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Smart Marketing > Expensive Marketing

February 28, 2016
Barbie model

Photo courtesy of Lil’ Wiz

In September of 1982, a young clothing designer started a new company.

He knew he needed to move quickly. Then, like now, most new companies don’t survive. And this is especially true in a temperamental business like fashion.

He named the company after himself in order to avoid possible trademark conflicts that might delay him. He didn’t want to take the chance of applying for a trademark, being denied, and having to start the process all over again.

There was a downturn in the American economy. Because of this, he decided to manufacture his product in Italy since he’d have a better shot at getting credit directly from Italian factories who needed business, than from American banks.

He had his name. He had his product. Now he just had to sell it.

At the time, there were two ways you sold clothing:

  1. Showcase your product line to buyers during market week via a room at the Hilton New York Hotel.
  2. Rent a fancy showroom within a couple of blocks of the Hilton New York Hotel.

Most companies went with a room at the Hilton. But that put you against 1100 other clothing manufacturers.

Over 30 floors, with over 30 companies per floor. And every company looked basically the same, showcasing similar product in every room.

No matter how good you are or how much money you have, it’s very hard to distinguish yourself in circumstances like this. And the “fancy showroom” option is even more of a risk.

On a whim, he called a friend in the trucking business.

“If I could figure out how to park a 40-foot trailer on the corner of 6th Avenue and 56th Street durning market week, would you lend one to me?”

His friend replied, “This is New York. You can’t park a bicycle for 15 minutes let alone a truck on the corner of 6th Avenue and 56th Street, but if you can figure it out, not only will I lend you the trailer, I’ll help you decorate it.”

So he called the mayor’s office and asked, “How does one get permission to park a 40-foot trailer on the corner of 6th Avenue and 56th Street?”

They answered, “This is New York. We only give permission under two circumstances. One, if you’re a utility company servicing our streets. Two, if you’re a production company working on a movie.”

That afternoon, Kenneth Cole went to a stationery store and changed his letterhead from “Kenneth Cole, Inc.” to “Kenneth Cole Productions, Inc.” The following morning, he filed a permit to shoot a full-length motion picture called The Birth Of A Shoe Company.

His models became actresses. He hired a director — sometimes there was film in his camera, sometimes there wasn’t. And two New York City policemen, compliments of the mayor, acted as doormen.

When people would come to the trailer, in the sprit of building anticipation and curiosity, he kept them behind a velvet rope made them wait to enter.

When the show ended three days later, he’d sold 40,000 pairs of shoes.

Within three years, Kenneth Cole opened his first store on Columbus Avenue in Manhattan. Today, Kenneth Cole stores can be found worldwide in countries such as Mexico, Canada, Venezuela, Colombia, Israel, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, Philippines, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Singapore, Australia, and South Africa.

To honor its unusual beginning, his company is still known as Kenneth Cole Productions, Inc.

There are two big lessons here:

  1. The best solutions usually aren’t the most expensive, but the most creative.
  2. Successful entrepreneurs (and podcasters) make their own rules.

There are no hard-and-fast rules when it comes to marketing yourself.

So as you read this blog, or any blog, don’t get too caught up in following everything to the letter. Instead, use what resonates with you to build your foundation, then make your own rules.

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