Nobody has an ugly baby. The same goes for new product developers. Whether an independent entrepreneur or seasoned marketing team, once a new product concept is developed and months, even years in some cases are invested, our babies become prettier every day. The same unconditional love and support that builds as our children mature and develop transfers into the professional mindset of innovators.
Creating a viable and robust market for a new product takes enormous resource, planning and resolve. The sheer capital to unveil and furthermore generate brand equity is often the most overlooked aspect of getting a product to market. Take the Segway for instance. This emission free, efficient mode of personal transportation has been around for over a decade. With some quick, simple training even children can master riding this marvel. Reaching top speeds of 12.5 mph it has a range of up to 24 miles on a single charge. Still commercial acceptance has been scant. Why wouldn’t every warehouse and airport have a fleet of them?
Recently two Swedish designers have developed an entirely new concept for biking safety in the form of the Hovding, an airbag which deploys vies-a- vie algorithmic intelligence protecting riders from head trauma in the event of a fall or crash. This revolutionary “bike helmet” is worn around riders’ necks and actually becomes a stylized accessory. At $520 prospects for commercial distribution of any scale in the next five years may be slim. However according to Forbes writer Jeremy Bogaisky this startup has already taken in $13 million in venture capital. He cites bicycle industry analyst Gary Coffrin who gives a great summation stating “The adaptation curve for such a unique product at this price point is not likely to be rapid.”
Taking the tech factor down a notch, in my own gym sits a clever form of a door stop called “James the Doorman.” I would imagine the designers, Black+Bum had their “Eureka” design moment and the wheels started spinning. Honestly I have never seen such a cool variety of a door stop and without knowing much about how they developed this unique version of an age old application, I can’t comment on what lengths they went to in commercializing their product. I do know that the one in my club is the only that I have ever seen.
Every week we hear from inventors and product developers who have put great thought into products which offer unique solutions to every day needs. Often though there are many missing pieces to their overall strategies. Below are the Top 8 Hurdles to Successful New Product Launches. In the coming months, I will be writing a series which individually expands on each of these, why they are often overlooked and how they are important for taking new products to market.
Product Development Costs
Most inventors underestimate the cost for designing a manufacturing ready product. Tools and molds can easily run into the five to six figure range and can dwarf first year profits. Developing engineering drawings—those that translate into production and material specifications require time and money.
Some products are ideal for Big Box retail but unless you know how to navigate this space, most category managers are not going to take a chance with a single line item vendor. It creates additional administrative work for the system, and most inventors don’t have the capital to market their products. Specialty and on-line retailers generally are better proving grounds for a products’ acceptance but you still have to generate interest and traffic. Oh, and did you get a UPC code yet?
Minimum order requirements (MOQs) by factories usually cause a lump in the throat. Even if you have the greatest gadget in the world, how do you plan on financing that first big order?
Educating the Masses
How will you announce the arrival of your new product to the world? Magazines? PR campaign? Put an ad in the paper? Direct Response Television (DRTV) is a great but often expensive form of advertising and one of the best ways to demonstrate a new application or use as well as building brand equity. It’s great to have a video on your web site but again, how will you drive viewers and a following?
Price vs. Value
In the initial phase of your product’s life-cycle there will likely not be the scale (volume) to drive down production cost. Unless you can convince consumers they should pay a premium retail price, break-even may be longer off than you expect. Plus, buyers will tell you whether your SRP (Suggested Retail Price) is in line with their category.
Regulatory and Testing Requirements
With your product in the public domain, most retailers will require some sort of regulatory or product safety testing and compliance with groups such as the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), Underwriters Laboratories (UL) and others. Depending on what industry you are in, your item may require testing and certification by default. To you this means additional time, red tape and money.
Patent and Intellectual Property Protection
This is perhaps the most critical and misunderstood area of product development. In many cases developers could have saved themselves months of work simply by doing some basic research and analysis. The United States Patent and Trademark Office site has become more navigable and efficient thanks to improvements in their search functions. There are three ways to begin your inquiry using key words, designs or a combination to see if someone else has registered a similar product. Even if they have you may be able to make some functional changes to distinguish yours but again, many underestimate the time and capital required to protect the investment of your innovation.
Aftermarket Sales and Support
Now that you’ve got a patent pending, finalized your business plan, raised early stage capital, have product on the warehouse shelf and are starting to generate traction don’t forget the basic administrative requirements. If you hit the lotto and are selling to Wal Mart, using retail link is a requirement. This entails sending a staff member for training and ultimately using their on line tool daily or weekly. Is someone manning the phones for product questions and concerns? How robust is your web site? Oh, we haven’t even discussed how much this will cost to build.
While these hurdles aren’t surmountable, it is critical to factor in all the critical and time consuming elements of bringing a product to life. Even this list is not comprehensive enough to account for the unexpected turns in the pathway to new product development. If it were easy, everyone would be doing it.
Be on the lookout for “The Adaption Curve” the follow up series which explores the product development lifecycle. We will break down each topic in greater detail. To sign up for our mailing list go to http://baysourceblog.com/contact-us/
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David Alexander is president of Baysource Global www.baysourceglobal.com and has a decade of experience with new product development and contract manufacturing.
