Discovering innovations that matter since 2002

Bra straps, revealing skirts, hiphop jewelry and rap snacks

Whether you’re deeply into fashion or dress like Woody Allen, a good fad can bring in the dollars, euros and yens like nothing else! Buy or manufacture the stuff below in bulk, ship it to wherever you live or work, and befriend tens of millions of fashion and music loving teens worldwide. In Japan, colorful replaceable bra straps are selling like hot cakes. They come adorned with beads, glitter, decorative ribbons and other eye-catching items, and are clearly not meant to be hidden under clothes. Prices range from 500 yen to 2000 ($4-$16). Want to buy wholesale? Check out Garland Industries. Looks like a worthy, if not temporary follow-up for the cell phone strap craze! Even more revealing (or so it seems at first sight), are Japanese mini-skirts with underwear-prints, made to look as if undies are showing through. Not what they seemed, the revealing skirts (as shown in the picture above), turned out to be Photoshop creations. The large number of newspapers that earnestly reported on this ‘fad’ actually show that what started out as a joke could turn into a nice business opportunity for clever designers! How long before the ‘real fake thing’ shows up? With the US rap scene now being as mainstream as IKEA furniture, it’s time for EVEN MORE SERIOUS monetizing of this industry: for the hungry, there are Rap Snacks, ‘the snacks with the rappers on them’, in 11 rap flavors, like “Lil Romeo BAR-B-Quin With Honey”. Want to snack in style? For a ‘Gold Bonded chain with 2pac Medallion’, head for hiphopjewelry.com. If that’s not enough, you can look exactly like your favorite rapper if you buy direct from Nelly, Ice-T, Eminem, Snoop Dogg, and Jay-Z, all of who are launching or have recently launched their own clothing lines. To quote Todd Slater, retail analyst with investment bank Lazard Freres (on abcNEWS.com): “Every major music personality I can think of is considering or has already considered an apparel line.” Sounds like some lucrative, if not glamorous, European and Asian licensing deals could be had in the next couple of months.

‘Native’ Asian restaurant chains that may well make it big

Tasty and healthy, pan-Asian food has never been more popular. Wok and noodle bars are popping up all over the world, be it, often, with a very modest roll-out strategy. Eager to know which one will eventually turn out to be the Asian equivalent of Burger King or KFC? Some of the truly ‘native’ Asian chains you should keep an eye on: Philippine fast food player Jollibee, which has 400 burger restaurants in the Philippines, has high hopes for its Chinese fast food chain Chowking. Not only is it rapidly expanding in the Philippines, but outlets are now in operation on the West Coast of the US, and a Dubai restaurant is in the pipeline. Hong Kong based Café de Coral, an up-market Chinese fast food chain with more than 100 restaurants in the Hong Kong region, is set to conquer Mainland China, with branches popping up in special economic zones and coastal cities of Shenzhen, Zhuhai and Guangzhou, and regional town centers of Foshan and Jiangmen. It also has restaurants in Canada, where it bought the Manchu Wok chain in 2000, and in the US, where it operates under the China Inn, Fan Ting and Dai Bai Dang brands. According to their website, Café de Coral is more than interested in discussing franchising, JVs and other partnering business opportunities. Thai Mango Chili goes after the fast-rice and noodle crowd in Thailand and beyond. It is owned by Thai Exquisine System and offers quick khao gaeng style meals (rice with a sauce-based topping) in its proto-type fast food restaurant in the heart of Bangkok. So far, Mango Chili has received interest from franchisees in Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, India and Saudi Arabia. A second concept outlet is being developed in Malaysia (source: Bangkok Post). And last but not least, MTR Foods (Bangalore, India), which hopes to become the ‘McDonald’s of Indian food’, is rolling out Indian fast food restaurants in Bangalore, Delhi, Bombay and Chennai this year (source: NYT). The company also has a sizable instant and frozen foods business. J.P. Morgan liked the idea so much they took a 28% stake. So, whether you’re an investor, an established fast food giant, a beer/soda distributor, or a budding fast food entrepreneur interested in representing these companies in your country of residence, there are plenty of spicy initiatives to get you going in this space. We like simple ideas that can instantly be turned into potentially global businesses: check out Brooklyn-based Neighborhoodies, which sells cool, über-local hooded sweatshirts emblazoned with the name of one’s very own, very narrowly defined neighborhood. Big cities have always been about neighborhoods or even specific streets, so a Murray Hill shirt says more than ‘I heart NY’. Launched only a few months ago, 300 hoodies a month (source: NYT) find their way to everyone from proud NoLita residents to Carnegie Hill locals. Which brings us to the very pleasant opportunities that this business idea has to offer glocal entrepreneurs: there are literally thousands and thousands of city neighborhoods around the world, and strongly identifying with your ‘hood’ is by no means exclusively a New York thing. Arrondissement-hoodies should appeal to Parisians, and hoodies featuring London’s status-driven postal code system (from posh SW1 to funky N1) should be a big hit, too. As start-up costs are very low and very few entrepreneurs are in this space right now, it should be doable to at least quickly grab a national market. On its website, Neighborhoodies is already inviting customers to send in new cities and neighborhoods, and has so far added Berlin, London, Milan and Bombay to its list of non-US cities, though they remain somewhat hidden on their site, and no real-world examples of non-NY hoodies can be viewed. So hurry up, and go glocal! (more…)

