Discovering innovations that matter since 2002

We don’t mind spelling it out again: in an age of abundance, curators rule! Riding the CURATED CONSUMPTION trend in all its glory is Japanese Ranking Ranqueen, a Tokyo chain selling only the top 3, 5 or 10 items in a bewildering range of categories. Rankings are based on sales data from big Tokyo department stores and independent research. Think best-selling lists for bath powder. Tooth picks. Pasta sauce. Cell phones. And so on. Rankings are updated every week, mercilessly replacing the out of favor with the Next Big Thing. There are eight Ranking Ranqueen stores in total: five stores in Tokyo (Shibuya, Shinjuku, Otemachi, Jiyugaoka, Kitasenju), two stores in Yokohama (Azamino, Kamiooka), and one store in Fukuoka (Fukuokatenjin). The company is owned by Tokyu Corporation. (Spotted by Ray Collouch, Springspotter Network.) (more…) Remember trendwatching.com’s being spaces trend? This third-room phenomenon (commercial living-room-like settings, where catering and entertainment aren’t the main attraction, but are there to facilitate small office/living room activities like watching a movie, reading a book, meeting friends and colleagues, or doing your admin) continues to evolve. From an entrepreneurial point of view, Springwise particularly likes the following being spaces spottings: New York’s Paragraph and The Village Quill are members-only centers catering to writers who need a space to be away from it all and actually get some writing done. Paragraph (“providing an affordable and tranquil working environment for writers of all genres”) occupies a 2,500 square foot loft space near Union Square, divided into a writing room and a lounge area. The writing room has 38 partitioned desks, while the lounge area contains a kitchenette, a large round table and smaller café tables. There’s a refrigerator and cabinets to store members’ food and beverages, as well as a microwave, toaster oven and coffee maker. The space has a laser printer and wifi throughout, and is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Members are assigned a pin code to access the space, and don’t need to be published authors: a strong drive to write is enough. Monthly access fees range from USD 80 to 132 (EUR 67-110/GBP 45-75). So far, Paragraph has signed up 120 members. (more…) Kozmo! Urbanfetch! Food.com! Ordering a pint of Ben & Jerry’s and a video from your East Village studio in your underwear. Ah, those were the days! But as predicted (SECOND .COMING), beautiful flowers now grow on the graves of many a failed dotcom. In Istanbul, After 9 started delivering stuff to demanding Istanbulites in need of urban necessities like condoms, beverages, cigarettes, diapers and sandwiches. Orders are placed online or over the phone, and are delivered by motorbike or car in 45 minutes or less. Opening hours are 9pm–6am. For this urban luxury, customers pay a 25-30% premium compared to regular supermarket prices. The minimum order size is USD 7 (EUR 6/GBP 4), but the average order is closer to USD 20 (EUR 17/GBP 11.50). Additional services since the September 2005 launch include Nite-Porter (a chauffeur service which takes customers wherever they like in their own car) and Pill-Porter, an all-night pharmacy delivery service. Geographical expansion plans include more outlets in Istanbul, including the Asian side, and adding the cities of Izmir and Ankara to the list. (more…) We (unfortunately) don’t feature new business ideas from the world of theatre very often, but this previously-only-available-outside-the-home idea from Poland got us thinking: in November 2005, Polish Teatr Rozmaitosci, located in Warsaw, started performing their play ‘Mleko’ (milk) in customers’ living rooms or kitchens, during lunch time or in the evenings. The price for having a living room play performed is PLN 500 (EUR 150/USD 182/GBP 103). Struggling artists and cash-strapped theatre companies around the world, on your marks! Springwise has so far ignored headvertising, furvertising, wipevertising and other desperate ‘sadvertising’ attempts at throwing money at something that won’t win any sympathy from jaded consumers no matter what you try. However, new advertising ploys that actually manage to bring consumers real benefits at no cost, while satisfying the advertiser, are still a possibility. Hence our recent features on carvertising and bikevertising. Next? Coolertising! Check out AquaCell Media, who will plaster your brand on any of their participating free water coolers in 1,400 retail and service locations in the US, including major retail chains CVS and Kmart. Advertisers have included Unilever — who reported a 34 percent increase in sales of Dove Cool Moisture as a result of coolertising, and CBS Television — who used coolertising in the fall of 2005 to promote its comedy “Out of Practice”, and is currently running a similar campaign to get some buzz going about “Courting Alex” (another CBS sitcom).

Opportunities

Traditional advertising may be dying, but consumers still appreciate schemes that net them something tangible in exchange for their eyeballs and time. What other well-liked consumer services and goods can you turn into sponsored free love? Catering to office workers (read: moneyed professionals stuck in office parks) is hot, and we think Onsite HairCuts is a great example. Their slogan: “Need a quality haircut but don’t have time to waste? We bring the salon to you!” Imagine a mobile salon (the company owns three converted Winnebagos) showing up at corporate parking lots in the Valley, welcoming employees from companies like Cisco, eBay, EA, Genentech, Google, NVIDIA, and Yahoo! who have booked their appointment online. At some stops, the salon is open to the general public, too. And while we’re at it: CA’s Onsite Dentist (“We make going to the dentist easy”), who also caters to office workers too busy to leave their cubicles for too long, warrants your attention as well. It’s a pop-up world out there.

