Buy What You Need, Not What You Want

Rather interesting title for a blog posting by the founder of a fledgling company.  Wouldn’t you expect to see something like:  BUY NOW, BUY OFTEN, BUY A LOT?  Anyone who knows me at all probably knows the BUY, BUY, BUY approach is not in my personality (unless it’s for a beer or tickets to one of  my favorite bands). I think there are two reasons for this.

First, I am a strong believer in a soft sales approach.  I will introduce the value proposition of a product/service to people and let them make the decision as to whether they need or want what I am selling.  Second, buying things that you do not need or will not use is wasteful, especially if you already own something that will do the job.

When Atayne is out on the event circuit, we hear this comment a lot, “I love your stuff, but I just don’t need a new running, cycling, hiking, yoga, etc. top right now.”

Our reaction to that comment, “Great, don’t buy one.  But when you are in the market for a new top, please look us up.”

We get a lot of shocked looks when we make that statement.  I think people are straight up surprised we are almost discouraging them from buying something from us.  But I strongly believe that people appreciate our values and honesty.  And I think, when the need arises, they will be back. (Or will remember us when they want to give a gift to a loved one.)

This whole buy what you need, not what you want philosophy not only applies to consumers.  There is a business model version of it: make what you need to sell, not what you want to sell.  To explain what I mean, let’s first take a look at the apparel industry.

Consider one of the most ubiquitous apparel items, jeans.  I would go out on a limb and say that 99.9% of Americans own jeans.  In fact, I have seen numbers that estimate 450 million new pairs of jeans are sold in the US each year.  That is about 1.5 pairs of jeans per year for every man, woman, child, and baby in the US.

While we may meet these jeans for the first time at our favorite retailers, their life began many months earlier.  The planning process to get a new apparel item on the market can be upwards of 2 years!  Kind of crazy for something as simple as a pair of jeans.  But here is the thing.  There is a lot of “guess” work that goes into creating these jeans.

  • What will be in style when they hit the market?
  • What colors will people want?
  • What cut and fit will people want?
  • What sizes will sell best?
  • How many people will buy these jeans?

These questions just scratch the product development and planning surface, but I use them to illustrate a point. There is a lot of guesswork that goes into making a product.  And as much as fashion and apparel experts would like to think otherwise, it is very hard to predict the future.

You may have never considered how this current system creates a lot of problems. (I hadn’t until I started Atayne.) One of the problem I am personally most concerned with is waste.  Regardless of how good your planning is you will end up creating products that people do not need or want.  This is not only a waste of money for the company, but also a waste of energy and resources that impacts all of us.  These are costs we can’t continue to afford; experts say we would need 3 planet earths to keep up with our current consumption rate.  That figure could like change if we got more efficient or responsible with our consumption habits.

So how do we create a less wasteful product development and manufacturing system?  The answer is simple, though the application is hard.  Don’t make something until someone has bought it. Other industries do it to some degree (made to order food, Dell computers in the early days, etc.), but the concept has not taken off with apparel.

As a new entrant into the apparel space, the one thing I have learned is the current system is far from capable of elegantly handling a “just in time” solution.  I plan on changing this fact.  As we continue to grow at Atayne, our goal is to move toward a just in time manufacturing process.  The end goal might look something like this:

  • A customer places an order through our web store
  • The product is manufactured using a small supply of materials on hand
  • Customer receives the product about a week later
  • Atayne re-orders fabric and other production supplies as needed

It is about as close as you can get to zero waste manufacturing.

As you can (or maybe can’t) imagine, this is no easy task and it will take us a while to get there.  But we are continually working to delay steps in our production process until something is ordered.  Here are a couple things we are working on:

With the launch of our fall line and new graphics we are moving to a just in time printing process.  This has many benefits to us as a small company beyond eliminating waste by avoiding printing graphics on shirts that people may not buy.  It also allows us to offer a variety of graphics while keeping our inventory low.  This is important in helping us manage our cash flow but still be able to offer a wide selection.  When our web store launches in just a few short days, we will offer over 800 gender/ style/ size/ color/ graphic combinations.  Not bad for an under-capitalized start-up in its second year of production!!!

The next step we are working on is to delay the color dyeing of garments until as close to the point of ordering as possible.  Right now when we buy our fabrics, we have to decide what colors we want to sell 6 months beforehand.  This not only takes some guess work, but also limits our ability to offer a variety of colors because there are minimum fabric quantities by each color.  We are working toward a system where we can buy un-dyed fabric, cut and sew our garments, and later dye them in small batches.  This will enable us to be more efficient in how we purchase fabric and offer more colors.  As an added bonus, the dye house we are talking with offers a procedure that will enable us to avoid using dye carriers.  Those are nasty chemicals that are often used to dye synthetic yarns.  By eliminating these, we will make our apparel even safer for people and the planet.

When I talk to investors and others in the industry about my plans to transform the current model, I get a lot of eye rolling and often hear the question, “What makes you think a pipsqueak like Atayne can solve this problem when the giants of the industry have hundreds of millions to throw at the problem?”

My answer is the same every time:

“You cannot solve a problem from the same consciousness that created it.”

-Albert Einstein

5 responses to “Buy What You Need, Not What You Want

  1. Great philosophy and attitude. Thanks. I’ll keep your company in mind.

  2. That is a fantastic quote!

  3. Pingback: This Holiday Season, Practice Responsible Consumption « The Story of a Red Shirt

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