As a retailer with five locations, I like to introduce a new and innovative product every couple of years. I’m talking about bigger-ticket items that’ll keep my stores fresh and exciting to draw customers seeking things beyond water-treatment products. But I can’t wait on vendors to supply it. If I wait, then everyone else gets it, too. That’s not very exciting.
So, I create instead.
A few years ago, I developed Poolblue, a competitively priced inground package pool. The product has proven successful, and I’ve since been looking for the next big thing.
I may have found it on Pinterest.
For the uninitiated, Pinterest is a social media platform whereby users pin images — of anything, really — to virtual cork boards that they can share with one another for inspiration. It’s big with foodies and fashionistas, but homemakers dig it, too.
There is no shortage of people perusing Pinterest for ideas on how to spruce up their backyard living spaces, and some of the things they like (as indicated by the number of “re-pins” images receive) can give retailers some ideas of their own.
That’s how I discovered hanging beds.
Last year, I stumbled upon a Pinterest board with this porch swing/bed hybrid concept and was amused by the over-the-top comments it received: “Oh, I could spend the rest of eternity here!” and “It’s like a chaise lounge for cherubs!” One commenter even offered her right leg to rest in such luxury.
I filed it in the back of my mind as something to revisit down the road.
But I kept seeing not only that same hanging bed repinned on other boards, but others like it. The idea was catching on.
Now, it’s one thing to feel as though there’s a trend afoot — “Oh, I feel like I’ve seen a lot of this,” being a common refrain among supposed trend spotters — but I don’t base business decisions on feelings. I like to work in, so far as possible, a quantifiable universe. So I began registering on a spreadsheet the number of pins that hanging beds received. For example, if 40 of the 60 boards I visited featured a hanging bed, then that tells me I’m on to something.
I began my research and found that there wasn’t really a retail-friendly model for the product. Hanging beds were either DIY projects or custom-made by fabricators. I even tried to arrange a deal with a couple who made and sold hanging beds through Etsy.com, an online marketplace for handcrafted items. Lovely people, but they didn’t grasp the wholesale concept.
Convinced that there was a market for this product — especially in Southwest Tennessee, where screened porches are ubiquitous — I opened a woodshop and hired a carpenter in January. I had display models in my stores by February.
Now I have a retail solution for something people were pining for on Pinterest. I present customers with a limited number of models and color variations. This makes it more affordable and accessible than offering something that’s endlessly customizable. Give them too many options and they become overwhelmed, endangering the sale.
I’m not suggesting Pinterest will give you a million-dollar idea, but it does offer a treasure trove of minable data that’s relevant to your market area. How is it minable? Because people tend to network with others within a given region, you’ll find local clusters of folks to follow on Pinterest. Monitoring what they’re sharing and discussing will give you a better barometer of local tastes.
This is a far more accurate way to forecast trends than anticipating popular color options based on what’s hot in the fashion industry, which has long been how patio furniture dealers have determined what to include in their inventories each season. It’s a flawed strategy, because the fashion world rarely reflects local wants. Purple may be all the rage in Florida, but Georgia is gaga for Kermit green.
I’ve found that tastes not only vary across state lines, but even city to city. I can’t sell sectionals in Knoxville, but they’re big in Chattanooga.
You’ll likely identify your own market area’s idiosyncrasies using Pinterest, and you’ll be a more profitable businessperson for it.
Frank May is the president and CEO of The Great Backyard Place (formerly The Pool Place), with five locations in Tennessee and North Carolina. The company recently rebranded to reflect its focus on outdoor living.