By Mike Enemigo
Developing a successful product line doesn’t have to be a fumble in the dark. Here are seven best practices for bringing your baby to market as efficiently and economically as possible…
- Solicit Feedback. Now.
It’s not enough to run nascent products by family and friends. Instead, vet early-stage plans and prototypes with potential customers (in other words, strangers). The idea is to get people to tell you whether the product meets their needs and, if not, what might improve it. Is the product the right shape? Are buttons or other functional components in the right place? Is it the right color? Does it perform the way people want it to? Figure this out now so that you’re not spending weeks or months working on features that might not even matter to your customers.
- Refine Your Design with Simplicity in Mind.
A straightforward product design is essential. The same goes for brand continuity among every item you sell.
Your product has to capture someone’s attention within the first three seconds of glancing at it. In fact, quality design is the best investment you can make.
Product packaging should be clean and compelling as well, with easy-to-read text. Busy packaging that explodes with colors or design elements will only frustrate customers.
In most consumer product categories, the packaging is your only communication with customers. People need to know what you’re selling from 30 feet away.
When developing packaging, consider where your products will be sold. Retailers want packaging that won’t take up too much space, and many are looking for eco-friendly options. Get this right, because the cost of redoing it is not cheap.
- Don’t Skimp on Materials or Manufacturing.
A low-cost vendor isn’t necessarily your best bet. It’s important not to make purchasing decisions based solely on price. You have to go for quality and reputation. That may mean spending a little extra, given that top-shelf suppliers, labs and manufacturers tend to charge more.
Look online, attend trade shows and collect industry recommendations. You may need to hire an agent to find a factory for you; however, you must personally visit any factory you’re thinking of partnering with, even if it’s 8,000 miles away.
To ensure that product is up to snuff, create guidelines for every manufacturing detail. It’s not enough to outline 85 percent of the process. For example, don’t simply say that your product should be constructed of stainless steel, specify‘A’ grade, or the factory will likely use the lowest-end option.
Don’t expect a flawless product off the bat, and stay on top of every detail. You have to check that. It’s like a Grand Canyon-size cliff if you don’t. Because that’s your opportunity to sign off that your product is correct, and if it’s not, to have the production line stop and fix it.
- Price it Right.
Many entrepreneurs fail to factor in all overhead costs — including shipping and duties — when considering pricing. Other mistakes: gauging incorrectly what consumers will be willing to pay, not knowing where you want to sell the product, and thinking you can make the same profit margin from high- and low-end retailers. For example, selling at Nordstrom will yield a different margin than selling on Amazon and may require different packaging.
Wait to do the math until you’ve nailed down all the particulars. Once you run the numbers, if your profit margins are too low (or the price you need to charge to make a profit is too high), you may need to whittle down your manufacturing costs.
Look to the marketplace — at comparable products and industry margins — to calculate the product price. I’ve always been a big believer that your cost is driven by the market unless you are creating a new market for a product.
If you need help setting prices, enlist the services of a product development consultant or sales broker.
- Don’t Overstock.
Sure, you don’t want to run out of product. And sure, suppliers offer discounts for larger orders. But tying up all your capital in inventory can turn your company into the Titanic. If you think you’re going to sell 100 pieces, don’t go buy 1,000. Instead, buy 110.
Cash flow, shipping time, storage space, and shelf life will dictate how much product you stock. It’s an intricate dance, and every industry is different.
Then there’s the matter of how many colors, styles, sizes, and other variations you offer. Again, fewer is better. Give consumers too many options, and you risk overwhelming them. There’s that old adage: A confused mind won’t buy.
- Protect your Ideas.
Intellectual property laws can protect you only if you arm yourself accordingly. Hiring a tough IP attorney is a must. But before you shell out thousands, visit the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office website (uspto.gov) to learn about these protections and ensure your idea hasn’t already been patented or trademarked by someone else.
As early as possible, you should trademark your product name, purchase the corresponding web domain and file a provisional patent application, which won’t break the bank but will allow you to stake a claim on your idea while giving you a year to file a formal application.
You probably won’t be able to afford to patent your products in multiple countries from day one — you’ll likely file a U.S. patent first and add others as it makes sense. But it helps to determine early on where else you may want to market your idea because once you head down this path, the deadlines for filing patents abroad arrive very quickly.
- Consider Retailers and Communicate Wisely.
Landing a meeting with a potential retailer? You need to anticipate all questions they might lob your way so you can help them see how to market and sell your product to their particular customer base. It’s all about specificity.
Keep your pitch simple. The most effective pitches usually relay three concise, memorable selling points for potential buyers. Put yourself in their shoes and know that they report to someone. You don’t want your presentation to be overly complex.
You may not get into your preferred retail outlet your first time out. If that’s the case, be persistent but pleasant. Follow up once a month or quarter with buyers you’ve met who are still on the fence.
Be wary of diving into the big-box pool too soon — you need high-profit margins to do so. Many retail chains will demand that you carry a hefty liability insurance policy and provide display boxes or fixtures for your products. You have to spend money to make money. And you have to make sure you have enough to spend.
About the Author:
Mike Enemigo is a former drug dealer. He’s now a successful “prisonpreneur” who’s turned his dirty hustle clean. With over 25 books published and many more on the way, he’s America’s #1 incarcerated author. He’s passionate about entrepreneurship and he’s written several books which teach prisoners and street hustlers how to make money legally so they can avoid the traps of prison and crime. Among these books are Hood Millionaire: How to Hustle & Win LEGALLY! (also published as Get Out, Get Rich: How to Make Money Legally When You Get Out of Prison!), and CEO Manual: Start a Business, Be a Boss! (Also published as The CEO Manual: How to Start Your Own Business When You Get Out of Prison!). For more information on Mike and his books, visit thecellblock.net, where you can also subscribe to his blog, The Official Blog of The Cell Block, where he and other TCB authors provide raw, uncensored news, entertainment, and resources on the topics of prison and street-culture from a true, insider’s perspective. Be sure to also follow Mike on all social media at @mikeenemigo and @thecellblockofficial.