Tom and Tracy Hazzard have worked as ghost designers behind such well-know brands as Martha Stewart Living, X-Rocker and Bayside Furnishings. They have had products in all major retailers, wholesale clubs, electronics boutiques and office super stores. Their best-selling mesh office chair has been in Costco for over 4 years straight. Tracy pens a regular featured Inc. column on innovation.
Tom and Tracy have designed over 200 products to include products found in Costco. Listen in as they discuss 3D Printing and what it means to operate a Transparent Business.
Today, we are interviewing one of the members of the Clear Business Directory on what it means to operate a transparent business. Our guests today are Tracy and Tom Hazzard. They specialize in product design and development. They are the owners of Hazz Design Consulting and joined us on the show today. Tom and Tracy, welcome to the show.
Thanks so much for having us.
Thank you so much for joining us and for being a part of the Clear Business Directory. Why don’t you let the audience know a little bit more about your business, what you’re doing and where you’re going with your business in the future?
We’re a product design firm that mainly specializes in consumer retail products. We’re like ghost designers. That would be the best way to describe us. You have a ghostwriter who hides behind the supposed author and we’re ghost designers who hide behind the brand that gets launched into retail. You don’t know we designed them but we did.
How many products have you actually helped your clients design?
Over the last ten years, we’ve done about 250 retail products that generate pretty close to a billion dollars in revenue for our clients.
You’ve had quite a bit of success at doing what you do.
We have. In product design, there are always a lot of liabilities as well. It can be hit or miss. You have to be really tactical about it and that’s what we specialize in.
Just to give our listeners some ideas to where some of your products at Hazz Design can be found, where have some of your products ended up in the consumer world?
Pretty much every retailer. Costco is our biggest, what we would consider to be a Platinum record, like you have an album or something. Our Platinum record is at Costco. It’s an office chair that’s sold there for $99. It’s in its almost fourth year. Target and Walmart and Stamps Club and Staples, we have a lot of products with Staples over the years, Office Depot. Really, mass merchants of many kinds, and Amazon of course. Most of them have been brick and mortar retail.
You got products all over the place. You got quite a bit of experience. Will you tell the listeners, give them your website so they know where to go to find you on the Internet?
Our website is HazzDesign.com, because our last name is Hazzard.
You also host a podcast show on that site as well, don’t you?
One of the things that we like to talk about on the show is transparency. As members of the Clear Business Directory, you see and understand the importance of what transparency brings to business. We have a saying, “Transparency expedites trust.” You’ve got a lot of experience. You’ve helped a lot of people. What’s some of the most important questions someone should ask you before they actually hire your business?
One of the main reasons we decided to join your directory, we like to operate in transparency but it’s extremely difficult to do that. Early in our career we had an internet-based ecommerce site. We filed with the Better Business Bureau. What we discovered in the process is so much of it is just actual paid and no backup. If you pay for the service, you get the logo. That’s not the case with you. We really appreciate that because for our clients, this is a big payout. It’s a big risk to take on a product designer because it could make or break your product. You want to make sure that there are no outstanding lawsuits. I can say, never once the entire time we’ve worked with clients, have they ever asked if we’ve been in an active lawsuit, and they should.
There’s a slew of questions that a potential client or consumer should ask but they never really do. Fortunately, more and more businesses are recognizing that their client base is looking for that authenticity. They’re looking for that transparency piece because it’s really the only place to surely connect to your clients nowadays. More and more people are starting to require that of the people that they engage.
They don’t ask often enough the question of how long has somebody been in business, how long has their business been formed. We know from experience, over in China when we used choose factories for our clients and that’s on us to help vet those factories. The due diligence required for that is extremely difficult.
A lot of times people take just what somebody tells them on face value and they don’t do any of that follow-up.
It is trickier in China, where we’ve done a lot of business, as a consumer or a person that’s going to hire a factory or an agent or someone to work with over there. Fortunately, we’ve been doing it over there for more than a dozen years. We have a network of people that we have developed trust with now and they can help vet factories for us. Not everybody has that. There are so many companies just trying to make a buck over there. Factories will go out of business today and open under a new name tomorrow. It’s the business formation.
For instance, Alibaba is very popular right now. It’s really just a directory that you self-subscribe to. You put up your business profile. You do that. There’s no vetting, there’s no nothing that goes on there. There’s nothing to say that these companies have been in business for more than 30 days sometimes over there. It’s very frequent that a factory will have problems. They’ll shut down and start up ten days later under a new name.
One of the beautiful things in this is if somebody chooses to engage your business, they get the added benefit of the fact, because you’ve been in business a long time, you have your own vetting process for the people that you deal with oversea.
Being a part of your directory shows the deep level of due diligence that we require from when we work with a factory and when we work with our partners anywhere in the world. It’s that same level of transparency we expect from them and that same kind of personal interaction.
What would that one question be? If somebody asks just one question, the most important question, what would it be? What should they be asking to you before they hire your business?
