The Secrets To Branding Your Product with Tracy Hazzard
There are many layers to a brand. One of the important layers is making sure that the product is designed and packaged the right way so that you can stand out, get noticed, and attract the types of customers you’re looking for. In this episode, branding expert Tracy Hazzard shares the secret to creating and designing products. With over 25 years of innovation experience, Tracy has ghost designed 250-plus products and 37 patents that have brought $2 billion worth of retail sales to small and large design leading brands. Branding your product is all about getting the customer to see your product. Today, Tracy dives into the importance of market and brand focus, as well as understanding who you are at the core and who your target customer is.
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The Secrets To Branding Your Product with Tracy Hazzard
I am so excited because I have as my special guest the incredible Tracy Hazzard. Before I introduce Tracy to you, you should know that in the world of branding, you can brand a product, a service, a nonprofit, you can brand a company or you can brand yourself. One of the areas that is of most concern to people is how do you brand a product? How do you take what you have and ramp it up? As you get to know me, I talk a lot about how there are many layers to a brand. One of the important layers is making sure that the product is designed and then packaged the right way so that you can stand out, get noticed and attract the types of customers you’re looking for.
The person who is my first guest interview is Tracy Hazzard. She is the Cofounder of Hazz Design and Podetize Inc. She is also a columnist and the cohost of some very top-notch podcasts. Feed Your Brand, Product Launch Hazzards, WTFFF?! 3D Printing and The New Trust Economy and her brand cast stream of strategize content reaches over a hundred thousand listeners and viewers each month. What’s also so great about Tracy is that she’s got over 25 years of innovation experience. She has ghost designed 250-plus products and 37 patents that have brought $2 billion worth of retail sales to small and large design leading brands. In our voyage together through all of these, I’m going to be bringing in the very best of the best. I cannot think of anyone who is more deserving of being known as not just an expert in her field, but a true authority. All my Big Brand Formula podcast readers, let’s welcome Tracy Hazzard. How are you doing, Tracy?
I’m great. Thank you so much. I’m honored to be your second guest. Most people are nervous about coming too early, but I know you so I know this is going to be great and being one of the first guests is an honor.
You are my first guest because how else could I kick off this podcast than having you? Tracy, let’s set things up for our readers. What do you want them to know about you and the work you do?
This is a thing. I’m a designer, so most people think I’m going to come in there. I’m going to talk all product stuff to them. I’m going to be about my thing. You and I both know that I don’t believe in that, that I’m the opposite of that. I believe in market and brand focus first. When you get those things right, when you understand your brand, who you are at a core, who your company is, who your audience is, you understand those two things. You bring them together, I can make any product when I know that. I can design anything. It makes my job easy.
What’s the secret to that? Out in the world, we’ve got millions of small business owners, we’ve got entrepreneurs, solopreneurs, mom and pops, independent professionals. We’ve got all these different people out there who have great talents and skills for a personal brand as well as services. You’ve got your product manufacturers and your resellers and that whole crowd. What do you want to say? Let’s start off with the product manufacturers. What would you say are the main things that are most important to them when it comes to this whole thing called product design for a rock star world-class brand?
People who are focused on the product, whether you’re the manufacturer or you’re an inventor with that mindset. You’re the idea people, you’re the product people, you’re the creatives in the world and I absolutely love you, but you get caught up in that and you forget that it has to be sold. It has to fit on a shelf. It has to be seen on Amazon or on Facebook or however you’re going to sell it. The media by which it’s going to go across is equally as important as the design of it. If you get caught up in the design and you forget to test that market side of things. You start to fall at a point at which you could be spending way too much money on your product and not enough money on your marketing and branding and you need both to come up together.
I call it market first approach. What I like to do is I call it a hypothesis brand because sometimes we think we know who we are, but we’ve never sold anything yet. If we haven’t sold anything yet, we come out there and we say, “This is what I want to be. This is who I want to be. It’s what I want my product to represent. It’s the brand identity for me. I might be wrong because when I go out there in the market, maybe the market doesn’t perceive that brand that way.” You have to go out there and test it somehow. If you’re going to go out there and test it, I don’t want you to spend a fortune putting loads and loads of product in your garage. I want you to test it in the cheapest, fastest way possible and as early as possible. If you can test that connection between the market and your product, then you might be able to amp up your brand.
