Competitive Analysis

A topic in the forum gave me this idea. Or rather, it brought the point home for me. So many designers start lines because they’ve shopped the market and can’t find what they like so they think the product or item doesn’t exist. Once they get out there and mingle, they discover this isn’t so true. There are plenty of product lines they didn’t know about -and with much more competitive price points and positioning so said start ups are stuck trying to position themselves after the fact and in a defensive position no less. The tragic fact is that too many start ups don’t look far enough afield. So my proposition is this:

On page 40 of my book is a worksheet one can use to define their target customer. Mine isn’t the only one; it’s SOP in most books. The departure should be a separate extensive list of related brands in the marketplace with a worthwhile and serious contemplation of their strengths and weaknesses. Some of this is done if one writes a business plan but again, I’ve never seen a plan that respected the exercise of competitive assessment with due diligence beyond the cursory. Frankly, if you do the job well, the conclusion one should come to at least half the time is that the market has been addressed and one should think of something else.

By way of example I could use gusseted pants for women which I wrote about recently. I bought several pairs of the only brand I could see myself buying (altho I’ve decided to experiment with men’s jeans now) and I haven’t been happy with the results. As a pattern maker, it seems obvious to me that the maker copied an off the rack pair of mono-butt jeans and stuck a gusset in the crotch to make it deeper. That’s no solution. Well, it is if you’re younger and like the fit of those jeans but for those of us who wore our jeans plenty tight and remember when pants still had a bifurcation, it’s not. So, in such a limited market, the argument could be made that there is room for another product line which was designed to encompass a gusset from the get go rather than a cobbled on solution. But in my way of thinking, I’d be more inclined to approach the maker with a suggestion to help them out with some of their product development (it remains shocking who doesn’t know what) with producing a line being the strategy of last resort. Or no resort. Is there a market for it within such narrow confines? Who is to say but I’m guessing not. Or rather, likely not commensurate with the effort required. I only know I don’t want to get into it. At this point, I’m tempted to develop my own pattern and give free copies of it away with the codicil the recipient makes me a pair of pants. Sure I’m likely to get some dogs but I kind of like the idea.

But I digress. Do your homework, respect the market. It is rare that your product doesn’t exist already.

OT: I’ve largely been offline for the better part of two weeks battling a rootkit (virus). It’s a first for me, never had a virus before. You know me, I always play it safe, never do even slightly unsavory downloads, am suspicious of freebies etc but I got snagged. I think it was an infected pdf. Live and learn. Point is, I’ve lost the better part of two weeks of work and you probably thought I was gallivanting or taking a break. I wish. Today I’m just wishing I had those 32 open tabs and two weeks of my life back… I’ve been so busy today that I couldn’t even take time to wash this skunk-reeking dog who has been sitting under my desk for most of the day. By now, I have a headache from it. I think I’ll sign off now and go heat some beans for dinner.

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  1. tara griffiths says:

    I’m sorry to hear about your computer woes Kathleen.

    I’ve been thinking about competition (or rather paralyzed from moving forward on my own line from thinking about competition) lately.

    They say here at the art school where I work, that everything has been done before. And for the most part I believe it.

    Knowing your market and what your competition is producing, is of course essential. Could it also be that rather than focusing on a gimick or a revolutionary idea, it’s better to develop your individual merits as a designer/entrepreneur? To find what you do best and then strive towards being “the” best at that thing? I guess that’s all part and parcel of competitive analysis.

    There I’ve just talked myself out of a slump. Thanks.

  2. Leslie hanes says:

    I would not only make you a pair…I’d put really deep pockets in them because I know you like to rant about lack of decent pockets! I do have some amazing stretchy pant weight fabrics as you know. So now you have 2 minions ready to do your bidding. I’d jump on it if I were you.

  3. Don Pezzano says:

    The lost time because of viruses is unbelievably frustrating- although you probably know everything there is to know about virus infection now.

    A SWOT analysis of my competitors sounds like a Monday morning plan.

    Patterns in exchange for clothing? Sounds like a plan.

  4. Wednesday says:

    When you find you’ve been beaten to the punch, is it ever wise to still try to go to market? I have had more than one experience of my product being fairly unique while in development, but “taken” as it were, by the time I was ready to produce in any quantity.

