The customization trend

By Michael Raffety


When we arrived in Japan at Osaka’s Kansai International Airport, the first thing we did after sleeping off the 17-hour flight was take a train into Osaka before we met up with our guide who would take us to Kyoto the next day for a walking tour of Japanese gardens.

The first thing we hopped off to see was the Osaka Castle. At the entrance to the park that held the castle we came upon a battle of the bands. I was impressed with the bright blue Converse-style tennis shoes worn by the band’s lead singer, who also played the trombone.

We did a circle route on trains around Osaka and I noticed the variety of tennis shoes among the commuters. Not a dull one in the bunch. When we returned home I resolved to go online and find some jazzier looking tennis shoes. I finally settled on a Japanese brand that actually came in size 13. They are navy blue with orange soles and orange shoe laces.

I thought I was pretty avant-garde with my tennis shoes until my daughter’s order came in. She custom-ordered shoes from Reebok with six different colors, which includes the yellow soles and green shoestrings. A seventh color is the orange interior color. They are crossfit training shoes and she even got the got the name of her friend’s El Dorado Hills company embroidered on the shoes, “Crossfit Bios,” abbreviated “CF Bios.”

I mention this because this was the first I heard about custom designed tennis shoes. I happened to receive a book to read that let me know this is the trend in business now. Until I started reading this book I didn’t know that a person could order a customized shower curtain from Bed Bath and Beyond. Think what you could do with your favorite photo or painting.

The book is called Custom Nation. The subtitle is “Why Customization is the Future of Business and How to Profit From It.” The authors are Anthony Flynn and his business journalist sister, Emily Flynn Vencat.

As Flynn writes, mass production of consumer goods has reached something of a peak. Grocery stores, for instance, had 700 items in 1920, 6,000 goods in 1960, 14,000 in 1980 but today have 48,000.

From all these choices come the impetus for customization. The early leaders in customization have been quick-serve food businesses like Burger King, Chipolte, Starbucks and Freshii Custom Salad. In 2008 an Internet business called YouBar started selling customized nutrition bars.

This customization is an Internet-based business model, just like selling design-your own Dell computers. The percentage of people using the Internet is now 78 percent, according to Flynn, with  two-thirds having broadband or wireless connections “that can handle Web design tools perfectly.” And there are tools that have reduced the cost of Web design to $5,000 for developing a Website with create-it-yourself functions.

It’s not just shirts, suits, dresses, bags and cars, but Boeing has a customizer Website for those who want to design their own interior for the new 787 Dreamliner.

Also enabling this customization is shipping software from USPS, UPS and FedEx.

There are currently 700 total customization companies. MIT has found that 85 percent of these companies are five years old and 30 percent are one year old or less. MIT’s Smart Customization Group predicts 15 percent of the clothes Americans buy in the next decade will be customized. Even Levi Straus is selling customized jeans, leading to a 9 percent increase in sales. You can bet women are going to be the biggest customers of custom-made Levis.

Heck, you can’t get any more customized than movies or books from Amazon, music from iTunes, or used books from the Bookery in downtown Placerville.

If I ever get around to signing up for the Safeway online site I’ll probably start getting customized coupons. I already get that based on my purchase patterns followed by Safeway card.

The real swing toward customization is being made by the millennial generation — those born between 1978 and 2000 — who total 95 million and growing due to immigration. That compares to baby boomers like myself, which, according to Flynn, total 75 million. The Facebook-Twitter customized news generation is bigger than newsprint and TV news.

Flynn talks about customization of education and careers. That made a light go on as I thought about the Sunday Christmas services at the Stockton Alliance Church where my son and daughter-in-law go. It’s not just the drum set, the three guitar players and three singers that make the service upbeat and attractive to the multi-ethnic congregation. I realized the church was customized. My daughter-in-law promised the Christmas Sunday service would be special.

The main church is the English language one with the sermon and the songs on PowerPoint projections. But there are four other churches within the Alliance. Each one has its own pastor and a church service in their own language — Vietnamese, Cambodian, Laotian and Khmu, which I am told are mountain people who live between Cambodia and Laos. They all joined the main church service dressed up beautiful ethnic dress and sang songs in their native language. It was just an enchanting afternoon, capped off with our family going to lunch at a Greek restaurant.

The book is published by BenBella Books in Dallas. It was sent to me by Barnes & Noble.


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