I love what you’re saying here because you also stated how you want to shape perceptions. It’s all about getting the consumer to see your product. Your brand is something that’s distinctive. Share more about that.
There’s a big perception gap. I’ve written this in my Inc. Column many times. There’s a big brand perception gap, whether you’re a big company or a small company because we’re drinking our own Kool-Aid. We believe in our stuff. We believe passionately about the organic dog products we’re making or whatever that might be. We’re so passionate about it and the dogs eat the dog food and we’ve got all this research testing about how amazing that is. We forgot that a human has to agree to buy it. If we can’t reach those humans, the dogs will never be saved. The dogs will never be eating this wholesome diet. It’s not going to happen. Finding that connection and how you speak to them is important. There’s also a big perception gap in that we have to remember that 85% or more of what’s sold at mass-market retail, at consumer retail level, is bought or influenced by women. At many of our big corporations, like our big CPG, our big Consumer Product Goods companies, they’re all men in the organization and the leadership. They don’t have enough input. If they’re not out there reaching to their customers and finding out what their customers believe about them and think about them, then you have a perception gap. You think you’re great and your customers don’t.
What you’re also getting at though is that it’s okay for the product manufacturer, the owner, the founder, the president, whoever to have his or her own perceptions about what they think.
It’s because it’s what you want to put out there.
Branding Your Product: You always want to stand out, but you want to stand out just a little bit. Make sure that that’s the right amount of difference.
They also need to make sure that they’re on point in terms of putting something out there. In terms of the look and the packaging that’s going to connect with that consumer and they need to do some research to make sure that they’re on the right track.
Research is the key it’s just because we’re doing it. You and I both know that that the lovely inventors of the world, they ask their friends and family. Their friends and family say, “It’s amazing. It’s so great.” Everyone around them is surrounding them with this, “We love this.” There are two kinds. Sometimes you get the one I call them the yes men and the no men because we get the people who are all around us supporting us and then we get the people who are very worried. My dad is very worried that you’re going to go bankrupt doing this. Let me say no, it’s not any good and then you write something stupid. You have those people. Those are the people like most inventors in the world want to rise up against and prove them wrong. That’s great that you have that drive and ambition. What if they’re right? What if it’s not any good and you haven’t checked with the people who will buy it?
Checking with the people who will buy it to make sure that the brand image you put out there, that the packaging you put out there, that the products that you put out there, that that perception is the same as you intended it. They may be looking at that and going, “That doesn’t mean anything.” We see this a lot because we do work with a lot of Asian manufacturers. When you work with people from other countries and they come into America and they’re trying to sell products on an American shelf, it’s not even just the fact that sometimes they misspell stuff on their packaging and other things like that. That happens, but it is also the brand doesn’t resonate. It has dissonance with the audience and it doesn’t mean what they thought it intended to mean because it means something different in their culture.
To that point, how important is it for perhaps that manufacturer to deviate from the rest of the category? I can remember when I used to work in the citrus juice and drink industry. It was a company called TreeSweet. We used to compete with Minute Maid. It’s a black package. When you looked into that frozen case of frozen orange juice, I’m going way back, there you saw this black and orange, primarily black container, Minute Maid orange juice, whereas all the other brands were the traditional colors. How important is that to separate yourself from the competition when you’re thinking about your look?
Separation is a good thing if that’s what you intend. You need to play up what’s special about you and what you intend it to be. If that separation is for separation’s sake, it can go terribly wrong. I joke about this that there’s no packaging involved, so it’s a little clearer example. I had a couple of guys, you probably know them, from CEO space. They came to me and they said, “We’ve got this hydroponic lettuce and it’s absolutely made with less water and it’s grown with all these amazing things. We built the whole system by how it’s grown and we’re going to test it on the shelf at like a Trader Joe’s in our area. We’re going to get a side by side test. That side by side test, we’re going to sell it for $0.50 less.” I went, “Stop right there. If you’re not on par with your competitors from a pricing standpoint, from a packaging quality standpoint, from all of those things, then the first thing I think is, does it taste good? Is there something wrong with this?”
Quality level, yes. Perception-wise, if it’s giving you something that is expressing what’s special and unique about you and about your brand, then yes, go do it. If it’s just different to be different, it may not quite work there. You always want to stand out, but you want to stand out just a little bit. You don’t need to stand out a ton and separate yourself out to the point where people are questioning like, “Is this any good or have they got this completely wrong?” You want to make sure that’s the right amount of difference.