Opportunities

Springwise has a weakness for new business ideas on wheels (three in this edition alone!), bringing the goods or even the ‘production facility’ to the office or home, as they neatly capitalize on the ongoing convenience trend (or the trend of squeezing more productivity out of employees ;-). Fact is that office parks offer a captive and sophisticated audience, and that these days, there are very few services that can’t be built into a van! Who’s next? Nostalgia. Design. Generation C. Storytelling. Knitting. Senior citizens and baby boomers. All these ‘trends’ beautifully come together in Danish Mormor.nu, an online store that sells baby and children’s wear from the time when grandma herself was a wee lass. (‘Mormor.nu‘ is Danish for ‘Grandma.now’). In fact, the company’s employees stem from an era when everything was made by hand, the youngest employee being 68 years old. All products are handmade, from pure wool, alpaca wool or cotton. Old knitting and crochet techniques and patterns have been revived, and colors and materials updated, making the products meet modern demands for fashionable children’s clothing, as well as for old-fashioned quality and honest materials. Cool little touch: clothes come with a small nametag signed by the grandmother that made the item.

Opportunities

From the Bugaboo to Mormor, design for tykes rules. Not surprising, as mature, experienced consumers who value authenticity, style, artisan quality and uniqueness, are looking for exactly that when buying items for their offspring. How to profit from this? Start by taking a close look at every part of the ‘baby-value-chain’, and figure out what part could do with an upgrade; whether it means infusing products with modern design, or returning to the retro-chic of yesteryear. And don’t underestimate the story-telling aspect of Mormor. Last but not least, turning senior citizens into minipreneurs could prove a hit for more than just baby apparel. Oh, and do donate a chunk of your new found riches to those organizations helping out millions of kids who don’t have it this good! Not every new business idea needs to become the next Shell Oil or GE. London-based Stop Gap Sofas fills a neat little business er… gap, by renting out sofas/couches by the week, to consumers who are moving house, or buying or renting for the first time. In their own words: “furnishing your new property is a time consuming yet essential part of the process. One of the major decisions you’ll face is choosing your ideal sofa, and once you’ve made your choice, chances are you will be faced with a 6-12 week wait while your sofa is hand crafted and delivered to your door.” Sofas are hired on a weekly basis, with a minimum contract period of 3 weeks. Customers in Kensington & Chelsea, Hammersmith & Fulham, Wandsworth, Lambeth, Islington, Camden, Ealing, Richmond upon Thames, Merton will get a sofa delivered within 24 hours. The company, which has been in business for 5 months now, has so far rented out more than 200 sofas, with expats making up the majority of customers. The average hire period turns out to be six weeks: 35% of all customers extend their rental period with another three weeks. Event agencies and photographic studios have also discovered Stop Gap Sofas as an easy way to furnish events and studios stylishly and economically. Expansion throughout the UK is in the works.

Opportunities

Remember, not every venture has to grow into a 1 billion dollar conglomerate. In fact, in a minipreneur-friendly world, niche businesses that address niche needs can be a lot of fun. So if Stop Gap Sofas would manage to expand into other cities (in the UK if not worldwide), add more products, or introduce a well sponsored tryvertising campaign with furniture makers, they may laughing all the way to the bank. OK, so we’re suckers for anything that claims to be a ‘world’s first’. Like San Francisco’s START MOBILE, a gallery selling art for cell phones. Part of the START SOMA gallery, the venture sells thousands of original works of new art from hundreds of established and underground artists, to be downloaded onto mobile phones. Wallpapers are billed at USD 1.99 (EUR 1.66/GBP 1.15), with the artist receiving a small cut.

Opportunities

START MOBILE for now is a distinctively US-based venture. Which leaves open another, oh, 100 or so markets? Hey, if it would generate only 1/100th of the excitement and money generated by ringtones, you’d still be loaded if you’d execute this one decently! The idea isn’t spanking new, but it is worth a closer look, as the conditions for something like this have vastly improved now that we’re ALL online (1 billion and counting!): producing something only after you’ve received enough commitment from prospective buyers to cover your initial costs. Very MINIPRENEURish, of course! Fun example: I am Verity, a South African singer who wants to record her own album, but doesn’t have the cash (about USD 45,000/EUR 37,600/GBP 25,800) needed to do so. She also realised that if she would cut a record deal, it would take her a long time to see a single dime in return. Which is why she set out to pre-sell 5,000 CDs at USD 23 (EUR 19/GBP 13) a pop. Verity will donate 10% of any profits to charity, and participants will get, besides the CD, their name listed on her website, as well as an invite to vote on which songs she will actually record, what artwork and photography is used, and so on.

Opportunities

We’re all entrepreneurs these days. But the smaller our businesses are getting, the higher the financial risks of undertaking something really big. Harnessing the power of NOUVEAU NICHE, TWINSUMERS and what have you, it’s now possible to not only test a new start-up idea with prospective customers, but have them commit financially in advance as well! Active use of word of mouth marketing techniques recommended of course.