We’ve all seen them: companies that seem to have a precise line on the trendiest products and marketing tools. Bloggers write about them, the youth demographic worships them, and — above all else — customers throw down loads of cash to own the goods. Business owners everywhere look to brands like Urban Outfitters, Apple and MTV to demonstrate what’s new and next, but how do those enterprises do it in the first place?
The answer lies in two simple words: trend spotting.
Rising to prominence in the early 90s, trend spotting — also known as cool hunting — is the process by which companies observe various cultural subsets in order to predict upcoming trends. Fashion magazines have been doing this for decades; by curating ideas and making educated guesses about what customers are likely to love, cool-hunting companies are able to garner a sense of gotta-have-it urgency for their products. What’s more, when it’s paired with smart sourcing and marketing, the strategy can virtually create demand from thin air.
What’s the best part? Your store can reap the benefits of this concept almost immediately. Here, we look at specific ways to identify trends and source products so that you can amp up your cool factor in the blink of an eye.
Know Your Competition
When it comes to cool, you need to be realistic: You’re likely not competing with big-box behemoths like Walmart or Amazon. To put it bluntly, the on-trend crowd simply doesn’t congregate there. Though forward-thinking companies like Target have managed to convert their customer base from deal hunters to fashion seekers, you’ll do better to separate yourself from the mass-market mentality altogether. Take inspiration from the most well-heeled boutiques and in-the-know online shops; more often than not, that’s where the cutting-edge culture is really making waves.
Find Your Focus
Before you can embark upon any cool-hunting venture, you’ll need to take the temperatures of your current and future customer bases. Pull together a focus group to discuss which trends your clients can’t live without, or create an online survey that solicits opinions from the demographic you’re targeting. Not only will this help you understand what’s trending for your customers now, but it’ll also give you the opportunity to begin cracking a new market. Make sure to incentivize the groups or surveys; a discount card or free gift always does the trick.
Follow the Early Adopters
Here’s where the fun truly begins. Think of this step like a treasure hunt: By seeking out people who aren’t afraid to try new ideas, you’ll be able to position those ideas as future trends. The trick here is to look for recurring themes and patterns; browse photo-based websites like Pinterest, Tumblr and Instagram to get a sense of what’s happening in the real world, and keep abreast of the latest news through cool-cache media sources such as Gawker and Vice. Following industry-specific sites like Coolhunting and Trend Spotter is equally worthwhile, and you can even enlist a particularly in-the-know employee to hit the streets and see what’s hot.
Go Straight to the Source
Once you’ve spotted a few trends, you’ll need to know how to nab the goods. This is sometimes as simple as rounding up a list of links from your social-media sources or asking someone on the street where they found that iPhone case, but you’ll likely have to do a little digging. Popular events like New York’s buzzed-about Brooklyn Flea and Chicago’s Randolph Street Market have been goldmines for merchants, and even direct-to-consumer services like Etsy can lead you to some high-quality products that aren’t being sold elsewhere.
Mix Low- and High-Margin Items
Before you stamp your seal on the products and call it a day, however, there’s one last thing you need to check: your margins. This can be an understandably vicious cycle; you want to keep your overhead low by buying and selling products on the cheap, but inexpensive items take quite a bit of time to show any major returns. Don’t completely do away with the low-threshold inventory — plenty of customers will drop $15 on a super-unique item that only cost you $3 to product — but try to incorporate a few big-ticket stunners into the fold. Welcome to the world of trendsetting.