  5. Seth Meyerink-Griffin says:

    It seems like the competitive analysis/market analysis is where I get stuck. My friends seem to like what I make, and certainly wear it when I give it to them (they don’t buy because all my friends are dirt-ass poor), but that’s a pretty bad demographic to target (i.e., they’re the opposite of profitable).

    I know who *some* of my competitors would be, but that includes going pretty far afield and looking at what’s being produced/sold in northern and western Europe, as well as GSA-scheduled items (which is a market I have no hope of breaking into unless I already had a huge infrastructure in place and could/did comply with the mil-specs).

  6. Amanda says:


    You don’t have to have a huge infrastructure to get military/civil uniform and other sewn-product contracts. Those things have to be made in the US, which means there are a limited number of people who are doing it, and most of them are small. If you’re sewing here, you could be a candidate. A local philly shop I have worked with does all sorts of random military and police uniform work. It tends to be smaller lots than you might think. I wouldn’t count it out!

  7. Quincunx says:

    It shouldn’t be the death of profit to find that the product already exists, but it won’t be manufacturing to buy it from the existing wholesalers and sell it to the market that doesn’t know it exists–which is what most of my thoughts have boiled down to. On the other hand, spurred by this post I did more internet searching on what I am sewing for my husband’s birthday, and it does not seem to exist. (I reserve the right to be cagey on what it is until after his b-day and/or I actually finish it, and if you are reading, love, yes I fibbed about the latest fabric order.)

  8. Kathleen says:

    When you find you’ve been beaten to the punch, is it ever wise to still try to go to market?

    Wednesday, in this entry I linked to a post called _No competitors is worse than many competitors_. The title alone suggests your answer but a read through will explain why.

  9. Wednesday says:

    I think where I (and maybe others?) get hung up is on the emotional aspect. This season I was going to release a kitty-cat scarf (when wrapped gives the appearance of wearing a stuffed animal). There are a ton of similar products, but none like the picture in my head. I went to work and at prototype time, did another market search to make sure my pricing was right. There was my scarf (which had not existed during my r&d, according to the reviewers’ dates), the same proportions of face and body, the same material choices for whiskers and nose. She was even using the same shade of grey pearl buttons! And her adorable scarf had attracted quite a bit of favorable notice. Even though our products were developed completely independently, I was mortified, felt (quite irrationally, I know) like a copy cat (ha ha). There’s no reason in the world for me not to go ahead, she sells online, I have relationships with shops in my town that like to carry local talent, but I could not help ~feeling~ like a knock-off and a bit fearful I could be perceived as one.

  10. Wednesday says:

    Rereading that, I see I have not been concise. There is nothing new under the sun, it’s true, but to have a product that is so disturbingly similar to someone else’s could damage my relationship with my retailers who are specifically looking for unique and one-off like goods. Also, I truly was bitterly disappointed that I had been too slow.

  11. Caletha says:

    Love this topic. As usual when I’m supposed to be writing, I’ve been doing everything but today. But instead of wasting the day, I decided to catch up on your site, Kathleen. I totally agree that lack of true market analysis is a cardinal sin (I think I even touched on it in my guest post). I don’t think people do enough searching for competitors or are able to recognize who their competitors might be. And as you mentioned in the linked post, “No competitors is worse than many competitors,” having competition is not (always) a bad thing. For instance, if you’re pioneering a new product category, a competitor with deeper pockets could do the lion’s share of the marketing for you. Think about Starbucks. Before it came along, people weren’t drinking ‘premium coffee’ like they do today. Now, no one thinks twice about splashing out on fancy sounding drinks, creamers, etc so there’s a market for these products that would have been much harder to penetrate without Starbucks. Similarly, premium denim jeans. People don’t blink at $150 price tags anymore because they’ve been conditioned to accept this at the upper tier, and the average consumer is conversant in terminologies like stitches per inch, washes, whiskering, etc in a way that they weren’t before. Of course, if you’re going to launch a pricey denim line now, your job is to figure out how to differentiate your product and/or address an underserved market. That’s what research does for you. Ideally, it helps you recognize the opportunities (if there are any).

  12. Deanna says:

    Jeans… I would love to crack out a pair of jeans. I have white topstitch thread ‘n everything. I do prefer real old tough denim, but whatever. K. You could be dressed for the rest of your life if you work it right.
    You know I should come down there to pick up the pattern. I need a day or 2 crash course in whatever you got. Do you have a slow season??

