Lifetime Guarantee – Yes or No?

If you are a maker of products, then this is a question that you need to answer. You will also have to be prepared to live with your answer, especially if you say: Yes!

Full disclosure: I have always insisted that the products made by my companies be “unconditionally guaranteed.”  I never regretted that philosophy and in 25 years+, the cost was less than 0.01% of our sales.

ZN Blog Warranties

Last month, I had the opportunity to test another company’s lifetime guarantee. Zippo ®, was made famous by soldiers during WW2, and most recently was a key accessory for the men in the Mad Men TV series.

I inherited a Zippo® lighter made in the early 1950’s and the lighting mechanism finally stopped working. I mailed it to the American repair center and 4 weeks later my lighter was returned in perfect working order. Zippo ® confirmed receipt and sent me the return shipping information – a professional and flawless transaction.

The recent uproar over L.L. Bean’s® decision to change their guarantee policy because of “claimed” abuse, prompted me to look a little deeper. To my amazement, while a large number of companies offer a “lifetime” guarantee, the fine print says otherwise. A Google search showed that there are only 20 -50 brands currently with a genuine “lifetime” guarantee: in other words, companies with a no-hassle process to exchange your product or to get it repaired for free. Country Living has a photo gallery of 25 products/companies that practice what they preach.

My recommendation to a Start-Up or an SME that manufacturers or distributes physical products is: Guarantee your product unconditionally. Yes, you will be tested on your resolve, but the resulting customer goodwill and word of mouth will be worth every penny you spend on fulfilling your promise.  Do not get into fine print with qualifiers. Just spell out clearly what constitutes a failure of the product and what the procedures are to get it replaced or repaired. Yes, it is OK to charge for shipping – just do not make that an unrealistic amount. You will be doing the right thing.

Update on November 18, 2018 –  NYT She collected 1500 companies that stand behind their products.

Location, Location and Location!

Z Niche Blog Volcano 2 061118

As an entrepreneur, you will have to make an early decision on where you should physically locate your company. While micro businesses or single employee companies have the most flexibility and the least need for a fixed location, businesses that produce or handle physical products do not have that luxury.

Because many of our clients fall into the latter category, we frequently face this geography question and while each situation is unique, there are some common denominators. I will address some of them, so that you can evaluate your situation before committing to a location that could be more expensive than necessary.


In the restaurant business, your physical location is more important than your social media prowess. Rent and build-out costs will be your most significant fixed expense and consequently choosing the right location (i.e., a neighborhood where your target customer wants to go) is mission critical. An established location will be more expensive than a location beginning to trend. How do you choose?

  1. Do a thorough demographic analysis – framed by your ideal customer persona.
  2. Establish a relationship with a real estate broker active in your target area and who is specialized in restaurants.
  3. Do a personal review of Social Media covering the area (Yelp, Google, Facebook community page, etc.)
  4. Walk the neighborhood during the day and at night.
  5. Get comfortable with using data from the applicable municipality – zoning regulations, noise restrictions, building permits, crime reports, etc.
  6. Join a neighborhood organization and make friends.

Manufacturing or Assembly Companies

Here the main criterion is not foot traffic. Instead it is infrastructure and transport accessibility. How your employees get to work, how safely and at what cost has a long-term impact on your profitability. So does the infrastructure condition for electricity, water supply and whether or not you are located in a flood zone or possibly a volcano eruption. How do you pick what is right for you (assuming you have already settled on a city or town)?

  1. Create an optimal floor plan for your operation and determine the amount of square feet you will need, both minimum and allowing for growth.
  2. Create a relationship with a commercial real estate broker who specializes in light industrial buildings and provide a detailed list of your requirements. In addition to square feet, you need to specify your electric and water requirements, determine whether or not you need to be dock high, how many restrooms, parking area, ceiling height etc.
  3. Visit every location under consideration at least twice and at different times of the day.
  4. Meet with local politicians to see what incentives are available for you to locate in their district. For example: Targeted Economic Zones will allow an investor to invest only $ 500,000 instead of $ 1 Million to qualify for an EB-5 Visa. There also may be development credits, tax breaks and other incentives available.

E-commerce Companies

If you are involved only in e-commerce and are doing your own fulfillment then you have the greatest amount of leverage over your future landlord, because you can use just about any light industrial space to house your operations. Location, signage, foot traffic or demographics are of little interest to you. What you require is the lowest cost per square foot in a reliable building. You want to have easy truck access but you do not need to be dock-high since a forklift will be adequate for loading and unloading. What you do want is a relatively safe neighborhood and a secure building.

  1. Determine your square-foot requirements.
  2. Contact several commercial brokers to provide a list of locations.
  3. Visit only the places whose pictures indicate they may work for you.
  4. Check with FedEx® or your preferred trucking company on a location’s accessibility and service times.
  5. Check on Internet availability (i.e. fiber-optic cable vs. regular).
  6. Negotiate for the smallest deposit and shortest lease landlord is willing to give.

Most important, never forget that getting the first or a new place for your business is a significant mile-stone. Enjoy the process and celebrate your accomplishment after your lawyer has checked the lease and it is signed!

Read more in Updates:

New York Times  discusses location selection for manufacturers



Trade Shows – To do or not to do – that is the question!

Trade shows have been a marketing fixture since 1851 when the “Great Exhibition” was held in London.

