How to market test your product at low-cost

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George opens in Johannesburg
George opens in Johannesburg

My daughter wanted a shoulder bag to take with her on an upcoming holiday and we went to the new George clothing store in the Cresta Shopping Centre, Northcliffe, Johannesburg.

We weren’t in the shop for more than five minutes when my daughter found exactly what she was looking for and better quality than she would have found in similar priced local clothing stores.

What interested me is the temporary format of this clothing store to test the local market. George, which is owned by Asda, a subsidiary of Walmart in the UK, has been brought out to South Africa by Massmart (owned now by Walmart).

The George clothing brand has opened in three pop-up stores: the one in Cresta, another in the Galleria Shopping Shopping mall in Durban and the Cape Gate Shopping Centre in Cape Town. These instant stores will close after the Christmas period.

A pop-up retail space is a temporary venue that enables start-ups to test products or concepts, locations or markets. It is also a low-cost way to start a business. Some pop-ups are seasonal such as for Christmas gifts and decorations.

In this uncertain economy temporary retail outlets, or pop-up stores, have gained in popularity. Because many shopping centres have empty space it’s easier for small business owners and entrepreneurs to test their products or even increase their sales from the high-traffic holiday season.

Apart from these instant stores, what other formats can entrepreneurs use especially if they have a very tight budget?

The no-cost way of selling your product if you are a struggling start-up entrepreneur is hand-selling. But it’s not for the fainthearted. Selling on street corners, taxi ranks (as I’ve done to teach my son) and subways to commuters requires a fearless approach.

Hand-selling can be an art: you’ve got to hone your pitch, read people, dress up and no where and when to sell. Preferably don’t sell alone. Personal safety comes first.

Other low-cost selling opportunities include flea markets, block parties, street fairs, craft shows, green markets and private party selling. Some may sneer at these forms of selling but remember that many big retail stores started with owners who were street cart sellers.

Mall booths or kiosks have sprung up in shopping malls, garden nursery and lifestyle centres, hospitals, government buildings, airports and railway stations. These retail formats are used for selling anything from gifts and biltong to books, CDs, videos and new products (for example, insect repellents or special pillows).

A more challenging way to test new products and services is the Internet. While a website is easy to set up, driving traffic to the site takes time and skill.

Whatever format you use for market testing, the feedback from customers should give you a good indication whether to step up to a larger and more permanent format.

If you are just starting out and want to turn your idea or concept into a new product or service, you will most likely need a mentor to guide you through the process of idea development, market testing, evaluation and business planning. Click here for expert advice.

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