Opportunities

A market clearly at the beginning of discovering its global potential (Germany, which boasts 82 million sophisticated consumers yet still has some downright archaic rules on shop hours, currently has only two Shop24 machines installed), this is one nice business to get involved in on a partnership, investment or franchise level!

Automated convenience stores / vending machines

In a nation where labor is très expensive and you may get fined for working for more than 35 hours a week, vending machines should do well. Case in point: Paris based Yatoo Partoo (‘everything everywhere’) exploits 31 massive refrigerated vending machines in France and Spain. They resemble mini-convenience stores with the shopkeeper replaced by a robotic hand, ready to take your order 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Selling everything from milk and cat food to toilet paper and toothpaste, Yatoo Partoo is an urban life-saver par excellence! Competition comes from Belgian Shop24, which now operates 160 stores in 7 European countries, with another 150 stores in the pipeline. Yatoo Partoo’s and Shop24’s only American counterpart, ‘Shop2000‘, hails from Exton, Pennsylvania and operates only a handful of automated stores. All companies use real-time, online monitoring of performance, sales transactions, inventory and cash levels.

Opportunities

A market clearly at the beginning of discovering its global potential (Germany, which boasts 82 million sophisticated consumers yet still has some downright archaic rules on shop hours, currently has only two Shop24 machines installed), this is one nice business to get involved in on a partnership, investment or franchise level!

Opportunities

Financial institutions may want to closely examine Banco Azteca’s moves and results, not only because of the possibility of short term revenues in many emerging economies, but also because of the value of building long term relationships with consumers who one day WILL have more money to spend.

Providing credit to low-income consumers

Reminiscent of the ‘Small is Sundara’ business idea, which was all about selling consumer goods in smaller doses and packages to low-income consumers (Springwise Newsletter January 2003), Mexican Banco Azteca, which launched in December 2002, is applying this ‘less is more’ approach to 16 million Mexican households who make too little (from $250-$1300 a month) to attract the interest from established financial institutions. These Mexican consumers, even those without a bank account or without solid proof of income, can now apply for a savings account, wire transfers, mortgages, or small one-year loans (sometimes purely based on their personal possessions). The force behind Banco Azteca is Grupo Elektra, Mexico’s largest appliance retailer. Their 800+ appliance stores double as bank branches, and quite often bank clients are loyal Grupo Elektra customers as well, giving them some kind of credit history. As 70% of Grupo Elektra merchandise is sold on credit anyway, it makes sense to convert credit departments into bank branches. Besides the branches, there are also 3000 motorcycle-riding loan agents (source: Business Week). In its first 32 days of operation, 161,000 saving accounts were opened, with an average account deposit of $91.

Opportunities

Financial institutions may want to closely examine Banco Azteca’s moves and results, not only because of the possibility of short term revenues in many emerging economies, but also because of the value of building long term relationships with consumers who one day WILL have more money to spend.

