How to Start an Online Business - Researching Trends
In hindsight, it looks like launching an ugly Christmas sweater company in 2008 was a no-brainer. Looking back now, Google search for the product shows exponential growth since 2008. Consumer demand for the niche garments was an all time high during the 2012 holiday season, and the market demand is forecast to have continued growth both in the United States as well as Northern Europe and Australia.
Here's the google trends report for the term 'ugly Christmas sweaters' from January 2008 - January 2013. This chart illustrates the explosive growth in interest in ugly Christmas Sweaters.
But, back in 2008 there was no crystal ball to the future, and the market needed to be tested. I'm getting ahead of myself though. Back in 2008, I was looking for something to sell, and still needed to identify the trend.
Let's look back at what I saw in the fall of 2008 when I was first looking for something to sell during the holiday season. I had never heard of ugly Christmas sweaters and used google trends (along with a now defunct ebay trend tool) to see what people where searching for that was Christmas related.
The Google Trends tool shows you the relative interest in the search term you are researching. When you don't know exactly what you are looking for however, you can reference the 'related terms' area, located under the chart. This shows terms that were heavily searched for that are related to the one you are researching. It's here that I first came across the term 'ugly Christmas sweater'.
Using the Google Trends tool in 2008 (researching the time period of 2004 - 2008), I searched for 'Christmas sweater' and found the following 'related terms'.
I would change my search terms to the top 'related terms'. Based on the above results, I changed my search from 'Christmas sweater' to 'ugly Christmas sweater' and saw the following graph:
This was my 'ahha' moment. I saw relatively zero interest in the term in 2005, and explosive growth annually to 2008.
It was then that I started researching 'ugly Christmas sweaters' by typing the term into google and reading about the holiday themed parties and ugly Christmas sweater contests.
Back in 2008 there were a limited number of holiday sweaters for sale on eBay, but I noted a void of sweaters marketed to people who wanted to win a contest. I decided that my target market were young people who were attending holiday themed parties, and who wanted a sweater to win a contest. I started small on ebay, with under 50 sweaters, selling over-the-top contest-winning sweaters which were quick sellouts. As the ugly Christmas sweater party trend grew, My Ugly Christmas Sweater, Inc. (www.MyUglyChristmasSweater.com) met market demand by expanding it's product lines to include classic 80s Christmas sweaters, vintage items, as well as collections of our own over-the-top designs.
I'm frequently asked about the success of My Ugly Christmas Sweater, Inc., and some attribute it to the luck of choosing such a trendy product. It only looks lucky after the fact. Other than the obvious answers like hard work and having a good website, I attribute the success to continued research in the product, researching current customers, potential customers, market trends,etc., and scaling the business using sound marketing strategies based on that research.
Aspiring entrepreneurs may find good guidance in an article in entrepreneurship.org by Diana Kander titled 'Lessons from Failure:: Renting High-end Jewelry". This is a great article with take-aways that any aspiring entrepreneur can use about spending capital wisely. Ms. Kander interviewed Laura Sanko and summarized:
Many startups raise money before they’ve had an opportunity to test
their assumptions. As a result, they spend the money validating their
ideas instead of using it to execute a sound business model. Start-ups
are all about runway. Almost all start-up failures are the result of
founders running out of resources to keep pursuing their ideas. The more
runway you can give your start-up, the greater your chances of success.
Laura’s experience could have been a lot different if she and her team
just had an extra year of capital or – more specifically – if they had
tested some of their assumptions before spending their investors’ money. (source: entrepreneurship.org)
What's next for My Ugly Christmas Sweater, Inc.? With 6.9 million page views to our website during the 2012 holiday season and great press coverage, we've got enormous interest in our business and products and have identified several exciting areas of scalability for our business. We are fortunate to have years of strong data and statistical analysis that is driving the direction of our business decisions.
Whether your business is clothing or widgets, be sure to research your market and test your assumptions before spending the bank on your idea. Take a look at Diana Kandler's article, and read as much as you can about successful entrepreneurs as well as failed - and do your market research.
About the author:
Anne Marie Blackman is the founder of My Ugly Christmas Sweater, Inc. and author of Rock Your Ugly Christmas Sweater. Her website received over a million unique visitors during the 2012 holiday season and 6.9 million page views.