Long before I started sewing cases and bags or even purchased my first sewing machine, I was some type of writing hobbyist. I haven't written anything in a while but thought that this would be a great way to discuss some things that I have thought about for a long time now. What does it mean to be a successful business?
Success can be measured in a plethora of different ways, from monetary achievements to prolific portfolios. How I have come to understand and define success for myself is: the ability to continually produce new diverse items. They don't all have to be good or innovative either. For example, a writer might experiment with a new page format that makes the reader interact with the page differently. One successful new company is Topo Designs.
Topo Designs started like most bag companies, in a private residence. They gained recognition by re-configuring some classic backpack styles and making them in the USA. Their success came in the last year or two when they introduced their clothing line. When a company can look at what they are good at and look at what they can be good at and try it, that is what I understand as success. To date they have four or five Topo designed apparel items. This is what businesses need to look for: a time when their customer base is confident and trusting enough to support a new product genre. Collaborations are great (Woolrich, Doane, etc.) but it's not terribly bold. When two well known companies work together it doesn't push you into success. Collaborations push you into a safe system of regurgitation and alternate branding.
Success doesn't come from just pushing out "new" products but comes from putting out "risky" products. When Mike Dudek (over at Clicky Post) put out a clock with Contrabrand that was risky to some degree. There was a chance that both parties would have spent time and money without return. Is that to say he sees it as success? Who knows. But, the point is Mike didn't settle for the failure of stagnation. He is making hunks of wood into any combination of pen & paper holding objects, and this is doing very well for him. I would love to see him make a wooden handled shaving brush or some other non-edc piece. That would be not only innovative for his brand, staying within its identity of handcrafted wooden goods, but would elevate out of a potential foxhole of wood-pen-paper products. The question would be: is his following confident enough in his vision to support it? Dudek Design is young and isn't at the point of taking these risks currently but the customers are supportive enough to follow down a new path; Dudek is successful.
In Topo's case their customers agreed with the fact that the brand didn't just have to make backpacks. They wanted items to go under those packs with jackets, and below those packs when they introduced shorts and pants. To be clear, when they offered t-shirts and winter caps they did not take a risk, those are stock items for most outdoor lifestyle brands. In comparison with Topo, a brand that I don't see as highly successful, though they are prolific, is Herschel Supply Co. They have not pushed the brand out of bags with relatively cheap materials made somewhere overseas. They have expanded safely within their product line through collaborations but have taken no risk outside of that.
If Topo Designs is too modern a model for this look at historically successful brands: Louis Vuitton, Hugo Boss, or Burberry. In a different category, Hasbro has made risky acquisitions in their years to grow into what is now an excellent, diverse portfolio. These bold moves do not simply make more companies more money and grow the consumerist states of the globe (which you can see as positive or negative, I don't care) but what risks do is innovate. When Stone Island introduce a fully reflective jacket that was ground breaking not just for fashion "oh look at me...blah blah," but it opened possibilities that shows possibilities in safety in a variety of markets: construction, running, cycling, motorcycles, etc. Ben over at Chrome Bags did the same thing when they introduced their reflective materials.
When people ask if there is a formula to success I don't think anyone can answer with total certainty. I do think that looking at other historical brands can lead to some rough outline that still works today.