Thursday, January 24, 2008

What the Hula Hoop taught me

Richard Knerr passed away last week.  You may not know his name, but you probably know his company.  Wham-O, which Knerr founded (in a garage naturally) with boyhood friend Arthur Melin, set off national crazes like few companies, toy or otherwise, have managed before or since.  Their product line reads like a Baby Boomer's Christmas list:  The Hula Hoop, The Superball, Slip 'N' Slide, Silly String and, of course, the Frisbee (originally called the Pluto Platter when Wham-O bought the rights from from Walter Frederick Morrison).

Beyond teaching us new ways to play, there are things we can learn about marketing from Wham-O, too:

• Maximize Profits:  The typical Wham-O product was designed to be inexpensively priced -- yet was till five times the cost of manufacturing and promotion.

Maximize Seasonality:  Knerr and Melin realized perhaps counter-intuitively, that their prime selling season wasn't Christmas, but spring and summer.  That didn't just help them sell to kids out of school; post-Christmas was also when other toy manufacturers were laying off workers, ensuring them a good supply of labor.

Maximize Distribution:  Inexpensive price-points and a sense of novelty allowed the company to get Wham-O products into a wide variety of stores and department stores.

There are probably more examples, but I know what you really want to read is the inspiration behind the company's name.  So here it is:  Wham-O is how Knerr and Melin described the sound made by their first product -- a slingshot.

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