I’m glad you used the word you because the principles of design for a product carries over to the individual who wants to brand his or herself. Can you talk about that a bit?
I own a podcast network in addition to the product business that we do. In that podcast, we have over 200 podcasters or 230 or something like that. They each need to stand out in their category. How do you do that? We do that with beautiful cover art with a great name and its branding all in and of itself. The mistake that most people make is they make it about them. This is the number one thing that I tell my podcasters is you don’t name the show after yourself, don’t put your face on the cover art unless you are truly famous or unless you do it in a fun, quirky and whimsical way. We have some that they’re almost like pop-art versions of you. If they knew you, they’d know it was you. If not, it just looks like the art you bought. You can do it in that way and have a little bit of fun with it. The reason is that just like buying products, it’s about me, the reader, the shopper. It’s about my life and how I’m making it better. It’s not about you. When you’re pushing you into my face or into my ears or right there for me, I’m like, “I don’t know. It seems too much right now.” We’re in a generation that is looking for the right qualities of things. They’re looking for features and benefits. They’re looking for a lifestyle. Being all about you is not the best way to go about it. It’s not going to help you get traction.
The interesting part is that we have a study done with all the podcasts that launched and the ones that launched and do their face, their name, like that kind of thing first, they have lower growth rates than the other shows at the beginning. They can catch up if they do a lot of advertising, they have to spend more money to get traction later. If you want to do something with lower costs, if you’re trying to do something grassroots, then the best way to go about that is to be about what the audience cares about, be right there in that with them and be all about them. That is what works. It gets traction faster. It moves the product faster. It moves your show to more listeners or whatever it might be. At the end of the day, people want to reward you for knowing about them, for understanding them, for getting and believing in them and sharing with them. They want to reward you for that. When they see you have these products and you have these services, “I’m going to go buy them. I’m going to go check them out.”
I love this because I’m all about big branding. A business owner can replicate the principles, the methods and the approaches used by the big boys, the titans of branding, and you’re saying the same thing. Big companies do exactly what you just said and the small business owner can do the exact same thing in terms of looking at the market and finding out what’s most important to their buyer, what’s going to connect with their buyer as opposed to what you think is going to connect. That’s like a big disconnection.
Nowadays we’re more nimble as entrepreneurs. We’re more nimble at the small business level and there are so much less barriers to entry than there ever used to be. It’s why I have a podcast on 3D printing. It’s one of the easiest ways to create prototypes. You used to take hundreds of thousands of dollars to get through prototyping and get through all of that. Now I can do it for a few thousand easily. I can even make 3D printed product, test them in the marketplace and sell them just as is without ever tooling for anything. You can go a lot farther as a small business owner, as an inventor. You can put your brand out there in a more nimble way than the big corporations can because they still have to go through channels and justify things and have endless meetings about things. You can do that.
The mistake that we make is we make it about ourselves as the founder of something. I’m an evangelist, just like you are. I’m an evangelist for my podcasters. I’m out there looking for the things they need, what they want, the services they need, the advice they need, and I’m constantly on the search and doing what’s in their best interest. I am the spokesperson for that. At the end of the day, it’s not the Tracy Hazzard show. It’s not all about me. You do hear from me a lot and that’s good because people want to know there’s a real person behind your brand and not a bunch of lawyers or a corporation. They want to know that there are some real people who care and who are on the hook for this, who have put their livelihood into this, who have given it their all. They care about that. You have a big advantage over corporations and bigger brands now, but you’ve still got to play the game because you and I both know that the big brands have insider tracks that most small businesses don’t.
Branding Your Product: People want to know there’s a real person behind your brand and not a bunch of lawyers or a corporation.
The one example I use all the time is trying to get on the shelf at Costco, Walmart, Target or whatever. Many people think, “I’ll just keep pitching my stuff. I’ll go to this pitch fest. I’ll use one of these invention groups or I’ll go and send all these letters and product to buyers.” It’s such a mistake. You will take ten times longer to do that than it will to hire a great rep. At the end of the day, the rep knows that in order to get to the buyer, you have to get to the assistant first. They know exactly who that assistant is and exactly what makes her or him tick and how to get their attention and how to make sure that something gets on the desk of that buyer eventually so you can get invited for the meeting.
