Incredible audacity and success

Marketing guru Seth Godin  says, "You’re either remarkable or invisible. Make your choice."

There are a lot of examples that come to mind, but Hugh McLeod is an outstanding example of someone who knows the marketing game so well that he can fearlessly break the rules when it suits his purpose.

Hugh’s irreverent attitude toward conventional wisdom in advertising and PR has never flagged. He continues to skewer Big Media, ad agencies, and stuffed shirts with equal enthusiasm. His unique combination of unflinching candor, outrageous ideas, and profane humor has made gapingvoid.com one of the most popular marketing blogs.

First, Hugh persuades Thomas McMahon, bespoke Savile Row tailor, to begin a blog, English Cut, about the finer details of bespoke tailoring and the industry in and around Saville Row that operates at this elevated level. Then Hugh blogs about $4000 suits which, of course, is far off the radar for any sensible blogger, let alone one who started out with cartoons on the back of business cards.

Now, with English Cut and Gaping Void generating so much tailoring business that Thomas could be forced to expand, Hugh and Thomas are considering reinventing the game for English Cut. The idea is basically limiting output to 100 suits a year. According to Hugh, that’s roughly 2 suits a week- less than what they’re making at the moment, but not by a wide margin.

His rationale is quite sound:

"They only make 100 suits a year" is a good meme. Creating the idea of "scarcity" in the customer’s mind is probably the best marketing move you can do, if you can get away with it. People want what they can’t have.

I think the idea will fly and will end up being another one of Hugh’s remarkable campaigns. In my opinion, the winning elements that will make this successful are:

1. The scarcity is real. Only so many suits can be made to Thomas Mahon’s exacting standards.

2. The vast group of people who might want and can afford such suits are continually kept informed of their scarcity by Hugh and people who read his blog.

3. This approach to doing business is so foreign to the "bigger is better" mantra of modern business that business media types will continually revisit the English Cut story in an effort to find the flaws or to provide their own slant on the REAL reasons for English Cut’s success.

Once again, Hugh and Thomas have pushed the envelope in another direction. This unlikely combination of masterful craftsmanship, full frontal Internet exposure, and limited quantities available are an irresistible combination.

My feeling is that his audacity will be suitably rewarded.

What do you think? Have you ever heard of output being limited successfully?

Have you ever considered how you might change your own business proposition to make it remarkable, instead of merely "sensibly" profitable?

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0 Responses to Incredible audacity and success

  1. David:

    High-end product makers have used often used this strategy. Porsche built just 200 of their high-tech 959s, generating so much interest among well-heeled buyers that they sold for far above the original $200,000 price. Ford did the same thing with their remake of the GT-40 and Dodge does it with the Viper.

    Rolex often cuts back on production to create a shortage of their high-end watches.

    Photographer Ansel Adams would destroy his negatives after making a limited number of prints. As a photographer, I’ve found that limiting a print run of a picture to 25 creates more interest.

  2. Mike Duffy says:

    100 suits at $4,000 is $400,000 a year. It’s not an operation that scales, but if Thomas is happy doing the work required to make those 2 suits a week, then he probably has quite a good income (depending on his gross margins). The only downside is that he only gets two weeks off each year, and he has to stay healthy. You truly have to love your work to make this model possible (and do a good job of saving for retirement).

    Notice that they’re looking into shirts (produced for them by someone else) to add some scalability to their business by leveraging the English Cut “brand.”

  3. Mike Duffy says:

    That said, I’m a little envious of Thomas and what is apparently great satisfaction with his work, coupled with above-average success.

  4. hugh macleod says:

    Thanks for the write-up =)

    I’m trying to think of something I could’ve said better than you did… and nothing comes to mind.

    PS: “Great satisfaction with his work, coupled with above-average success.” Yep. Sounds about right 😉

    PPS: We get a bit more than 2 weeks off a year 😉

    Godspeed!

  5. Sean Pecor says:

    If you’ve got a exceptional product of distinction it would certainly be in your best interest to limit production so that demand exceeds supply – even on slow days. Take my in-law’s turkey farm in Vermont (http://www.stonewoodfarm.com). Unlike larger poultry producers who can produce 500,000 turkeys or more each year, their turkey production is limited to 23,000 annually. So they position their product to be higher end. Their turkeys are All Natural and most of them are sold fresh for Thanksgiving. These turkeys sell for +/- $2 a pound wholesale to groceries. The grocers completely sell out even though Stonewood Farm fresh turkeys cost several times as much as a “Butterball”.

    I think there are three major factors that help make a high end “boutique” shop successful:

    1. Quality. The product must be of exceptional quality, with top shelf materials and components and assembled by masters of their craft.

    2. Wealth Distinction. Though most people would deny it, wearing that $4,000 suit or driving that $86,000 Mercedes Benz carries with it a certain social currency. Sometimes the social currency is only valuable to one’s particular social circle, or to one’s own self. For example, a Mercedes Benz SLC500 is an obvious statement of wealth to nearly everyone who sees it. But a $4,000 suit? It may only be distinctive to one’s own social circle, i.e. other people who own suits of similar quality. An average wage earner might not even be able to tell the difference between a $4,000 suit and a $500 suit, so there is little value in that social currency.

    3. Limited Supply. Demand must always exceed supply or desirability will diminish. There are many ways to “cheat” this system. Take FiestaWare. Dishes of higher quality than average, produced in an interesting array of solid colors. Colors are regularly “retired” giving the illusion of exclusivity. Sure, it’s the same damn dish, but now it’s available in Cinnabar and Persimmon – for a limited time – and then those colors are gone forever! Cha ching!

    There is a saying: “Feed the rich, eat with the masses. Feed the masses, eat with the rich.” That may be true with widgets – but widgets are the domain of massive companies – and not boutiques.

    Sean

  6. Ric says:

    Hugh certainly gets around – suits, wine and software. It seems to me that he decided some time ago to throw caution to the wind, and say whatever took his fancy, as some sort of web-based social experiment in marketing. I wonder how surprised he is that it worked?

    BTW David – I notice you’ve discovered CoComment as well …
    —–
    PING:
    TITLE: Beware of Oversupply
    URL: http://www.asharewarelife.com/2006/02/beware_of_overs.html
    IP: 204.9.178.8
    BLOG NAME: A Shareware Life
    DATE: 02/19/2006 06:01:08 PM
    Another great post on gapingvoid: 100 Suits.Over the last couple of days I’ve been thinking about this one idea I’ve had for English Cut. The idea is basically limiting our output to 100 suits a year. That’s roughly 2 suits

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