  13. Kathleen says:

    Alison I would love anything you made for me. Re: bifurcation. if you can settle for men’s carpenter jeans, these are not bad. I just got two pairs in, one for me and one for DH. Being men’s styles, I fretted the waist would be too big but they were fine. I was much less satisfied with their women’s (mono-butt but gusseted) styles. The carpenter jeans are also gusseted. Btw, this company is not customer and I’m not exactly a happily satisfied customer, more a case of the least worst of what there is but they are made in the US, well sewn, I like the denim quality, they aren’t gussied up with fades, whiskers and all that -a good value @$55 etc.

    Leslie: I’ll probably take you up on it. Those last pants you made me are awesome. They are too big now (I was a bit chunky when I visited you) but I still wear them. My ex-stepmom wears them too when she visits me in the winter time but I won’t let her have them. Hey! Maybe I could get a pair for her for xmas!

    It would be kind of interesting to send patterns out as a project to see all that came back in. Could be fun. I’d just send out the one size but if people returned a sewn pair, I’d send them the graded set.

    I finally washed the skunk stinking dog with 1/4 cup baking soda and a quart of hydrogen peroxide. That’s the only thing that has worked. He is a good dog, doesn’t like baths or anything but he lets me do it.

    Caletha: I’m really sorry to have missed your chat but the virus thing was coming to a head right when it was scheduled. Even tho I was a no-show this time, please invite me next time!

    Wednesday: oh boy, a case of design synchronicity. I feel your pain, it’s kind of a downer. But you know your customers so your gut is the best guide.

    Deanna: technically this is my slow season ha ha. Don’t let that stop you from planning a visit!

  14. Seth Meyerink-Griffin says:

    @Amanda: I simply don’t have the infrastructure, period. I’m using a table that’s about 3’x7′ for cutting (…which makes cutting *anything* hard), and I have only two industrial machines (a Juki DDL-8400NH single needle lockstitch and a no-name coverstitch). That’s it. So even if I had viable design work that *could* become a scheduled item, I definitely couldn’t do the production myself.

    Basically, I need to learn to crawl before I can run a marathon.

  15. “It would be kind of interesting to send patterns out as a project to see all that came back in. Could be fun. I’d just send out the one size but if people returned a sewn pair, I’d send them the graded set.”

    Ooh, very clever! You also get input on the home sewer’s market for your stuff if you ever decide to publish patterns.

  16. Marie-Christine says:

    I wore for years the ‘sarouelles’ pattern from Folkwear. Gussetted, but rather slim-fitting pants on the whole, not at all like the baggy crotches found under that name right now. Drapier than jeans, but can be made with tough fabric. Awesome, I could do yoga in them, they were perfect for rock climbing. Don’t know why I stopped, must have been falling into the 90s at work.

    Viruses: I like clamwin, a small compact open-source and free antivirus. Check it out.
    Skunks: I’ve had great success with Nature’s Miracle products (especially with the kidney-challenged kitty..). I bet their special skunk product would also do miracles.

  17. Kathleen says:

    Get a Mac!!

    I have a mac book pro as one of my back up computers. Speaking of, a mac is not a solution because it is superior with respect to security or OS integrity. It is more secure because there are too few mac users for it to be worth the effort of writing a virus for it. That there are too few users as to be worth the effort is precisely why I can’t use it for work because software that will run on it is also too limited. Double edged sword. Macs may be great for artists/designers but are very limited for CAD engineering and production functions. Indirectly, that’s why DEs should carefully consider their OS of choice for the workplace.

    M-C: Considering that this is my first virus ever in 16 years of computing, analyzing the breech to figure out how it happened would be very educational. Obviously, security is a very high priority for me. This rootkit was intended to commit click fraud rather than data theft or vicarious mayhem.

  18. Quincunx says:

    Follow-up: I had been searching for a wick-away fabric robe in men’s sizes for he who is easily overheated. Wick-away for women? The market is well-served. Sizes large enough for a tall guy even if a person overlooked the base pattern being shaped for the female body? Not supplied. Casual robes for guys? The market is well-served. Robes made with the fabric so prevalent in men’s casual athletic wear? Not supplied. Even the wraps especially for boxers were made with old-fashioned, non-wicking fabrics.

    At this point, though, I was so far past the date of surprise that I did the market research of asking him, and discovered that he did not want such a robe at all; I failed at marketing its advantages. Now that fabric is consigned to casual athletic shirts, and I’ve ordered in old-fashioned, non-wicking fabric for the robe. . .

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