Annie Reed: Quiet Innovator

As you have no doubt noticed, or maybe I am being too optimistic in my assumptions, that on the right of my postings I have listed a few companies that I have deemed, “Quiet Innovations.” Some of these companies you may or may not have heard about; I purposely strayed from the Googles and Apples of the world, looking for organizations that have been less in the limelight but have nonetheless been particularly, and perhaps peculiarly, inventive in some part of their business. I plan on adding more to this list as I become aware of other organizations, and, as I do so, I will explain my rationale for adding these groups.

In the meantime, I will now spend a few days briefly examining these companies and explaining my attraction to their product or service offerings. It seems the best place to start is at the top with a little known Pacific Northwest company called Annie Reed.

On face value, Annie Reed is simply a small dress company. Small as in organization size and small dresses as it caters specifically to young girls with gowns appropriate for flower girls at weddings and other like formal events. Conceived and built by virtue of a close association with Thai dress makers, this dressmaker also has a higher mission to “not only create gorgeous, handmade formal wear, but to better the lives of the women of Thailand.” We often will find that such purpose, if it is ingrained throughout the organization, is a key indicator that a business will innovate rather than simply exist.

Though these aspects of brand focus and organizational ambition are positive steps for future successes, the facet of this company that piqued my interest initially was its approach to creating a customized product.

Typically in customization, there is a knowledge and cost trade-off that needs to be balanced. If you want to offer a tailored experience, you can either build off the consumers’ expertise and have them design the offering (like Wikipedia—it can cover every subject for free because people that read it, build it), or you can offer the expertise and let them direct you at a high cost (like Blenheim Palace).

Annie Reed offers the dresses in the same range as other designer brands, around $130 – 230, with a much higher degree of personalization. This appears to be viable through a two-part process. First, they created an online platform that limits the higher cost personal interactions, but still doesn’t require high levels of dressmaking proficiency by the consumer; this approach allows minute and multiple changes for users to create a custom-made product. The second part of this lower cost process is more utilitarian, structured around their Thailand-based supply-chain. Their close and direct association with highly-skilled designers in a lower-cost environment is not necessarily new, but the removal of cost-adding middlemen is an option that is not often available to smaller organizations. In Britain and India, Just Change has seen similar success in re-engineering the supply chain to connect communities.

In the sometimes insipid world of, of all things, making dresses for flower girls, Annie Reed as found a way to lever the shrinking and flattening world, while adding an effective online platform to create something unique and beneficial for their target market.

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