To that point, once it’s on the shelf, how do you even get noticed? How are you even seen? When I walk into grocery stores in different companies, drug stores, department stores. Let’s just say grocery stores, supermarkets and that sort of thing. I can go into certain sections, certain aisles, like the pain relief category. You look on the shell and it’s like thousands of brands and everything is a giant blur. Everything is blended in. What’s your advice to an owner who says, “I want to make sure that I stand out on the shelf. I want to make sure that in my category, in my field I get noticed.” What are your thoughts on that?
The thing is that a lot of retail does a lot of test marketing. If you want to get in Whole Foods, you’re going to have to run through a test. If you want to get in Costco, no matter how good they think you are, they do not trust themselves. They want data at the end of the day. If you’ve got good data to begin with, you’re going to be 90% there. If you already know what’s going to play, you’re going to know that Whole Foods is the right market for you. You’re going to know that’s right, and you’re going to feel confident. When you’re there, the reality is that it is hard to figure out how to do that. A lot of people pay for space. There’s a whole bunch of that that goes on, which most people don’t know about. Grocery space is paid for, shelf space is paid for. You can kick out a competitor by buying off their shelf space. There’s a whole bunch of stuff that can happen that way. It’s pretty cutthroat and nasty. Tom and I used to joke that sometimes dealing with the opposite superstores was like dealing with the mob. There was a lot of payouts going back and forth.
When I left P&G and worked for TreeSweet, they’re no longer around, but in the juice and drink industry, we were a $100 million company. We are going up against Coca Cola foods with Minute Maid. You had Tropicana. The only way to your point that we can often get onto the shelf was to buy our way in. It was cutthroat.
That’s common. Not knowing that ahead of time is dangerous. The reality is that if your margins are good for the buyer, if you’ve got good percentages that they’re going to make more money off your product than the other products, that’s the first thing that you can do. A lot of small businesses can do that. You can provide more margin because you have less overhead. If you plan your product and you design it right, and your volumes are a little low now, but if you know that when it scales up, you can offer that kind of higher volume pricing. You can go in there immediately and say, “We’re going to give you this pricing and it’s hurting us right now, but we know when you start buying 100,000 units, we’re going to be able to make that pricing work for both of us. We want to give it to you now because we want to make sure that you’re offering at a perfect price point.” This happened to Tom and I. We designed a product for a company in San Diego that’s an office chair. We designed this office chair to be at a $99 price point and it was a mesh chair. I used to work for Herman Miller, so I helped with the Aeron chair and that mesh material where you see through it and it breathes. We designed it with mesh material, with arms that flip up and were adjustable and adjustable lumbar support. It had all these crazy features for this rock bottom $99 price.
Costco also offers lower margin themselves. They accept a 15% overhead on any single product. They were the only store we could do this with because they wouldn’t overmark it up. We could give them just the right price point and be able to get this in. When we built this in and we designed it so that it was optimized perfectly so that it would price out right. It would be so hard for someone else to compete and bring it in. It stood out and it was beautiful because we knew exactly what the consumer wanted. We probably designed 800 chairs in three years. We knew what the market wanted. Sometimes Tom and I get deep in a category and that was one of them. We knew it was the perfect chair and we knew it was the perfect price point. They still tested it anyway, but it outranked every test data ever done and they were super happy and brought it in. That chair lasted for seven years in the store. They took it out for six months and they just put it back in because people missed it. It’s back in now.
They’ll put your chair in the hall of fame or something.
When you look at that, for us that’s a platinum record because that did about $20 million a year for our client. That’s an amazing seller. To get to that point, you have to know the exact things that stand out that the user cares about, not just standing out. I can dress stuff up in pink and purple and make it look wild compared to all the other black office chairs out there, but who wants that? It’s got to be a right fit for that audience. They know it because they’ve been looking for it. It’s been missing.
We’re talking about all types of products here from food products to household products.
It’s every category. It’s even services, thinking about it that way. It’s like they’re out there looking for that one thing. With services, it’s more of a word thing than it is a visual thing. Out there with this, this is the one feature I’ve been missing and I’d been looking for. It could be anything that you’re doing that is setting yourself apart from the other that is giving you that unique specialty that makes you, you.
I love it because I call that the set you apart quality. I love that your customers can fall in love with because they want to experience that brand itself.