What they don’t do is they don’t ask for actual references. You can see on our website, we’ve designed this chair for Costco and all this, but for some reason, there’s this weird thing that happens and it happens with web designers and other types of designers as well. They just take the fact that I’m showing pictures of these designs up there that I really did design, pictures of a website or links to a website that they designed. The reality is, was that successful for the client? That deeper delve. Being able to have that list of names but then actually going and making the phone calls and asking the questions and doing those things. For us, that’s the key because quality of the work is more important in a design process.
There’s so much more behind what makes the product successful than just that picture of it at retail. Some products look great out there and they’re really not very successful or maybe they were successful for a different reason. It may not have been the primary goal that a company that has 150 products on the market to make this one to be the most profitable. They may have had another goal for it or building a relationship with a retailer and they wanted them to carry that product. To build that relationship or maintain it, that was success for them. There’s really a lot more behind just that surface level of a pretty-looking product. Nobody really gets into those questions enough.
In your particular directory case, one of the main reasons we do it is because it takes about eighteen months for us to close very large clients that we have. Along that process, we just want to be really open, “We’re going to be handling your intellectual property. Are we good people?”
That’s the beautiful thing about the directory, being a part of that is you can come right up front and say, “Go read about us. See what we’re about. If you have any questions from that point forward, we can answer them for you.” At least you know who you’re being involved with before you put pen to paper, before you spend six months in building a relationship with someone. It puts it right up there on the table to say, “This is who I am. Lets’ get down to business.”
We don’t have to have that discussion. It’s out there. It’s there. You don’t have to dig, accidentally find something out and it sounds like you kept it a secret. It’s just there.
Given your interaction with your clients, it sounds like you’ve had quite a few experiences with clients. I’m sure there have been some good and some bad. Can you give an example of a miscommunication that you had with a client in the past and what was the outcome, the result of that miscommunication?
Design is a funny thing because we’re not here to teach them how to do it. We’re here to just do it for them. There’s a lot of trust that’s required by that. That’s extremely difficult to build. With a new client, there tends to be a lot of miscommunication in the beginning about what they’re going to get for your services. It’s what takes so long to close a deal for us or close a relationship for us. I’m sending this money and I hear what my return might be someday, and usually our return is very high, our success rate, but what am I physically going to get? How many designs am I going to get? That’s so hard. The design process doesn’t work like that. I don’t know before I start a project how many designs I can generate or how complex it is until I dive into their businesses. That’s complicated.
Also, design does not work on a very clear cut timeline. Design is not a linear process. The design has to be right. What that right design is is different for every client. It’s a combination of a number of different factors. Most important is how their business operates. More of the miscommunication happens in that they’re not actually being open enough with us about their business goals and about where they are in business today and where they want to be.
A good example of that is exactly how we fell in to meet you. We had a client who had not been open with us that their goal was to actually fix their product line from a design standpoint, fix the quality of the product line. It had been dated, stagnant, would be the best way to describe them. They wanted to introduce some fresh new design looks and target new target audience, more millennials and that kind of thing. We were brought in and we did it in crash course time, probably less than six months of work. They started to act a little odd at renewal time, for the contract renewal because they do six months at a time with them, and they started to act a little odd. It turned out that what they were really trying to do was sell their company and get themselves acquired.
You picked up on an indicator.
They should’ve told us ahead of time because we could have done a whole different program for them that would have made them even more profitable in an acquisition situation. We could’ve built in a lot of intellectual property into it. That would’ve turned into extra assets. But they weren’t open with us about it and so it actually ended up being where they renewed for a little bit just until they got acquired and then they cancelled our contract two months earlier than we had expected. I was like, “Where are we going to get our new clients?” We ended up at a forum where we met you.
In that case, because the client wasn’t willing to be transparent with you, it threw a whole wrench into not only their business but into yours as well.
Exactly. We always say success is designed into a product. It’s not an accident when a product is successful. We were so excited at the prospect of your Clear Business Directory because of the kind of transparency that it really establishes between companies who are trying to work together. We wish we could have had that in all aspects of our business. Unfortunately not every company you extensive work with will do that and maybe take a longer time to create that. The more transparent the client is with us as well as us with them makes for making sure that what we do is aligned with their business goals and ensures a successful product.
Given the amount of experience you’ve had in business with product design, your clients, overseas stuff, what’s one thing in your business background that you wish you could erase?
All of those things that happen to us over the years, including as you’ll see in our directory, a business bankruptcy, which was not so much about the money as it was about you have to do it to protect you personally in other things. I wish I could erase that from a personal standpoint. I wish that didn’t happen. But it taught us so much that makes us a lot more successful entrepreneurs and inventors and product designers now, because we really understand what’s the negative effect of not being successful.
That’s the beautiful thing about transparency, is that being transparent shows that you’re willing to own up to the lessons that you’ve learned and you’re being open and upfront about it. That way it’s out there on the table and you could say, “This is what I learned from that experience.” It’s not being used as a mess up or it doesn’t say anything about your aptitude and your ability to do what you say you can do for your business. More importantly, what it does show is that you have a willingness to say, “I’m human. I learned from it.” It speaks volumes to the integrity of your business.
It’s what we want to prevent for other people. We’ve learned through our experiences, which is now more than twenty years in business, that nobody is the golden child and perfect. It doesn’t fall right from the get-go. Everybody makes mistakes. Hopefully the smart ones learn from them, improve themselves, and do better going forward. I’d be more afraid if someone had a totally clear background, to be honest with you.
