The Acme Widget Company is located in Brooklyn, New York. It makes really boring retail widgets that have been declining in sales for the last three years. It’s in a hyper-competitive market with at least three to four competitive products on the same shelf, sitting right next to the Acme Widget. Todd, the owner, has tried everything he can think of to stop sales from declining, but he is like a guy trying to plug holes in a sinking ship.
Todd has not sat on his hands while watching his product line go down the tubes. He has responded to sliding sales by lowering the prices of his widgets. He has also improved the widgets so they work better. However, the improved widget increased costs, making his margins smaller on shrinking sales.
Retailers began to complain about widgets sitting on their shelves too long and threatened to stop buying altogether. Not knowing what else to do, Todd agreed to take back any widgets that didn’t sell within ninety days. He also ate the cost of freight back to the warehouse. Todd was at the end of his rope when the bank called him. The bank representative said the bank had reviewed Acme Widgets’ credit and decided to cap it at the level of its outstanding balances, effectively cutting off its access to emergency cash.
With less than ninety days of working capital to operate Acme Widgets, Todd had to take decisive action. After careful deliberation, he realized the problem was too big for him to handle alone, so he decided to hire a salesman for the first time in company history. He knew this was a huge risk because the last thing Todd needed was a larger payroll. However, the decision was made, so Todd placed a call to a recruiter and made a request for the best salesman in Brooklyn. Todd felt relieved to have made a decision, but he felt the weight of his decision and the knowledge that he could be looking at bankruptcy in just a few months if the salesman didn’t get fast results.
Todd was mentally exhausted and had a serious migraine, so he decided to stop by CVS on the way home to pick up some aspirin. It was a twenty-minute drive to the CVS, but his mind kept going back to how he was going to find the greatest salesman in Brooklyn. He knew that salesperson would have to work super hard and take no time off—at least until Acme got sales back to the point where it could make a profit. The salesperson would need to communicate the features and benefits of Acme’s widgets in a consistent manner that got results.
After Todd pulled up to the CVS, something felt strange as soon as he pulled his key out of the ignition. He couldn’t put his finger on it, but when he walked past the automatic doors, his mind was locked in to what the interview would be like for his super salesman; would the salesman even want to work for Acme Widgets? Todd’s thoughts were racing, and he knew he had to capture those thoughts, so he zoomed to the stationery department to get paper to write down his ideas before they were lost forever.
Without even thinking, Todd grabbed an orange notebook from the stationery section and immediately took a package of sharpies that was at arm’s length. In seconds, he was scribbling his ideas in his newly acquired notebook. He hadn’t even realized he was using the supplies, with no thought that they needed to be purchased before he began using them. He wrote all his thoughts quickly because he wanted to be sure to capture the moment. He then added that the best salesman had to have a better close rate than Acme’s competition. Todd smiled to himself because he felt he was finally getting someplace; now all he had to do was find the right salesman and he would reverse his fortunes. With a sense of clarity and purpose, Todd went to the cash register and paid for his orange notebook and package of red sharpies. With new confidence, Todd asked the cashier how his day was going. The cashier said, “My shift is over in nineteen minutes and I’m out of this place.” Todd hardly listened to what the cashier said as he thought about the day’s journey and the great salesman he was about to hire to rescue the company.
Todd left CVS, got back in his car, put the key in the ignition, and laughed. He had made the trip for aspirin for his migraine, but he had totally forgotten to put any in his basket. With a smile, he realized the migraine was almost gone and must have been stress-related. With his head feeling better and the plan in place for the perfect salesman, Todd headed home.
Todd met his wife, Kay, in the kitchen and told her about his day and his excitement to have solved his business problems. Kay had once been the CFO for Acme Widgets, so she knew the inner workings of the company and its fragile financial state. With great pride, Todd showed her the orange notebook and three pages filled with red writing from his just purchased red sharpie. Kay studied the notebook carefully for several minutes while Todd stared at her, waiting for her reaction. Todd was wondering why Kay didn’t share his excitement immediately. How could she not? It was all there in the notebook. Todd couldn’t wait anymore, so he said, “Pretty good stuff, huh?”
Kay gently put the notebook on the kitchen table, looked up, and said, “This is really good stuff, honey, but how can the company afford a salesman and the fees the recruiters charge? Additionally, it will take a salesman at least ninety days to learn how our widgets work and how to sell them.” Todd hadn’t thought about those things carefully, and he knew Kay was right.
Todd’s migraine started to come back now even worse than before, and he started wondering why he hadn’t picked up the aspirin at CVS. Todd’s brain started spinning, and he blurted out that the company would be bankrupt in ninety days if sales didn’t turn around quickly. “You see,” he told Kay, “the bank called today, and it is not giving the company any more credit.” Todd’s eyes were watery, but he was not the type of man to cry—at least not in front of his wife. Feeling totally defeated, Todd picked up his orange notebook and tossed it in the trash, wondering how he could have been so foolish.
