Brainstorming a New Business Concept

brainstorming session
Brainstorming session
This is a guest article by John Schulte, the President of the National Mail Order Association

I like to mix concept development lessons in with real life opportunity.   I have a new one today for you to learn and possibly earn from.

A few weeks ago some friends invited my wife and I to go with them to a comedy club.   As we were sitting at the table having a drink, our conversation turned to a neon beer sign on the wall.   I said if I ever built a bar in my house I’d like to have a neon beer sign on the wall behind the bar.   My friend mentioned he just missed buying one at an auction for a friend.   A “Fosters Beer” one.

We have a friend in common whose last name is Foster and he just happens to be finishing off his basement and he’s putting in a bar.     Then I started thinking, wouldn’t that be cool, having a neon beer sign at your bar, and the name of the beer is the same as your last name.     I’d like one.   Then I thought — I bet a lot of people with bars would like a neon beer sign featuring their last name.   Maybe they wouldn’t even need to have a bar to want one.   I know custom or personalized stuff is popular.   Just think how many people have personalized license plates on their car.   Neon is also very popular.   I now realize I’m on-to a pretty good idea.

Then I remembered a mail order item from the sixties that made a guy a lot of money.   (know your MO history) He sold family crests and coat of arms posters that hung on the wall — by mailing to lists of people that shared the same last name.   The same basic concept as this idea.   He’d pick a popular last name, then got a list of everybody he could with the same last name.   He then had his product customized to that particular last name and sold it like crazy.   When that surname stopped making money he went to the next.

What if somebody was to offer neon beer signs customized with peoples last names.   You could easily get a mailing list of people selected by last name, that have either shown an interest in personalized stuff, have bought bar supplies, or beer making supplies.   (There’s other criteria you could look for too)

Then send a personalized and limited time offer to these people.   An offer featuring a beautiful photo of the one and only beer sign that bares their name.   Showing how great it would look on their wall, behind their bar.   Wouldn’t their friends be impressed, what a conversation piece.

The up-front costs to test the idea are also good.   By concentrating on one last name at time, you only need to design and make one sample sign in the beginning to use for promotional photos.   The template for making the sign would be used over and over.

Your only other up-front costs for testing the idea is printing, mailing and list rental.   You may even be able to use one of those telephone book CD’s to develop a mailing list to test.   The product is also unique enough to get some free press.

My next thought goes to future sales, what to sell these people next.   How about their own six pack of beer.   Bottles of beer with fancy labels personalized with their name as the brewer.   Or maybe personalized beer mugs, or cocktail napkins.   Maybe you could tie in a micro beer of the month feature.   Yep, plenty of options here.

So far so good. But what about having the signs made?   Then I thought about all the neon sign makers I’ve seen around town.   I bet one or more of these artists are looking for more work.   If I were to outline the idea to one of them, and ask if they would be interested in designing such a sign that could be interchangeable with different names, (starting with your own) with the possibility of making and selling a lot more, I would find someone happy to do it.

You just witnessed a brainstorm that developed a core product for making money with direct marketing.   One that would be cheap to test and has big potential.   For those of you that are looking to develop your own thing, remember to consider the possible use of other peoples skills.   In most cases, teaming up with someone helps a lot.   Also keep an eye open for what’s popular and how it can be applied to other things.   We know that personalization is always popular, we see examples of it everyday.   We also see that neon is once again very popular.   So are micro beers.   This is history repeating itself.   Learn from it.

Yea!   Yea!   Yea!   But will this sign idea make someone money?   I can’t predict absolute success or failure, no one can.   Success depends on more things than just the product.   But, this idea has a lot of favorable points.   Enough points that if I had the time, I would try it.   The losses are minimal if it doesn’t work.   If it does work, the total universe of potential customers is fantastic.   In my opinion the rewards outweigh the risks.

The only problem I see is shipping, glass is fragile.   But you might make a positive out of this by shipping the sign in a big fancy wooden crate, maybe stenciled with the last name giving it value…and signifying it’s importance.   Maybe the shipping crate could be also made to double as a wine rack.   All said and done, the launching of any new concept, division, or catalog, ends with somebody having the guts and making the decision to…Do It!

As a final reminder, remember that this is a demonstration in brainstorming that can be applied to many things; you don’t have to work in neon or beer signs, just plug the concept into the toolbox of your mind for future reference to apply to your own particular business and thought processes.

John Schulte is a Small Business Consultant and Direct Marketing Strategist. He is a 30-year veteran of advertising, marketing, publicity, promotions and sales. He is an internationally recognized expert in the areas of mail order, direct mail, cataloging and overall direct marketing. He is one of the few people in the United States that has been certified by a United States Federal Court as a Direct Marketing and Catalog expert, able to act as an expert witness in federally related corporate disputes. John is also president of the National Mail Order Association and author of Direct Marketing Toolkit for Small and Home based Business.

Image by juhansonin.