Especially, if you’ve been in the business longer than they. There are negative reviews out there. Probably anybody that’s squeaky clean in business anymore, it’s like a unicorn, it doesn’t exist. It’s finding those businesses that are really willing to be transparent about stuff that may have happened to them and their willingness to learn from it and share those experiences with their clients so moving forward they can create something better together.
For us, it goes beyond just bankruptcy and other things from a financial standpoint. We’re handling intellectual property. There are lawsuits that go back and forth from patent infringements and just misappropriations of trade secrets. There’s a bunch of legal wrangling that happen in this industry. The reality is if you don’t have some legal wrangling in it, then you’re not doing something right.
For your industry especially, if you haven’t been able to navigate those types of experiences, if something like that comes up in the future, that could get a client in serious trouble. You lose your IP, you lose your business. Knowing that you’ve got that experience, that you’re being transparent about your business history, it speaks miles as to not only your experience, but again to your integrity of your business and shows your client that you are looking after them because you hold that transparency in such high value. What is one thing that you want your potential clients to know about your business? If there was just one thing, what’s the one thing you want them to know?
When we say we’ve been there and done that and it is what has been forming our future, we mean that. It’s informing the product design success. All of that history is really what makes the difference. It happens. I’m working on an article right now that I’m writing about Fiverr and these $5-design sites that do $5 logos and other things like that. You get what you pay for when you pay that little amount of money for the design process. You don’t get the kind of history, the kind of experience, the kind of protection from all of these landmines that happen in the process, whether they’re intellectual property land mines, just design land mines, picking the wrong partners. All of that is at a cost. While it may seem like I charge a lot, the security I’m providing at the same time is a lot.
We tend to get clients two ways. One, who just really recognized and already know that if you want good design you’ve got to pay for it. They already recognize the value of design. The second kind we get are those that have made the mistakes. They’ve already had a failure. They’ve already spent a tremendous amount of money, missed their launch schedule, got a factory over in China and never got their product or it completely fell apart when they got it. They now have and understand the value of making the mistake and what they should have paid for it. I’d love it if I could really express that and make it personal but I can’t. I don’t know how to sell it to someone because their design is always different. That’s why a lot of our business comes through referrals from the people who have worked with us before. We’re hoping that the Clear Business Directory is going to be this modern resource for companies to go and find other companies of value, of integrity. They don’t have to worry so much about some of those details.
Think about it. Fiverr and all these things depend on reviews. But we know from personal experience that those reviews are bought. That’s not a great place to be. We very against that in general. We believe that if you haven’t bought the product, if you haven’t used it, you shouldn’t be reviewing it. That’s how we feel about it. We don’t counsel our clients to go and buy reviews. Giving away products to get reviews, you may have to do that, or giving it at cost. You may have to do that. They should be real reviews of real users. Those that are skirting the system and all of that, it’s not doing anyone a service.
It’s almost false advertising. We see that in the different business directories that exist. That’s really where we came up with the Clear Business Directory, that it’s not a pay-for-review, it’s not a pay-for-a-logo. You have to go through the vetting process before you opt in to the directory. There are people that have signed up for the directory and have elected not to share their information and not operate in transparency. We tell people, “Just because they’re not in the directory, doesn’t mean they have been vetted, it just means you might want to ask them additional questions.” Outside of looking at the Clear Business Directory, checking your profile out, and again people can find that in Clear Business Directory.com. Besides looking at the directory, is there anything else that you could recommend to a potential client that they should do or can do as part of their own due diligence process before hiring you?
It’s as simple as people don’t check references today. I find that really ridiculous. If you’ve got an article you’re saying you’ve been featured in, we were recently featured in Forbes, link to the actual article and let people read it for themselves. They actually read stuff and double check the things that are on their website. I find it so often that people don’t pick up the phone and make a reference call. I’ve had a lot of employees over the years and I got maybe a dozen calls. That’s just not enough.
Especially if you’re putting your IP on the line, you’re putting how many years’ worth of work into a product on the line. Regardless of whatever business you’re hiring you, you should always make those reference calls. Always follow-up with people and verify the information that the business is providing you. The Clear Business Directory is a great place to start. You guys are in the directory and operate in transparency and integrity. One thing I want to say about both of you is that you two are some of the greatest people that I’ve met. You both are power partners in your business. You’re power partners in your relationship, in your parenting. All in all, you’re just good people all around. I’m great that we had the opportunity to meet. I’m glad you’re a part of the Clear Business Directory.
Thank you. We’re excited about the directory. I hope it becomes very significant thing for you and for us really.
The types of things that you and Tonya have talked about really resonate with us because when we look at a business, the business or a product is your baby. Would you really leave your baby with just anyone? You do some checking. You talk about it that way and that’s the way you treat all of your clients and your own business, and we appreciate that as well.
Tom and Tracy, thank you for being on our show. Make sure you check out Tom and Tracy’s profile in the directory. We will talk to you next week. Thank you so much.
Learn more about Tracy and Tom Hazzard.