With global resources, easy shipping, and social platforms allowing us to reach the masses at a higher rate than ever before, custom becomes "it". You couldn't feel any more VIP than if you jumped on your phone on a Tuesday night and ordered a bag, a shirt, a pair of shoes, or a pair of pants; that were custom to your style, needs, wants, and exact fit.

New Techniques and Technology Changing the Options

Given the rise in new manufacturing techniques and technology, I am not surprised to see entrepreneurs hoping to bring the art of customization to the masses. Especially with a growing buying generation, who seems to place so much attention on intentional purchases, personalization, and living life on their own terms. With these changes mentioned above, what can we expect to see, what should we watch out for, and what are the red flags to failure when it comes to mass customization?

Leather + Artisans + Handcrafted = Success... Right?

When Guido Silbert traveled through Vietnam, he experienced something that changed how he felt about customization. He had the opportunity to help design his own leather bag, exact to his needs, in the patterns and beautiful leather colors he desired. As Silbert watched his own creative vision come to life, the wheels started turning, and Jacques Silbert was born. This is the place where you become the designer, and at the end of the process, are rewarded with a piece born of your imagination. So, what could go wrong?

The Top Three Reasons Mass Customization Businesses Fail

  1. Selling customization is expensive. A website to sell custom pieces on a mass scale is also expensive, and this option, to allow consumers to build and really conceptualize their custom piece is necessary to sales in this type of business. So the amount of money needed, before you ever make a sale, to have the proper tech and website and 3D rendering, is high and can be make or break. Silbert reiterated several times, over the course of our conversation, how surprised he was at the difficulty of creating the website necessary to sell his product.

  2. The audience isn't where entrepreneurs usually begin. Crowdfunding platforms tend to be predominately male, and startups now often hurt their odds and brand before they ever hit the market for this reason. Comparatively, over eighty percent of consumer purchases are influenced or made by women, and this stark contrast is something we should pay more attention to. If an entrepreneur is considering going the route of mass customization, they have to know, without a doubt, who and where their exact audience is, and they must speak their language. Silbert felt like, in some ways, he had failed after his funding campaign didn't go as planned, but the truth is this: his target market wasn't where his campaign was, and so the visibility he needed  was never there to begin with.

  3. Consumers are more impatient than ever. Customization takes time and this is a huge area where the purchase process breaks down. For Silbert, he promises and over delivers on a three-week turnaround time, and for a top-quality bag you've designed yourself, is amazing, but it isn't Amazon Prime. Selling customization means also selling the idea that the wait is worth the reveal, and even though you can get that $60 bag from Amazon in two days, it isn't a custom bag with everything you want, your initials, in the leather you picked, with the interior you will love every time you unzip that bag.

Mass Customization Requires Pivots

Despite the rough stare, Silbert's bags are available and offered in various sizes  for convenience, functionality, and purpose, in addition to the quality and luxury of a personalized item. As he pivots his bespoke business and is learning where his true audience is, Silbert says he is in it for the long haul, and pivoting as necessary to bring his bespoke business to the masses.

Published on: Jan 8, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.