The Goldilocks Dilemma by Rena Tom

Contributor post by Rena Tom


I talk to a lot of businesses about their product line. Like Goldilocks, there is much hemming and hawing over whether or not the products are "just right". Often this has nothing to do with style, size, or color, and a lot to do with a seemingly simple thing - quantity. How do you know when your line is the right size?

I have seen product lines that represent years of creative output, where everything is unique and all styles are still available. I have also seen extremely pared down collections of just 2 or 3 styles per concept. What is most appealing?

This depends on what you are making and who you are selling it to. A clothing line will often present many styles, in many colors, so that a store buyer can pick and choose favorites, or styles that are guaranteed to please their particular customers, and still make up a coherent collection. Someone selling jewelry direct to the customer might want to show their versatility and have several collections, or even specialize in one-of-a-kind or some-of-a-kind, so their website will be more extensive.

I feel that your line is the right size when you are not making too many exceptions. A consistent message is so important to keep the attention of your customers. If you are evaluating your product line and can easily pick out a core group, that's perfect. At that point, if you want to add in other products because they are personal favorites or just on-trend and likely to sell, remember to weigh those benefits against possibly weakening your theme or point of view in the eyes of the buyer.

In general, the more unique items you have, the more categories you should create. Try to group your pieces into collections that make sense thematically. You want to avoid a customer to be paralyzed by choice - and unable to make up her mind and actually buy something. For example, Portland General has many different kinds of categories, as well as products, so they divide them up by utility.

Alternately, group unique pieces visually - even if they don't look alike, find a way to style the photographs similarly so they make visual sense. Here, ISWAS+WILLBE tie together their unique jewelry with careful styling and consistent photography.

If you have a few basic forms that are available in a variety of colors or materials each season, you can show all of those choices separately on your site or catalog, making your range look larger. The repetition will emphasize the iconic nature of the work, while the color/material differences will help point out the subtle details. Makr Carry Goods like to explore one shape, in this case a bag, in different materials, season after season.

{image from}

There are those who say they like to make up their own minds and seem bothered by the extreme curation going on in retail right now, but for the most part, it saves time and shows the desire of people to trust others to help find the very best goods on offer.

Do you have a hard time narrowing down how many products to sell, or how to present them?


Rena Tom is a retail strategist for creative business owners. She previously owned Rare Device, a boutique and art gallery with locations in New York and San Francisco that was renowned for its carefully edited collection of design objects, books, housewares and accessories, and for supporting small, innovative designers and artists whose work was not easily found in stores. Rena blogs about personal projects as well as retail trends and small business tips at She lives in San Francisco with her husband and baby boy in an apartment filled with too many laptops, Sprecher root beer, half-finished craft projects and overdue library books.

Jan Halvarson

1 comment:

A Cup of Sparkle said...

I loved this article and what it is trying to say. I have been looking many shops online and see the uniformity of the photos in one way or another. The examples you chose are great ones. My shop on Etsy, I think strives from this with too many different backgrounds and photo staging. This is something I am looking forward to work on next year and improve. I would love to learn more about how to do this with different lines of jewelry, etc. Thanks again for the article!