The set you apart quality, I love that because it’s not setting you apart for your sake. It’s doing it for the consumer’s sake. I’m not in it for me. I’m in it for my audience. I’m in it for my listeners. I’m in it for my consumers. I’m in it for them. I have their best interests at heart and it shows. At the end of the day, to me, it’s the brand integrity that’s deeply embedded through everything that you do. Which is why to me, I’d rather not design the product until I know you have a brand integrity in place, that you know your market and you know who you want to be to that market. I can design you anything.
Branding Your Product: Most people today don’t need design. They just need styling or sourcing.
Let me ask you this question because this is another one of your areas of expertise is Amazon. Over the years, you’ve got so many product people now who want to get their products on Amazon. What are your thoughts about that from a package design standpoint? As you know, and you and I have talked about this, you’ve got people who are taking products and putting it into a plastic bag and expect to make a fortune because it’s on Amazon.
I’m okay with that if you’re testing a version or if you’re testing a product. One of the great examples is someone came to me and they wanted me to design them this special juicer blender. That’s a huge, expensive undertaking. You’re redesigning a motor, you’re designing a whole housing. I said to her, “Instead, go out there and find a juicer and a blender that already exists on the market. Put a brown box on it, put your label on it. It doesn’t have to be super fancy. Just go out there and test the sales of it and get 100 consumers or 1,000 consumers and sell this other thing to them. When you have those consumers, now we can have a conversation about what they want in their product. Now we can have a more deeply embedded conversation and you learned I can access the market. I can attract them, I can sell them something, even if it’s not the thing I want to sell them. I can sell them something and I know how that marketing works.
When you do that, you’re creating a dialogue with the right market for yourself. I love an Amazon first approach for that, that’s why I’m a proponent of it. If you were to distribute it all yourself, figure out how to get it out to them and deliver it to them, you’re inventing too many things in the system and Amazon already has that. They already have shoppers. You don’t have to look for shoppers. They already have people looking in that category. You don’t have to learn how to push ads and you don’t have to do some things on it, but you only have to focus on that side of things. You don’t have to focus on all these other things that you need to learn how to do. After you’ve got that right and then your products are right, and that is working, now you can add that great package component, amping it up every time.
Where does the brand strategy work with the product design? There are a lot of layers of branding. How do you weave in and what’s the sequence, what do you do first? What’s your advice to our readers?
I treat branding like it’s over here on its own. I have a process that I call the seven P process that I operate on all the time. It’s always a check back into the branding. It’s always like every time you finish the stage, you go back to the branding and check and then you go back to the branding and check and then re-inform it and move on to the next stage. We call it prove it first. In the prove it first, we’re checking that market product fit. We don’t care about our branding as much there as we care, “Are we able to access the market?” When we find that market, do they want what we have to sell? We’re just doing that at a test stage. It might not even be our actual product. It might be we found something in China and relabeled it and put it in just so we could see if we could access it. That’s that example. When we find that fit is going on and that it’s people, not our mom, who likes it and who bought something in this market, now we can go and have that next conversation.
We plug in the brand again and we start to have that plugin and we go on to the next part, which is pricing. This is the same thing as services. If you can’t get your pricing right and it cannot go from this is how much it costs me to do it, this is how much I’m marking it up and now here’s my price. That’s cost basis pricing. Almost everything is market basing. “Here’s what the market will bear.” I might be able to go up from that if I have great brands, but I might have to go down from it if I don’t deliver or if I need to discount. I want to know where that market parody is, where that basis is for me and for what I think I’m going to put out there. We will test the viability of it later, but we’ve got to find that sweet spot right at the beginning. If we can’t make a design that fits that, then we should stop right now because later, we’d go into high and we’d never sell.
What would be the three first steps that a product manufacturer would have to take to make sure they get the right design. What are your three best tips here?
We prove it first. We are checking that market. We’re pricing it, second and then we plan out of things. We want to plan what we’re going to do because we want to preserve money to pull our brand all the way through our systems, our customer service. We want to pull the brand through everything. You want to have money for that. You need to have the majority of your money for budgeting, for marketing because it costs a whole lot to market now. If you’ve got $100,000, $50,000 of it should be reserved for your marketing. You should reserve at least half of your budget for that. You can’t eat up all the remainder of your product. You’re going to have your branding in there, your packaging in there, your IP. You’ve got to go and have intellectual property of some kind. I’m a big proponent of patenting, even if the patent attorney says, “It’s not that special, maybe you shouldn’t do it.” I’m a big fan of doing it. With not the intention of going to say I’m going to enforce this patent. That you have to have a lot of money in your back pocket for.