After thanking Kay for being the voice of reason, Todd decided to go upstairs and go to bed. It was only 7:30 p.m., but Todd could no longer stand the thoughts that were uncontrollably racing in his mind. He welcomed sleep as an escape. Todd collapsed on the bed, fully clothed, and fortunately, he was asleep within minutes.
Todd woke at 2:00 a.m., realizing his wife was sleeping next to him, but he was fully clothed, with his shoes still on and his feet hanging off the bed. Todd’s mind immediately began to race again, and he was embarrassed that he had thrown the notebook in the trash after showing it to Kay. Todd went downstairs to the kitchen, where he had thrown the notebook in the trash, and realized it was not there. Todd scratched his head and started searching the house, even though he was sure he had thrown the notebook in the trash. He even went to his car that was parked on the street to look for the notebook. How could it be gone?
When Todd came back into the house, his closing the door woke up Kay. She came downstairs and asked, “Where did you go?” Todd explained that he was looking for the notebook he had thrown in the trash. Kay said, “I have the notebook. After you went to bed, I read it again and realized you were right.”
“I was right?” Todd asked, wondering whether he was dreaming.
Kay explained that she had realized Todd was spot on. They had to have the perfect salesman if the company was to survive. The problem was getting a salesman who could close better than the competition, work hard, take little time off, and communicate the features and benefits of Acme’s widgets that got consistent results while accepting a measly salary.
Todd chimed in, “I know. I got it! You made that point last night.”
Kay then looked at Todd and asked him why he had bought the orange notebook and the red sharpie.
“Because I wanted to get my thoughts on paper before I forgot them,” Todd replied.
“No, I mean why an orange notebook, and why a red sharpie rather than, say, a blue one.”
“Kay,” Todd explained, “the shelf at CVS was filled from top to bottom with what seemed like dozens of choices in each category. I think I was responding emotionally. It felt like I needed the orange notebook because I wanted a color that matched my enthusiasm as I was brainstorming my sales problem. I went with the red sharpie because I wanted the energy and boldness that my idea meant to me at that moment. I was blind to all the similar products on the shelf. Why are you asking me these questions, Kay? What does this idle talk solve?”
“Just work with me, Todd,” Kay replied. “Why did you pick those brands?”
“I picked the brands that had the best packaging. The orange notebook was packaged in a clear cellophane wrap that made me feel like the notebook was high quality and best suited for my big ideas. The red sharpie came in a three-pack in clamshell packaging that made it look like a better writing instrument than the competitive products that had less-thoughtful packaging. And I can re-use the clamshell packaging to store my sharpie after I use it. I hadn’t thought about all that until now, but like I said, I didn’t consciously think about it.”
“That’s what you need to do for Acme Widgets!” Kay exclaimed.
“What are you talking about?” Todd asked.
“The salesman you need to hire is the package that the Acme Widget comes in,” Kay explained. “After you went to bed, I did some research and found that your package can be your best salesman. You bought the orange notebook and the red sharpie because of the packaging and the color. You can incorporate a new packaging design and color that makes the Acme Widget sell. It wasn’t by chance that the color orange inspired you to buy that particular notebook. The package that the products came in forced you to acknowledge a level of quality you wanted. You didn’t even think about any other competitive products or price; you just made a decision to buy. Acme Widget’s new salesman will be able to close better than the competition, work harder, take no time off, and communicate features and benefits that get consistent results while getting paid zero dollars because that new salesman will be the package.”
Todd nodded his head. Kay was absolutely right!
The best salesman in the world is not a person. The best salesman is the packaging your product comes in. This story is fictional, but based on real life events. The names were changed to protect the guilty, but this scenario plays itself out in many businesses.
Research shows that the right packaging brings more sales! Packaging doesn’t just transport a product so that it can make it to the store. It’s an effective marketing and sales tools. Packaging is sometimes referred to as “the silent salesman,” and it can make the difference between winning or losing a sale to a competitor. Research shows that packaging has a significant impact on the final buying decision.
According to research from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, increasing shelf visibility is the primary way to grow sales. A powerful indicator of willingness to purchase is “the first moment of truth,” which happens at the shelf—that moment when a consumer picks up your package.
This fictional story about Todd has hopefully given you another arrow in your quiver to drive your sales higher and improve your bottom line. The best salesman you can ever have is your packaging. Using packaging to sell your product is hard to beat in terms of ROI. A modest investment in designing new packaging or re-designing existing packaging can pay for itself many times over a short period of time. The best part is that this salesman will never take a day off or ask for a raise.
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Kurt Mogielnicki is Vice President of Packaging Designs & Solutions at Southpack Packaging. His primary responsibilities are presenting packaging solutions that sell more product and enhance product protection at the lowest cost. Follow his blog for all his posts. He can also be followed on Twitter or Facebook.