Opportunities

The potential market is increasing by the day: 26 percent of the 21 million businesses in the US is owned by women, and 23 percent of American women makes more than her husband/partner. Clearly a juicy market, which warrants more attention than just launching superficial ‘pro-women’ advertising campaigns. Citigroup gets it. Deutsche Bank, ING, Bank of Tokyo, and HSBC to follow? (more…)

Smart, new concepts focused on women

In banking, Citigroup is making waves with its Women and Company service. Launched as a pilot in October 2001 in Chicago, New York and Florida, and now available nation-wide in the US, the service is aimed at women under 55 with at least $100,000 in investable assets. An annual $125 membership fee gives members access to an advisor from Salomon Smith Barney or Citicorp Investment Services, newsletters and seminars, and special rates for mortgages, child care facilities and saving funds. Following in WomenandCo’s footsteps is Malaysian Affin Merchant Bank, which set up a new division exclusively for female entrepreneurs in January 2003. Both banks have realized that there is a massive opportunity in tailored services for women, as relationships between banks and women show different dynamics than those between banks and men. Some research results: Women need to start investing earlier than men, as they tend to live longer, often still earn less than men, and sometimes find themselves (temporarily) disconnected from the world of labor due to pregnancy or family demands. Most women believe they know less about investing than men do. Women tend to do more research before they make a final choice for a financial advisor. However, after choosing an advisor, women have less time available to make investment decisions on an ongoing basis, as they often have to manage a family and household as well. Women tend to be more interested in what they can eventually DO with an investment rather than in achieving a (theoretical) maximum potential on paper. More than half of all women feel financial institutions show little respect for female investors.

Opportunities

The potential market is increasing by the day: 26 percent of the 21 million businesses in the US is owned by women, and 23 percent of American women makes more than her husband/partner. Clearly a juicy market, which warrants more attention than just launching superficial ‘pro-women’ advertising campaigns. Citigroup gets it. Deutsche Bank, ING, Bank of Tokyo, and HSBC to follow? (more…)

Opportunities

Whether all of the tech savvy and often highly opinionated gaming community will happily welcome the invasion of real world brands and products into their virtual lives remains to be seen, but with big brands moving into this space, and the number of gamers still increasing rapidly (for example: Nielsen reports more than 6 million Europeans visited an online gaming website in January 2003, more than double the number a year ago), developing your company’s in-game advertising strategy is time well spent.

In-game advertising: another step towards the omni-presence of brands

Professional marketing managers would love to establish an omni-presence for their brands and products, which means exposure in both the real and the virtual world. Hence the never-ending parade of experience stores, TV commercials and web site banners. From now on, add online games to the mix as well. Driven by better games and more broadband connections, 11.1 billion minutes are spent each month by consumers on playing online games, which represents a massive but largely untapped market for intimate in-game product placements. How does it work? Sims Online (by Electronic Arts) shows the way. A virtual city in which participants lead virtual lives, Sims has long been immensely popular as a CD-Rom based game. By moving into the online arena, entirely new doors are opened for players and advertisers alike. McDonald’s and Intel are already spending more than $2 million on their virtual presence in the Sims community. Players can not only buy a virtual Big Mac, but can actually become McDonald’s franchisees. They will use Intel branded PCs in their virtual homes and offices. Nokia, meanwhile, has opted for ‘Kelly Slater’s Pro Surfer’ (an Activision game), which will show the main character using a Nokia cell/mobile phone (sources: NYT and Internetnews.com). Another Activision game, ‘Street Hoops‘, will feature the Sprite logo on billboards and passing buses, earning Activision $100,000. Vivendi Universal’s game ‘Run Like Hell’ promotes ‘BAWLS’, a caffeine-shot drink. The game will feature BAWLS soft drinks and vending machines located strategically throughout the game. Nick Connor’, the main character, can drink the beverage as a ‘power-up’ to sustain his health and endurance.

Opportunities

Whether all of the tech savvy and often highly opinionated gaming community will happily welcome the invasion of real world brands and products into their virtual lives remains to be seen, but with big brands moving into this space, and the number of gamers still increasing rapidly (for example: Nielsen reports more than 6 million Europeans visited an online gaming website in January 2003, more than double the number a year ago), developing your company’s in-game advertising strategy is time well spent.