Trade Show 1

Since that time, Trade Shows have become a staple in the marketing mix of established companies.

What about Start-Ups?

If it is a B2B product, we strongly recommend that our clients include Trade Shows as part of their marketing budget. If it is a B2C product and our client also wants a retail channel,  then Trade Shows are a great way to get exposure to buyers from large and small chains. We also urge the client to be sure that the Founder and all senior staff attend the show and work the booth.

Why? – Because Exhibiting works!

“Trade shows are the #1 business-to-business marketing expenditure to support sales – beating out specialty publications, internet, promotions, and PR respectively”

It is estimated that 80+% of all exhibit attendees have some sort of buying power. So if they stop at your booth, your people and your booth must be ready to impress.

Whether you are at a National show in Chicago or at a Regional show in Austin – you owe it to your product and your stake holders to be at your best. While your booth may be minimal, your effort must be at the maximum. You have about 15 seconds to make a first impression, so make it count.

Some other tips:

  1. Do not economize on your booth location – get a corner or a larger booth
  2. Bring adequate POS material
  3. Have sufficient staff to give everybody down time
  4. Have a script and a chain of command for staff working the booth
  5. Have a daily pre-show meeting to get everybody on the same page
  6. Have a daily post-show meeting to review the day
  7. Do not tolerate sloppiness or inattention–texting can wait
  8. Be prepared to provide pricing information – delivered to the customer
  9. Be ready for surprises
  10. Last but most important: Know why you are at the show and know what you are trying to accomplish

After 35 years of doing Trade Shows, I can tell you that they are hard work. I can also tell you that proper preparation can improve results exponentially. So if you are just starting out, or already have few years of operating, I urge you to consider Trade Show participation. Carefully select a show to fit your purpose, do your home work and then watch your sales soar.

When Things go Viral!

Recently one of our clients achieved viral status for one of his promotional videos that was posted by Odditymall on their Facebook page and got over 1.2 Million views in 11 days.


This was not an accident however! Our client had been building his relationship with Odditymall for over two years and they had previously given his products exposure on their site and even had posted videos, but nobody expected this.

From our clients perspective, the 1000+ orders came out of left field. While he had inventory, it was not enough. A key supplier had a personal tragedy during that period and that held up the production of additional units resulting in delayed shipments during the critical Holiday period – communication with customers became an instant priority and managed to preserve almost all orders and certainly Goodwill.


If you are bank or ice fishing this product may be of interest to you. Here is the link to the clients main site: The Fishing Caddy

Contract Cancellation 101

As an Entrepreneur or CEO you have probably discovered that trying to cancel a service contract, regardless of reason is a special form of hell.

Blog Money lender hell

No matter how righteous your cause or even if you you are just out of funds, you will find that service providers have a special weapon in their contracts – camouflaged in the fine print at the end of their “Terms of Service” clause. Euphemistically called non-renewal this tiny paragraph hides a mountain of financial liability just waiting to jump onto your credit card.

Below is one example of the easier ones I have run across, but if you miss the 45-day deadline, your credit card is automatically hit with a 12 month renewal fee and there is nothing you can do about it!


Unless otherwise specified in your Order, to prevent renewal of a Full-Service Subscription, you or we must give written notice of non-renewal and this written notice must be received no less than forty-five (45) days in advance of the end of the Subscription Term. If you decide not to renew, you may send the notice of non-renewal by email to

Technically called an Evergreen Contract , you will find it used by your Uniform Company, Automated Marketing Platforms, Fulfillment Centers and in such mundane areas as your dumpster rental and office cleaning contract and your lease.

What can you do to protect your company?

First and foremost: Always read your terms of service clause and mark your calendar with the critical non-renewal dates.

Second: No matter how happy you are with the service, always cancel 10 days before the end of your notice period.

Third:  Cancel in writing  via “Registered US Mail – Return Receipt Requested” and keep all the paperwork!

In conclusion, you should cancel every contract after the initial term, no matter how satisfied you are with the supplier. Cancelling gives you leverage for the next term!

Entomophagy or Meat from a Petri Dish? Two different solutions to solve hunger.

By now, both solutions have probably appeared on your radar, especially if you are involved with the food business. What you may not know is that two very different factions have gotten involved behind the scenes.


ZN Blog insect food 021918

Per Eco- Business, the global market for insect-based protein in 2015 was $ 33 Million and is expected to increase to $ 773 Million by 2024. Despite the huge growth rate, that is a small slice of the global meat and seafood market, which is currently estimated at $ 844 Billion by Statista.

This correlates with our own observation that insect food companies are small start-ups funded either by the founders or angel investors using direct sales via e-commerce to create a viable business.

We have worked with several start-ups in this field. If you are considering an entry into this market, please contact us for a no-obligation conversation.


ZN Blog lab meat 021918

Unlike insect protein, Lab-Meat has drawn the interest not only of Silicon Valley but also the venture arms of traditional protein producers such as Tyson.  While getting funding has not been an issue, growing meat in a Petri dish has proven to be difficult and capital intensive. What did not help were companies such as Hampton Creek(now called Just), which was the darling of Silicon Valley until their mayonnaise product turned into a sales fiasco.

Unlike insect food, lab-meat has a high capital cost for entry and while it is being worked on, the final break-through in both taste and cost is still in the future.