.
Radio has never really appealed to me, but I know of one person who used to use it a lot, but again time now prevents much in this way of things.
Dunno, if too much OT, but I believe there is a huge forthcoming market with electronics built into clothing and accessoires of any kind.
Mobile phones, for instance, have become so small, they might be comfortably integrated into watches. Supply me with a chique belt containing an additional accumulator for my notebook: I'd immediately buy it. If I am informed correctly, such an accumulator might even be built into your shoes with a piezzo-generator loading it, while you are walking.
Think of school-children cheating tests by communicating via some bluetooth applications secretely built into their shirt-sleeves. The RFID-technology, by means of which in the near future you will do your supermarket-checkout on your own, definitely demands some hacker tools hidden in a button;)
As I mentioned elsewhere, I want access to the information stored in the internet wherever I am, if ever possible without carrying two kilograms of electronics under my arm: I expect my notebook sooner or later be integrated into my glasses. At current state with a mousepad on my belt and a keyboard built into my sleeves, but maybe a more innovative interface might even directly read my brain-waves and transform it into action.
Just some few spontaneous ideas. Electronics is far from dying out.
|Electronics is far from dying out. |
If the iPhone had been invented 50 years ago some hobbyists would have copied it using vacuum tubes. LOL
Is Popular Electronics still published?
Viz starting a newsletter, get someone to write a nice 100 page ebook with information your target audience is interested in. Put it on your website (make web pages about twice as long as print pages) and most important require registration to get the free pdf version. Should only cost you a few thousand to set it up and will get you lots of exposure in google and lots of registrations that you can send your (opt in but pre-checked :-) ) newsletter to.
Thanks... That's a very good idea.