The patent isn’t a precious thing. To me, it’s just a tool and that’s why we have as many as we do. It’s a tool because it’s easier to buy you out than it is to try to invalidate your patent. It’s easier to go ahead and say, “I have all these assets not just this product, I have intellectual property in the process.” Tom and I have sold many of our patents at the provisional stage before they ever became issued. The ones we made the most money on, we sold early. Not waiting for your patent issue to get your product to market. We never wait. It’s like filing a copyright or a trademark. If you’re putting something out in the market and there is something special in there, file it. Do not spend hundreds of thousands of dollars, tens of thousands of dollars on it, but a provisional patent will cost you a few hundred. Maybe with an attorney doing all of the things that they need to do, maybe $1,000 or $2,000. It’s very inexpensive but worth the barrier to entry for others because they’re like, “There’s a patent there. It’s not issued yet. I don’t know what that is. Will I compete against it?” It’s a deterrent and we use it that way.
You’ve got to have your proprietary whatever, intellectual property, so that your competition cannot duplicate, imitate or negate what you have. You’ve got to have that one of a kind brand, especially with the product design itself. As you go on the internet, there are a lot of product design companies out there and all of this. What sets Hazzard Design apart from the rest?
First off, we don’t take clients that often. We’re very picky about the client because we’re busy with our podcast business or anything.
You’re like me. I don’t have time for grumpy people. I’m very selective on who I work with.
Branding Your Product: One of the mistakes that smaller brands make is they don’t get an expert in who knows what they’re doing like an insider.
I only want to work with people who I’m excited about where they’re going with their product and I want to be along for the ride and have some fun with them. I take a couple of projects a year, and only if I’m going to enjoy it. I have an entire team of people. You’re one of them. On my Product Launch Hazzards podcast, those are the people I work with every day. I refer almost everyone to those team of people because they do a great job. The thing is that most people don’t need design and that’s the issue. I want to design. I want to conceive an idea. Most people come to me with like, “I’ve got this thing. Would you design it?” They just want me to do a drawing and make it pretty. That’s styling. That’s not what I do. It’s not what I’m great at.
Most other people just need sourcing. It’s like they’ve got something pretty, they need to know how to get it made and maybe it needs some redesign so it can be manufactured better, but it doesn’t need me. I’d overcharge them for what I can do. What I do is when a company comes and they are like, “We don’t know what to make next. We’ve got this brilliant market. We know exactly who our clients are and we know our brands, but we don’t know what product, what great innovative thing do they want? What should be next?” That’s where I come in. I can be brilliant and come up with something amazing for them that they never thought of and I can have fun doing it.
It’s exciting and I don’t have to reinvent everything. I don’t have to find them new sources. They probably already have manufacturers to work with. That’s what we did. That’s why we could design 800 chairs because they already had a group of manufacturers that we could work with and trust and we could bang them out. We could design new ideas and get across what the market is looking for. We were testing things and we were researching and having fun. Developing new materials is my thing. We were having a lot of fun with that. After 800 I was like, “That’s it. I’m done. I don’t want to design another chair again.” I think I’ve designed every one under the sun. I’m done with that. I had fun for a time. Tom and I, the project we will take at some point in the future is we would love to redesign the grill.
A barbecue grill?
A barbecue grill because it is not user-friendly. Smoke blows into your face. Women are afraid to reach over. Our arms are a little shorter. Much of it is not designed, it’s all engineered and so they aren’t thinking about how the user interacts with it. If somebody came to us and said, “Would you design the next grill?” We’d be like, “I’m in.” It’s something we complain about every single day. That’s the example of we can add a lot of value to something like that that no one’s ever thought of before. They haven’t been willing to switch the paradigm on what it looks like and how it functions.
I remember when I was in college, in graduate school, and I decided to have a little cookout in this apartment complex I was living at. I said, “I’m going to run to the store and buy a grill and put it together and everyone’s going to come over.” I run to the store, I buy the grill, I get home, I open it up and here are all these screws. I’m like, “I’ve got company coming in two hours.” I put it all back in a box. I ran back to the store and I said, “There’s one of this right there. I’ll just pay extra so I can put that in my car.” You are right on with that. It’s all this whole thing about assembly. It’s like Ikea. I get it and that’s a great and branding concept for Ikea when you can assemble your own furniture.
