Ugly Christmas Sweaters make millions

A lesson for writers…from the guy who sold $10 million in ugly sports sweaters

Ugly sports sweaters

Sorry Tom, my fav Patriot, but this sweater would make even you look ugly.

I read an article in Inc. magazine that began, “Thirteen months ago, Michael Lewis, founder and CEO of Forever Collectibles, didn’t even know that ugly sweaters were a thing. A concept. A fun, dorky theme for holiday parties.”

Yet this year he sold $10 million in sports-themed holiday sweaters. And yes, they are U.G.L.Y.

What struck me most about this article wasn’t his success, but rather his wise, yet incredibly simple marketing philosophy.

See, he’s in the sports collectables business. He started out selling plush teddy bears ($10 each), decked out in officially licensed MLB gear. But when bobbleheads hit the market, he quickly realized that there were more lucrative licensing opportunities…and he just had to be nimble and creative enough to adjust to changing markets.

Here’s the quote that prompted me to write this blog:

At the All-Star Game in Seattle, Lewis, who never went to business school, realized Forever Collectibles was not necessarily in the business of making plush bears. “We’re in the business,” he says, “of making emotionally connected products for people tied to sports.”

Lewis realized people were so invested in their sports teams, they would want to invite them into their holiday celebrations. Make them part of the family, so to speak.

That’s the lesson every single person in business should learn and remember. Whether you’re an author sitting in your tiny office/closet/bedroom, CEO of a company, or president of a university, you need to figure out who your customer is, what they want–emotionally–and how you can adapt your product to give that to them.

Your customers have to want your product…crave it…ache for it. Otherwise, they will fill that need somewhere else.

If you’re an author, you may think that’s too commercial a viewpoint. You want to write whatever speaks to you, and if people want to buy it (and of course they will, because you’re awesome!) then you’ll be successful. But if you’re a novelist, you need to make your characters so compelling that your readers feel their emotions–cry for them, cheer for them, worry over them–that’s why they buy books. To feel, on a visceral level, what is happening in a story.

Margie Lawson offers an entire writing seminar on writing viscerally, helping authors create three dimensions characters. I’m not promoting her specifically, I just know that she provides great tips. Note the difference in this ‘before and after passage’ from my Dare to Love manuscript:

1. Nivea was too shocked to speak

2. Nivea crumpled onto the bench, her head bowed. He’d shocked her well and good. She didn’t move until the sun ducked behind a cloud and she shivered, breaking the spell.

Can’t you picture her sitting there, bereft, physically paralyzed by his revelation? (Sorry, no spoilers. You’ll have to read the book to find out his secret.)

That’s the emotional connection. That’s what you need to strive for in your writing. Good luck!  May the muse be with you!

Happy holidays!