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From My Inbox: Product Start-Ups
Question: I started a company making handcrafted recycled-glass tile. I’ve finished my research and development, and have a beautiful translucent tile. What would be the best way to market my products to the green design community?
Answer: I get dozens of questions just like this from fledgling craftspeople and entrepreneurs, many of whom will not, unfortunately, succeed. It’s not the greenness of the product that will cause their failure. It’s more likely scale.
Years ago a very entrepreneurial fellow I knew designed a furniture system from recycled aluminum and multi-layered corrugated cardboard. It was handsome, durable, well priced, and very green. He and his partners invested quite a bit into marketing and promotion—trade show expositions, advertising, good visuals. They couldn’t make a go of it, not because the product wasn’t worthy, but rather because it couldn’t compete with or draw attention from the big guys.
In the recycled-glass tile industry, there’s already a lot of competition, possibly because used glass is so plentiful from curbside recycling programs. Oceanside, for example, offers a stunning collection of handcrafted glass tiles with up to 86 percent recycled material, and is considered a market leader.
Start-ups take heart. Four partners—three glass artists and a self-described bean counter—founded Oceanside Glasstile in 1992. A well-defined and strategic business plan, as well as an evolving and appealing product, allowed the company to grow. Sixteen years later, it is an award-winning resource for the design community.
There is a market out there for specialty green products including those from the smaller suppliers, especially those who make one-of-a-kind products. Many, who face distribution challenges, may consider looking to the green building product centers scattered around the country. They may consider clearing a shelf. It can’t hurt to ask. I believe there’s always room at the top.