We’re all out of All Out Of. Well, that’s not exactly true. We’ve got plenty in stock. But this very moment (or thereabouts) marks our selling the MILLIONTH COPY of “the miracle of checking off depleted items as you go.”
We’ve never sold a million of anything (or, to be clear, any one thing).
Most things never sell a million of anything.
A million is a big number, with a lot of zeroes. Six, to be exact. I know that Austin Powers made it sound like $1 million wasn’t so much, but even present-day Dr. Evil would be blown away by a million grocery list pads.
We released the first All Out Of in our Fall 2004 season, which makes it conveniently and meaningfully almost exactly ten years ago. If you’re into long division, that averages out to 100,000 copies per year. In unit sales, it’s been our bestselling product almost every year, surpassing our first bestsellers, the Personal Library Kit and Slang Flashcards, upon its release.
It was introduced with What to Eat, following the Spring 2004 release of To Do and For Your Information, which was retired a few years later. Pro-Con was the very first of our juggernaut pad category, debuting in Fall 2003 at our first National Stationery Show. Pro-Con was in print continuously until just this year. I’m not usually sentimental about discontinuing products that don’t sell, whether early on or after a long while, but Pro-Con’s retirement brought a tear to my eye.
In the Fall 2004 catalog, we boasted “Over 3,953,399 Knock Knock Pad Pages Sold Since 2003!” At 60 pages per pad, that means we’d sold just over 65,000 units, which was pretty darn good for us at the time. No wonder we were coming out with new titles.
I don’t remember any great inspirational moment behind All Out Of. It was before everybody (or anybody) started doing content- and design-driven pads, and I just thought a checklist grocery list would be really useful. To this day, in fact, it’s the only Knock Knock product I personally use regularly. In that vein, All Out Of is actually a great representation of three Knock Knock principles:
- Don’t waste time writing the same things over and over again. If it’s a repeat, create a multiple-choice or fill-in-the-blank scenario (e.g., wedding gift thank you notes; cf. our Multiple-Choice Correspondence Notecards).
- Use your brain as little as possible. Come on—your mind is a limited resource. If you can have a prompted list rather than a blank scrap, just think of how much room you’ll free up to contemplate other things.
- Lists are about what the majority of people might want or do, not what the writer of the Knock Knock list wants or does. What does that mean? The lists we come out with are based, and I’m not joking, on extensive research. Maybe not as extensive as a dissertation, but we spend at least an hour on the Internet looking around. The whole point is that if we’re writing, say, a list of gym pet peeves, we don’t want merely to vent our own. Instead, we look around to see where opinions are clustering among the general population. With All Out Of, for example, I looked at just about every online grocery list to see how they handled individual items, categorization, level of detail, etc. (they were all ugly, by the way, and mostly stuff individuals had thrown up from Microsoft Word).
With All Out Of, I wanted to have the right balance of specificity (the checkable-offable, pre-written items) and flexibility (the write-your-own-thing options). I also wanted the categories to go in the basic order of a grocery store layout, from produce to interior. (I recently learned in The Power of Habit—highly recommended, by the way—that the reason grocery stores start shoppers with produce is so they’ll feel virtuous for having put fruits and vegetables in their grocery carts and are then more likely to splurge on unhealthy stuff.) Above all, All Out Of reflected basic organizational thinking, which is one of my OCD specialties.
I think there are a bunch of reasons why All Out Of has done so well.
- It’s both a self-purchase and a gift item (many of our products are just one or the other).
- It’s a consumable item, meaning you use up individual pages then have to buy another pad.
- It’s a utility product, not just a novelty (many of our products veer more into the novelty, aka, “I’d like to have it but there’s no real reason for my wanting it”).
- The check-off format is very easy and approachable, especially for people like teenagers, who might not be willing to put the effort into writing all four letters of the word “MILK” on a list when they’ve used the last of it. Ergo the list has been popular with parents who can’t stand running out of milk without proper notification.
- It’s got a magnet. (Who doesn’t love a magnet? Stupid stainless-steel refrigerators, that’s who.)
- It’s got just the right balance of function and sense of humor, what with the brilliant hyperbolic tagline (“The Miracle of Checking Off Depleted Items as You Go”) and the “Oh Yeah, And” section.
All Out Of has been spotted on a zillion television-show and movie refrigerators. The only ones I can remember off the top of my head are The Real World: Austin and Bridesmaids, but there’ve been a bunch more, and we still receive tales of spottings from friends of Knock Knock.
Early on, we tried to extend the success of All Out Of with one for office supplies, but that was when we learned another rule of thumb with our utility (vs. novelty) pad titles: if you can’t use 60 sheets of it easily, and it’s not a novelty hit to the funny bone, it might not sell so well. What has been a big hit, however, have been versions in pink and blue to augment the original red. In fact, now that I think of it, perhaps it’s time to add another color to the roster—and maybe even crowd-source the hue! Or maybe you have an idea for another category for which an All Out Of Pad would fit the bill? Like maybe All Out Of: Cash, where we list all the denominations?
Of course I’m really proud of Knock Knock and all we’ve been able to do over the last twelve years. As good as we are at developing our product, our success rate—products that sell beyond their original print runs—is still only about fifty percent. And for true hits, maybe the percentage is more like ten. Or five. So All Out Of is a really special product for us, one that we hope we’re never actually all out of (ba-dum-bump).
From the depths of my refrigerator, I want personally to thank you for grocery shopping with us since 2004. We truly hope that you’re never, ever caught without your morning milk.