Market Research (Part 2)

Hey all, I am finally back at it again, and it’s time to finally finish up the topic we started nearly a month ago, if you’ve already forgotten – we were covering the viability of a design, and we’ll pick up where that post left off.

First things first, this is a chapter in a long series of posts with the intention of teaching you everything you need to know about running a group buy, so I highly suggest you read the previous entries first!

Alright, you were promised a few weeks ago that we would cover “size and weight, competing designs, politics and current events, and defining a target audience.”

Let’s take it piece by piece and start with size and weight, when it comes to the viability of a keyboard design. Size can be a huge factor in the potential sales of a kit. It is well known that most newcomers to the hobby will likely purchase a 60% as their first custom keyboard – this is due to their lower, more appetizing price point, as well as the general groupthink that is “custom keyboards are small”

This means you naturally have a high chance of getting a decent moq with a 60% board, though this happens to scale down with sub 60% sizes as newcomers are usually not yet comfortable using such small layouts. It is good to note, that the size alone is not the primary factor for such high 60% sales, price point plays a large role here – as lower cost TKL or 65%s sell just fine. What this means for you is that if your design is large, that may not be an issue as long as you are ready to offer it at a competitive price point.

As a rule of thumb 60 sells best, followed by 65 and TKL, then other sizes follow

Now that size is covered, let’s talk weight. A simple 60 with no weight is pretty simple and cheap to machine/finish/qc, but a full steel 60, or a 60 with multiple weights is going to drive the price up very quickly. Aside from the obvious jump in machining costs, you have to carefully consider the cost of shipping units back and forth to the manu in case of any finishing or machining defects.

Let’s take a real world example into account, the illuminati i1 – The i1 final production model will weigh just shy of 9 kilos before packaging. Even at a fixed, small group buy size, the individual units weigh up to 5x as much as a simple 60%. Assuming a 20-40% failure rate per piece, and assuming shipping back and forth to a vendor in the US, we could easily be looking at shipping 111 kilos (250 lbs) around the world, maybe more than once!

In a case like this, it makes the most sense to fly to the manufacturer and qc the units in person, though the price difference in this case is negligible, the only benefit to qcing on location is saving time in this case.

Some other things to consider about high-weight boards includes the obvious high price of shipping to the final customer, no customer wants to be paying over $100 USD in shipping. And the additional weight means you will have to take more precautions as a GB runner to handle all of the units as carefully as possible, and protect them as well as possible while packing units.

Looking historically at GBs, when GB runners have offered a high-weight version of their keyboard, it was as a small-run, limited, and significantly more expensive option. This allows the GB runner to essentially offset the cost of making and handling the heavier boards into the combined GB cost.

Now this doesn’t mean that running large, heavy boards isn’t a viable business model – just as long as you are aware of the additional work and cost that needs to go into producing big and heavy boards…

Next up is competing designs:

Maybe you plan to run a simple, low cost TKL, or perhaps you’re going to hit the market with a layout no one has ever seen before. In either case, there will always be competition – as soon as your design has been made public, anyone who believes they can do it better than you will start work on a competing design. This design could potentially interfere with your sales, though based on historical GB data, it rarely has a sizable impact on GB sales. Examples of this include the Clavier m0110, TGR 910, OTD Corsa, and many others.

Don’t let a competing design bring you down, instead use it as an opportunity to specialize. If your design is meant to be low cost, keep the costs as low as you possibly can, and if you are targeting a higher end audience, make sure that the finishing and quality control are handled as well as possible.

This requires a constant knowledge of the ongoings in the custom keyboard hobby… If you are running a group buy, your daily reading should include geekhack’s IC and GB forums, as well as a run through most designer’s websites and social media posts. One of the worst things you can do is walk in with a design that happens to look a lot like someone else’s, and be unprepared for the inevitable comparison between your design and theirs. Having a good knowledge of potential competition will allow you to be able to specialize and differentiate your kit.

Time for some politics and current events!
You might think that events going on across the world have little impact on the keyboard market, but you’d be surprised. In general, you should have a good understanding about all of the countries you will be shipping to. For example, will you be under-declaring values when shipping to European countries? EU buyers generally will shy off a board if they know they’re going to end up paying an extra 100-150 Euros just to get it in the hands. How will you handle the current USA tariffs on a good chunk of Chinese goods, which includes some computer accessories and raw metals?

The most important bit of dealing with politics/current events is to do adequate research before sharing kit prices and shipping rates, understand that summer shipping rates are not the same as mid-December shipping rates for example. (Xmas break general sees a huge increase in shipping costs and delays). And understand the customer-side costs for shipping to them based on their geographical location.

Additionally, always have a contingency plan for delays that are out of your control. Packages go missing, manufacturers have delays, and sometimes entire countries are closed down for a bit – halting most trade. In cases like these, the most important tool in your arsenal is good communication – as long as your customers are aware of the reason for delays, and as long as there is a easily accessible line of communication between you and your customers, morale is kept high.

We will cover damage control in later blog posts, for now just be mentally prepared for anything that could possibly go wrong, and make sure you do your due diligence when it comes to current events and geopolitics before moving in to a group buy

Alright, last bit – Target audience

Knowing your target audience is pretty important to defining what direction your group buy will go… In general there are 2 main audiences, each with their own pros and cons. Although there are plenty of niche audiences within these two, as well as some overlap of the two, we will stick to the basics – being Entry level/low cost and High-end kits

Lets start with the pros and cons for targeting an Entry level audience:
-Targeting a low price point makes it far easier to hit moq
-Assuming a streamlined GB process, there is less work to do per unit at qc phase

-Your design will have to be limited in complexity to keep costs low
-Less experienced buyers might struggle with builds and damage their boards
-These buyers may not have a good knowledge of how GBs work and are more likely to complain about delays
-You will likely need to put more time and effort into customer support

And the pros and cons for targeting a Higher end audience:
-Any wild design is fair game, allowing you to make very complex designs
-Generally the moq will be lower, which is easier to deal with when it comes to logistics
-The higher end market is generally more familiar with GBs and will be more understanding of potential delays

-Customers will expect a certain grade of quality, so qc will be far more intensive and expensive
-As a result, there may be a large amount of wasted units, which will either have to be tossed out, or sold at far lower margins

Of course, audiences get a little bit more wild when you look at larger boards, or ergo/split boards… In general, it’s essential to have a good understanding of the audience you will be selling to, this will help you decide on design aesthetics, qc and packaging quality, how much to dedicate to customer support, as well as how to communicate with your audience. How to do so depends entirely on your audience, and you should be able to put yourself into the shoes of your potential customers and figure out what is most important to them.

There is so much more to group buy running than just this – but this is a good starting point to at least mentally prepare yourself and understand the real-world viability of your designs

We’ll catch up next week (hopefully) and talk about outsourcing a basic case design