As companies weigh the pros and cons of working directly with a factory vs. dealing through an agent for their China sourcing needs there are many points to consider.
Here are my top ten:
1. The scale or dollar volume purchased annually. (I published an article in M&A Magazine which argued it requires $40-$50MM in throughput for any ROI on a direct sourcing office.)
2. The number of varying categories and SKUs being sourced.
3. The complexity of products being sourced. Cotton socks are a lot less difficult to make and package than electromechanical items with sophisticated firmware and specialized components.
4. Experience levels, competence and proficiency with the language of the country with whom they're dealing.
5. The sheer number of factories the buyers/agents have worked with including access to the owners or very least factory bosses and relationships with those individuals; the length of time and history with those factories and dollars of business placed with them; the ability to get production bumped forward in the schedule; the ability to receive favorable payment terms which impacts cash flow of any business.
6. Competency with provincial government regulations and requirements. (How would a New Yorker fare in an Alabama factory or vice versa?)
7. Ability to travel to/from factory within one day for urgent matters, product/packaging changes, and production oversight.
8. Quality Control-Generally considered the most critical. The standard process for measuring QC and the depth of practices such as random and in production sampling, testing equipment and facilities, reports, photos, and now video.
9. Experience with logistics, freight terms and all export documentation and activities.
10. Does the agent or factory (for direct) share your sense of urgency and same philosophies and principals? Are they vested in the outcome and long term success of the business?
We’ve all heard the term “he could sell ice to Eskimos” to describe the consummate salesman who is able to convince someone to buy something for which they either have little need or likely have ample supply on hand. Or perhaps we’ve heard “he could sell them the shoes off their feet.” In either case the idea is that for those with the gift of persuasion, it is possible to convince someone to purchase something based less on need and more on charisma and charm. There may soon be a new term in our vernacular that could describe one U.S. company, Georgia Chopsticks—“They can sell chopsticks to the Chinese.”
In a town ironically named Americus, Georgia two hours south of Atlanta, that is precisely what Jae Lee has set out to do, producing 2 million Chopsticks each day destined for Japan, Korea and yes, even China. In May of this year, the Americus-Sumter County Payroll Development Authority (PDA) made a formal announcement that Georgia Chopsticks, LLC would open a production facility in Americus that employs 150 people. According to Lee, China with its 1.3 billion population lacks ample natural resources to support demand for chopsticks and on Tuesday, May 31 a formal ribbon cutting ceremony was held to mark the opening of their plant.
According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution Lee who started his chopsticks business in Cochran last November, sent a couple of samples overseas, and within a few months needed to expand. Said Lee, "I knew there was a need and I thought I could make a profit." Imagine that.
"We tend to think that the Asians take care of that pretty well," said David Garriga of the Americus-Sumter Payroll Development Authority, the economic agency that owns the plant that Lee rents in the city's old industrial park. “For Americus, the chopsticks factory represents a flashback to its days as a manufacturing center,” Garriga said. But as many companies shifted work overseas, many shops shut down.
So why aren’t more companies strategizing to include China in their plans? In an October 6, 2010 Bloomberg Press report it was estimated that China market was valued at $150 billion in potential goods and services or a top ten global opportunity for U.S. companies. “U.S. companies have experienced tremendous commercial success in China's market and the prospects for future growth are significant,” says Erin Ennis, vice president of the U.S.-China Business Council.
China has become the U.S. third largest customer for things like Greentech, machinery, luxury items and even wine. China's expanding consumer market clearly has an appetite for Western brands. Thanks to the gateway of information available through the internet, television and other media there is almost built-in demand for products from the West. As long as companies are focused on things like quality and safety the market is stronger now than in the history of our trade relationship.
“The Chinese appetite for fashion has become voracious,” says Farooq Kathwari , chairman, chief executive officer, and president of Ethan Allen Interiors. “The observation that ‘we first dress ourselves, then we dress our homes” applies equally in China. For years, French, British, Japanese, and American clothing designers have taken China by storm. It was a natural evolution that consumers so immersed in couture and inspired by the biggest names in fashion would turn next to fashion for the home. The demand is there and growing.”
Kathwari should know. He’s been in China since the 1970’s when he began buying arts and crafts there. Today they are marketing Ethan Allen —a quintessentially American brand—in 53 locations in major cities across China. They ship 60 percent of what they sell there from their well-established U.S. manufacturing base and in turn buy Chinese products to be marketed in Ethan Allen Design Centers in North America.
The U.S. exports about $100 billion annually to China in goods and services, supporting about half a million American jobs. According to the White House new deals in the works with China will support up to 235,000 new jobs in the U.S. In addition to major players such as General Electric, Honeywell and Navistar, there are opportunities for companies of all sizes to exploit increased demand by the growing Chinese middle class.
For now, the man who would sell chopsticks to the Chinese quietly goes about his business of working toward a goal of producing 10 million chopsticks per day. As of June he’d received 450 job applications. For many of those Americans out of work in the little Georgia town, the Chinese market for their products could soon mean the good fortunes in their cookies may very well come true.