How to Boost Sales with Customized Products

These goods give customers exactly what they’re looking for while helping you increase sales and carve out a niche for your brand.
If right for your business, customized products could increase sales and help build your brand. (Photo:

Decades ago, at least when it came to fashion, conformity was cool. Fitting in was rooted in wearing the same big brands and styles of apparel and accessories as everyone else.

“Today, that’s not how the consumer shops, and that’s not what the consumer wants,” said Patti Cazzato, CEO of Timbuk2, a San Francisco-based bag company that has offered custom products since launching in 1989. “There’s a lot more freedom of expression that’s gone on in the last 20 years and a lot more praise of individuality.”

Today’s trend in self-expression is driving interest in custom products. “You get anywhere from a 15 to 20 percent increase [in overall sales volume] in having custom,” said Cazzato. And technology has made it easier for stores to capitalize on this demand.

Is customization right for your business?


“If self-expression is part of who you are as a brand, you should absolutely have custom.” -Patti Cazzato (Photo: Liz Hafalia/San Francisco Chronicle)

Customization appeals to shoppers, but it may not be the right move for every retail store. First, determine if personalized products fit into your brand identity, said Cazzato.

“The consumer is really educated and informed. If customization is just an add-on and doesn’t make any sense to who you are as a brand, it’s not necessary. If self-expression is part of who you are as a brand, you should absolutely have custom.”

The costs associated with customization can be formidable, and you may need serious logistical support. Timbuk2, for example, has its own factory in the Mission District of San Francisco. You’ll need to leverage relationships with factories and suppliers, or invest in your own equipment, to produce the goods.

And that production had better happen fast: Cazzato said providing as close to instant gratification as possible is essential to making sales.

“We believe it’s really important to have speed of delivery and get the product into customers’ hands in a quick manner,” she said. “A lot of times you customize a product, it takes four to six weeks to get back in your hands. We guarantee delivery of a custom bag in three to seven days.”

Of course, there’s customization — allowing a consumer to design a bag or a suit almost from scratch — and then there’s customization — adding a monogram or engraving to an off-the-rack product. You’ll need to figure out how much customization, if any, makes sense for your store, your products and your cash flow.

Benefits for stores

Not only can customized products increase your overall quantity of sales, you can also charge more for them.

“We have to charge a premium for custom products. We use a lot of domestic fabrics, and at the end of the day, we are offering a lot of options for the product,” said Cazzato.

Timbuk2 offers a lot of add-ons to custom bags, such as water bottle pockets, padded shoulder straps, reflective fabrics and laptop sleeves. Cazzato said customers are willing to pay more for these features since they provide the exact look and functionality they want.

“We are providing a canvas for self-expression and an avenue that lets our customer be who they want to be. We have customers who are so fun and so wacky, they do the craziest things with our bags.”

Customization also provides advantages when it comes to marketing, said Cazzato. Shoppers feel more in-touch with your brand and excited to share their creations on Instagram, Facebook and other social media platforms.

“We have this whole loyal following of customers who love what we do. We recently added an Instagram feed with photos from our customers to our website.”

Incorporate custom into your store design

With all the custom design software available now, it makes sense to offer custom products on your digital store. But Cazzato said there are benefits to devoting a physical space in your brick-and-mortar store to personalized products.

“When you go into our store and you discover the custom area, it’s fun and interactive. People love that.”

At Timbuk2’s retail stores, shoppers touch fabric swatches and see different bags available for customization up close. The stores’ customization stations also include special touches, like replicas of the founder’s original sewing machine, a cassette recorder with music from the year Timbuk2 was founded and exclusive sketches from the design team, that celebrate the brand and ultimately increase sales.

Providing personalization, if done right, helps set your brand apart from the competition. “It definitely adds excitement to a brand. It adds interest. It adds an element of wow, we’re designers and we couldn’t possibly satisfy everybody’s needs for what they want unless we offered custom,” said Cazzato.
“Custom is really special, it’s a really positive way to grow your business.”

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