Researching Market Trends

Understanding Market Fundamentals (buyer’s expectations, market segmentation, and product categories) provides a general knowledge of the market from which to begin more specific research for your particular product and target market. The next step in your research is to look at market trends and prices. The important questions to answer in this stage of market research include:

1.      What are popular market niches?  What product categories have the highest sales currently?  What lifestyle trends are most popular?

2.      What are the prices of comparable products in the market?

3.      What are the industry standards for the product category you are developing?  What sizes are standard?  What packaging or labeling requirements must be met?  Are there any other regulations, such as material content, that need to be adhered to?

4.      What design motifs and colors are in the marketplace now?  What colors and motifs are forecasted to be popular in the future?

Market research should inform the product development process, not lead it.  The information gathered from market and trend research should be used to inspire and influence your design process.  Products studied during your research should never be copied.

Resources for Market and Trend Information

Market research can be conducted in several ways, including first-hand exposure to markets, and browsing printed publications and online resources.  Fortunately, there is an abundance of information, both written and images, available online that can be accessed without fees.  The following research resources are recommended for hand-made, artisan-based enterprises and their product development teams.

Trade Publications:

A trade publication is a periodical (usually monthly or quarterly) magazine, journal or newsletter printed with the intention of target marketing to a specific industry or type of trade or business.  Trade publications are specific to product categories.  For example, “Tabletop Today” is available for the tabletop and gourmet market.  Trade publications are intended for professionals and businesses, not the general public or end consumer.

Trade publications include articles, reports and images and are a great source for information about market and sales statistics, trade shows, leading companies, top-name product designers, and other market trends such as design motifs, color trends, and successful product categories.

Trade publications are available by subscription.  Most trade publications maintain websites that offer a limited amount of information for free.  Online subscriptions are usually available as well as online access to “members only” information for paying customers.  One of our favorite trade publications, “Home Accents Today“, offers a lot of useful information for free.

Research the publications’ websites before investing in a subscription to any trade magazine.  Subscription rates tend to be high and often the free information is sufficient.  Look for complimentary copies of trade publications at trade shows.

Here are the websites of Trade Publications that we recommend:

Gift & Decorative Accessories Magazine – gift industry Giftware News – gift industry Home Accents Today – home furnishings industry Home Textiles – home textile industry Home Textiles Today – home textile industry Kids Today – children’s furniture & accessories industry Playthings – toy industry Casual Living – outdoor living industry The Crafts Report – craft industry Retail Forward – retail industry

Lifestyle Magazines:

A lifestyle magazine is a periodic (usually monthly or bi-monthly) publication with articles, editorials, interviews, photos and images pertaining to a specific lifestyle or interest of consumers.  There are lifestyle magazines about fashion, home design, gardening and outdoor living, cooking and health.  Lifestyle magazines might also be about “green living” or luxury lifestyles.  “Green living” refers to a relatively new lifestyle trend where people make lifestyle choices based on minimizing their impact on the environment. This includes a focus on ecological, organic, or fair trade products.

Lifestyle magazines are an excellent source of design inspiration regarding colors, textures, motifs and patterns.  They give the reader an idea of how products are used in daily life. They show the interiors of people’s homes, their gardens, and their kitchens as well as how people dress and use fashion accessories. Lifestyle magazines do not contain many market statistics and reports but when read regularly they are good sources to track trends.

Lifestyle magazines are available in print by subscription and at many retail stores, including bookstores, grocery stores and airport magazine shops. Lifestyle magazines maintain information-rich websites where most or all of the information is available for free.

Attached is a list of top recommended lifestyle magazines for hand-made, artisan-made products.

Some Lifestyle magazines we recommend:

Metropolitain Home – home furnishings Elle Décor – home furnishings Architectural Digest – home furnishings Dwell – home furnishings Metropolis – interior design & green Archetectural Digest – interior design In Style – fashion Martha Stewart Living – entertaining & general Real Simple – entertaining & general Vogue – fashion Elle – fashion Harpers Bazaar – fashion W – fashion Taunton – publisher of craft magazines (sewing, wood) HG TV – interior design cable TV show available online

Trade Shows:

Visiting professional trade shows is a productive way to conduct market research for product development and marketing.  It is also an excellent forum for identifying customers.  Trade shows should be selected based on the product category and niche markets where you are focusing.  A company offering home textiles should focus on a home textile show or the home textile and decorative accessories sections of larger trade shows.

When visiting trade shows you observe, first hand, what products are in the market, what is selling well (which companies are busy writing orders), how products are displayed and packaged.

At trade shows the exhibitors are either manufacturers or distributors.  Most companies will be located in the country where the trade show is being held (US companies at US trade shows, etc) but in some cases overseas manufacturers exhibit at global trade shows.  The attendees of trade shows are retail buyers, press and designers.

Trade show management companies maintain websites to promote their trade shows.  These websites often have useful search functions to search for exhibiting companies by product categories.  This can be a practical way to find websites with product information related to your product category.

The following is a list of U.S. trade shows recommended for hand-made products.  Trade shows are also a good place to pick up industry reports and attend seminars and lectures on pertinent industry topics.

New York International Gift Fair:

California Gift

Atlanta International Gift

San Francisco International Gift Fair:

Chicago Gift and Home Market:

Las Vegas World

Sante Fe International Folk Art Market:

Retail Stores:

The easiest ways to see what products are in the marketplace and gather information about pricing, sizing and product designs is through retail stores. Retail stores include actual stores you can visit in person.  An increasing number of retail stores also maintain websites.  These websites are the easiest and most accessible way to learn about products currently in the market and to identify comparable retail prices. Many retailers also have mail-order catalogues that are printed and distributed to individual customers.

  • Note:  When comparing prices, US retail prices must be divided by 5-8 to arrive at the FOB price.

Specialty Industry Reports:

Industry reports are exceptional sources of the latest information on market trends.  Industry reports are often very costly and only affordable for the most established businesses.  The companies that compile these reports often release abbreviated versions of the reports to entice people to buy the complete report.  These summary reports are often excellent sources of information.  See industry report websites for recommended companies to watch.

Your Customers

One of the best sources of market input is often your own customers, particularly if the goal of your product development project is to expand sales of an existing product line.  Write to your customers and ask for their feedback on your products.  Be specific. Ask them what additional products they might be interested in buying from you.  Ask what color ways sell best in their stores. Get feedback on your pricing. Ask about their best selling product categories and best selling items.  Inquire if there are any quality issues that you need to address when developing a new line. Keep a file with this type of feedback from your customers. Ask them when you see them in person at trade shows or when they visit you.


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