Tom and I are the king and queen of ready to assemble product. Most of our products are ready to assemble. We design new mechanisms and all of these things, and I can tell you the whole industry doesn’t want to change. They’re like, “This is cheaper, this is easier. We know it works. We don’t want to try anything even if it’s better.” The only patent that we’ve never been able to sell or move is the one that we invented around a mechanism.
You certainly are extraordinary. What else do you want people to know about Hazzard? Readers, this company is a family business. You’ve got your daughter, she’s 24 years old. What is her role, Alexandra?
Alexandra runs Podetize and so she is our COO and she built all of our systems and manages our entire 50-person worldwide team. She’s incredible at what she does. Tom is the CTO. He manages the technology and the new things. He handles all of our sales because we haven’t grown a new sales team yet, which we will be. I’m the CEO and I get to run around and talk about how amazing our company is and all the things we’re working on and how great our team is. I get to work with great podcasters and help them grow their shows and strategize with them. I get to have a lot of fun. To be honest, it’s way more fun to be a part of someone else’s success and growth. That’s just how I feel about it. I love that. It energizes me. That’s our Podetize company.
On Hazz Design, Tom and I built it and we love what we built and we’re proud of it. The reality is, its day has come because US design doesn’t exist anymore. Less than 10% of our products are designed in the US. Less than 2% of those products are designed by women, and yet 85% as I pointed out, are bought or influenced by women purchasing. These small startup companies, the little brands who are beginning, this is a change and a shift to that industry and I give them a lot of power. I want them to succeed because it’s the way we’re going to shift that back again and take that power back to what does America want to buy? What does my local community want to buy? Just like we used to when we were more like merchants.
Are you saying that American manufacturers, not only are the products being made in other countries, the design itself is being outsourced as well?
For the majority of our consumer products, electronics aside from that because we have Apple and big companies like that. Electronics are an exception. Our general consumer products, the things we buy every single day, including a lot of our clothing. We don’t have the same level of fashion designers that we used to, a lot of it is bought. It’s like shopping. I gave a speech to 200 women in New York who are investing in VC. They’re a part of VCs, investment banking and all that. What I told them was that this is a critical problem in our future retail markets because our consumer product goods are not going to fit us. They’re not going to be the quality standards that we stand for in the US. All of these smaller brands have a great opportunity to disrupt the big brands and the big retailers because they are caring and they are paying attention.
What they aren’t doing though is they don’t have the deep level of product experience, material experience or quality experience because they haven’t been running their company for 100 years like some of our consumer product brands. They don’t know the problems that they’re going to face. One last story on that, I met this sock company and they made these beautiful socks. They’re gorgeous men’s socks, absolutely beautiful colors, and Tom loves socks. These were super soft and beautiful and they had everything. They found this manufacturer overseas and they were working with them in China and they sent back samples again and again. All they kept saying was, “I want them to be super soft and super bright.” That was their criteria for everything. What happened was they asked me to write an article about them and I said, “This is interesting. Let’s hear your story. I’ll put it together.” I put together a story and I was just about to publish the article and they had sent a pair of socks to us.
Tom wore them for five days over the course of a couple of weeks and they busted a hole in them quickly. He was like, “I know you’re going to publish this article, but there’s a quality problem already.” When I turned them inside out and took a look at them, I realized they made a classic mistake that anyone who knew anything about sock design or about quality of socks would have known the difference. I have a material background, so I know knitting and weaving and I know all of that. I have a textile design degree. When I looked at it, I knew instantly what they had done wrong. I called up the CEO of the company and I said, “I can’t publish this article because I don’t want to say something negative about you. I just don’t. It’s not my thing. I’m not here to botch you. I don’t want to take your brand, but you have a quality problem.” He was like, “I’m devastated about this because I have all this product on the water right now.”
