The world of print-on-demand is a large one, and it’s getting larger. A staggering variety of online marketplaces connect shoppers to artists, whose designs can be found on nearly every non-perishable item for sale, from coffee mugs to phone cases.

Society6 (one of Leaf Group, Ltd.’s art and design marketplaces) has established themselves as a leading marketplace in this growing industry, with 4 million unique designs across over 40 different products and 3 million customers. Its community of artists numbers in the 100s of thousands, and the marketplace’s royalty model incentivizes greater involvement. Through careful attention to technology, commerce, and creativity, Society6 has built a successful enterprise in a market on the rise.

This summer, leaders from Society6 turned to the Accelerator program for product development insights. The marketplace currently offers over 40 consumer products across home décor, apparel and tech accessories, but is always looking for new opportunities to appeal to their primary demographic, which, coincidentally, aligns neatly with the Accelerator’s class demo. Through business acumen and (perhaps) some personal experience, 10 Accelerator teams set out to identify Society6’s next big item and win the approval of a panel of executives, directors, and managers from Society6 and Leaf Group.

Teams spent a week researching and validating concepts, building marketing plans, and projecting revenue and profits. Using proprietary customer data, research platforms like Hoovers, Mintel, and EBSCO, and various consumer reports, students were able to get a strong grasp of potential demand and profit margins for a vast assortment of product categories.

“This project was one that was particularly exciting for students, as their demographics matches that of Society6’s consumer base,” said Accelerator coach Jonathan Holston (MBA’17). “Furthermore, it offered students exposure to a number of real-life consulting challenges, including market-sizing, internet marketing tactics and product development.”  

With an almost limitless number of possibilities to consider, it stood to reason that teams would settle on an array of product lines, but the final presentations saw multiple teams pitching similar or identical products.

“There was a chance that would happen,” said Rory Wood, Senior Director of Marketing at Society6, “but we didn’t realize it would come from such unique products.”

Teams’ suggestions ranged from athletic accessories to home décor, tech accessories, and other product segments with large and growing markets, strong margins, and few current options for customization.

It’s customary at Accelerator for judges to deliberate intensely about the rank order of 1 or 2 team pitches, but presentations for Society6 generated “heated debate,” according to Tawn Albright, EVP Corporate Development, Leaf Group.

In the end, the winning idea came from two teams with the same idea in the home décor space. The panel resonated with the appeal of the medium for designers, customer demand, and marketing strategies, ultimately giving first place to Team U. Team S, which pitched the same product, finished second.

You’ll probably see a lot of these products on Society6 in a couple of years – Rory Wood, Society6

“The results were really, really impressive, and came from a lot of attention, time, and activity,” Albright noted. “Every single project was a success.”

“You’ll probably see a lot of these products on Society6 in a couple of years,” added Wood.

The Accelerator project for Society6 turned out to be a win-win for everyone involved – students gained strong research, modeling, and presentation experience, while Society6 and Leaf Group got some strong ideas from their target market, as well as a couple of interns for the summer.

“It was really cool to see how everyone took the problem differently and ran with it in a different way,” said Shannon Roche, a member of the winning team who went on to intern for Society6 after the program concluded.

“My internship at Society6 involved two similar projects that allowed me to take ownership of my work and create tangible impact,” Roche added. “The experience helped me gain a deeper understanding of the industry while developing key professional skills that I know I’ll be able to use for the next steps in my career. It was an extremely insightful, challenging, and rewarding experience.”

“From my perspective, it took a little bit of a risk to come out here and do this program,” Albright concluded. “I was really impressed with the results, and we may be back again next year.”

About Accelerator®— Summer Business Institute

Designed for undergraduates and recent college graduates—especially those who did not major in a business-related field—Accelerator is a non-degree program that combines classroom learning with projects that allow you to act as a consultant, solving real problems for real companies and presenting your ideas to management. In four fast-paced weeks, you can get both the knowledge and hands-on business experience to help you land an exciting internship and make connections with potential employers. Learn more here.

About Society6

Society6, an online marketplace that provides artists a place to connect with consumers and sell their art, customizes products for buyers by printing artists’ works on dozens of items, ranging from tapestries to pillows to shower curtains. The artwork on Society6 is created by hundreds of thousands of artists from around the world, all of who are empowered by Society6 to profit from the sale of their artwork, without giving up control of their rights. Every purchase made on Society6 pays an artist.

About Leaf Group

Leaf Group Ltd. (NYSE:LFGR) is a diversified Internet company that builds platforms across its marketplaces (Deny Designs, Saatchi Art, Society6 and The Other Art Fair) and various media properties (including Livestrong.com, eHow and Cuteness) to enable communities of creators to reach passionate audiences in large and growing lifestyle categories. In addition, Leaf Group’s diverse advertising offerings help brands and publishers find innovative ways to engage with their customers. For more information about Leaf Group, visit www.leafgroup.com.