The Presale Model: A Recipe for Disaster for Your Business

It can be very challenging to start a new project and confidently produce 50 or 100 items without knowing if what you want to make will be successful. A seemingly logical solution is to start a pre-order, a strategy commonly seen among artists. However, I'm here to argue that this is not an effective way to introduce your brand. Safer alternatives exist, such as using platforms like Kickstarter for pre-orders, which offer set timelines and protect your customers’ investments if the project fails. Customers enter these transactions with clear expectations, unlike direct pre-orders through your own online store, which can be riddled with unforeseen issues.

From the start, failing to clearly define the terms of a pre-sale can disappoint new customers. A common error is to offer a minor discount without specifying the duration of the presale or the delivery timeline. This lack of clarity almost guarantees disappointment among your earliest supporters, which is not advisable if you aim to build a loyal following.

In addition, many entrepreneurs initiate a pre-sale without confirming the feasibility of producing the item as advertised. This issue frequently arises with enamel pins, which require specific materials and processes. It is crucial to collaborate with professionals, such as Alchemy or your chosen factory, to validate your design before accepting payments.

Presales can rapidly lead to complications. For example, imagine you launch a pre-sale for an enamel pin priced at $12. You need to sell at least 50 to proceed with production. If you only achieve a third of your target, you might extend the pre-sale, continue promoting it, and hope for more sales. However, this can lead to delays and frustration among customers, especially if their money is being diverted to cover other expenses in the meantime. Such situations often result in customer dissatisfaction and a barrage of inquiries about production timelines and delivery dates.

If you decide to pursue a pre-sale, consider the following tips for success:

  • Verify the manufacturability of the product before offering it for sale.
  • Ensure you have sufficient funds to cover the minimum production costs, even if it means cutting personal expenses.
  • Clearly define the duration of the pre-sale, whether it's one week, two weeks, or another specific period.
  • Communicate that a certain sales threshold must be met for production to proceed, and commit to refunding orders if this goal is not met.
  • Maintain open communication with your customers, addressing their concerns promptly to prevent issues from escalating.

Unless these practices are firmly established and adhered to, you risk alienating those who initially supported you. As a customer or fan, consider whether this would be the type of experience that fosters brand loyalty. Using a pre-sale model is generally unsustainable; when problems arise, they present significant challenges.

In my experience, having seen brands rely on the pre-sale model over eight years of making custom products and more than 20 years in business, it invariably leads to issues that can damage a brand's or artist's reputation. It is wiser to ensure sufficient funding for production upfront or to communicate openly and issue refunds if necessary. Once trust is compromised, it is really difficult to restore.

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