I said, “Here’s what you’re going to have to do. I learned this lesson early on in my career. We were making a pen and it popped apart on people. We sent a message to everyone we sold the product to. Do that. Send them the socks because they placed pre-orders for them. Send them a message saying, ‘We know there’s a quality problem with the sock. We are going to replace this for you within the next 30 days or 60 days,’ or whatever timeline you are. You’re going to go back to the factory and fix them and it’s going to cost you. That customer is going to stay loyal and they’re not going to abandon you because you sent them this note. That’s how you’re going to do it from a brand integrity standpoint. Here’s what’s wrong with the sock. You kept saying to the factory you want softness and you want vibrancy and the two things compete against durability. You forgot to emphasize durability and you didn’t test them because you didn’t know that you should run these set of five tests. Go back to the factory, here’s the part, beef this up, do this, change the stitch design. Underneath, no one will notice that it’s not as vibrant because it’s the part that doesn’t show and you’ll be okay there. The quality will improve and run these five tests.”
Colorfastness, UV, all of these things that I told them they need to try because they deteriorate the product. When you have bright colors in and of itself, that dye deteriorates the fiber faster. It was the bright color and the combination of the knit stitch they were using. They did all of that. I never checked back in with them. I dropped my thing and I’m like, “I’m done,” and I go away, but I should probably check in and see if they still survived all of that. That’s a costly mistake. These are the mistakes that the smaller brands make because they don’t get an expert in who knows what they’re doing like you do, like an insider. That’s why I love the name of your podcast because when you’re an insider and something, it makes a big difference. You understand what went wrong. You can see what you could do differently because you’re not encumbered by this big organization. You’re closer to the customer because you’re more dependent on them every single day. It shows. We could have a real revolution of small business owners.
I’ve got to tell you, it’s all about us being able to see what the small business owner cannot see. Number two, for those of you who are reading this, pay attention to what Tracy just said. I America, design America. If you’re looking for someone right here that can get you the kind of design that you’re looking for, a world-class, rock star, top-shelf brand, they’re right here. They’re here in southern California. You don’t have to go overseas. I assume your fees are probably comparable. You’re competitive. Is there anything you want to say about that?
Most startups don’t budget that in. They think they can get by and that’s okay. It will keep you from growing. Our specialty is hitting to the people who meet her out. They get to $1 million and can’t get to $10 million. They get to $10 million but they can’t get to $100 million. We can introduce them to people to bump them this to that next stage or do it with them. There’s always something. I love the small guy. I literally love the small guy and girl. I want them to succeed. That’s why I put my podcast out there. At minimum, Product Launch Hazzards information is stuff that you cannot pay for. You cannot pay for the amount of experience that all of the experts that I’ve assembled and Tom’s and my 25 years, we made every mistake under the sun. We’ve picked up the pieces for every mistake under the sun. Learning from those and listening in, that’s free. That’s education that you can utilize at any budget price.
How can people get in touch with you? Is there a website you want to take them to?
There are too many ways to find me. The reality is that I’m out there on social and my preferred platforms. If you want to get in touch with me, my preferred platform is LinkedIn and you can find me. You’ve got to find Tracy Hazzard. It’s with two z’s. If you want to get in touch with me, I talk to people all the time via that media because that’s my preferred method.
Tracy, I love you. I honor you. I’m one of your biggest fans. For my first interview, I could not have chosen anyone better than you. You are such a fountain of wisdom when it comes to everything, product design and in podcasting. We should do probably another separate interview just on podcasting, given who you are. Thank you so much for being my guest and you and I will stay connected. Thank you everybody. I cannot wait for our next interview because I’m going to be continuing to take you on these big branding journeys with these amazing small business owners who are rocking it with their brands, experts, authorities, and this whole thing called branding. Remember, if you want to get in touch with Tracy, simply go to my website at www.GerryFosterBranding.com and you’ll be able to discover how you could connect with Tracy.
Also an Inc. Innovation Columnist, Multi-awarded Designer & Product Strategist for Hazz Design, Tracy has worked with leading brands like Herman Miller, and Martha Stewart Living among others throughout the years. Her rich professional experience has given her the expertise and genuine pulse to know what clients want and how brands can promote with purpose.
Tracy delights in the privilege to be able to talk about things she is passionate about, and deeply appreciates exchanging viewpoints during interviews with interesting people every day on podcasts she co-hosts (Product Launch Hazzards, WTFFF?! 3D Printing) with her husband and business partner, Tom.
On top of being at the height of her career, she is a mom to three girls, and is a voracious reader with a current all-time record of finishing 300 books in one year.
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