Turning Product Ideas into Reality: The Product Development Process

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From idea generation to a finished product ready for sale – the product development process is the journey in which every successful product undergoes to become a tangible reality with opportunity for monetization. A series of steps, this cycle includes conceptualization, design, development and marketing of new or rebranded goods. By understanding the product development process you’ll be able to gain a better understanding of the manufacturing process and therefore be able to accurately calculate your product’s arrival in the market place.

The product development process can be broken down into five steps:

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Good concept development is pivotal. If poorly done can undermine the entire effort. During this stage, the needs of the target market are identified, competitive products are reviewed, product specifications are defined, a product concept is selected, market and financial feasibility analysis is conducted, and the project development outline is created. This stage provides the foundation for the entire development process.

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In prior stages, the team was focused on the core product idea, and the prospective design was largely based on overviews rather than in-depth design and engineering. Once the development plan is approved, marketing may begin to develop ideas for addtional product options and add-ons, or perhaps an extedned product family. Designers and engineers develop the product architecture in detail, and manufacturing determines which components should be made and which should be purchased, and identifies the necessary suppliers.

According to product design and development expert, Robert Q. Riley, The product’s architecture determines how the primary functional systems and subsystems are designed and engineered, and how those systems will be arranged to work as a complete unit. For example, a computer consists of the central processing unit (CPU), power supply unit (PSU), a motherboard, memory, video card, and cooling fans. The architecture of the computer design determines the platform layout, whether the computer is a desktop, laptop, tablet, or smart phone computer. The architecture may determine the layout of the system, but it would not provide the detailed engineering needed to determine the dimensions of the speakers, the detailed design of the keyboard, or the engineering of the operating software. All of this impacts important attributes such as standardization of components, modularity, options for future changes, ease of manufacture, and how the project is divided into manageable tasks and expenses. If a family of products or upgrades and add-ons are planned, the architecture of the product determines the commonality of components and the ease with which upgrades and add-ons can be installed.

Development, tooling, and manufacturing costs will be economized on when a system or subsystem is used from another product line from the company. As the design stage matures, detailed design is done for every component of the product. During this phase, every component is identified and engineered. Tolerances, materials, and finishes are defined, and the design is implemented with drawings or computer files. Once developed, prototype components are rapidly built with computerized machines such as fused deposition modeling devices, CNC mills, or stereo lithography systems.

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During the testing and refinement stage, a number of prototypes are built and tested. Prototypes emulate production products as closely as possible. Prototypes are necessary to determine whether the performance of the product matches the specifications, and to uncover design shortfalls and gain in-the-field experience with the product in use. Later, beta prototypes are built from the first production components received from suppliers.

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Pilot manufacturing can also be thought of as ‘almost manufacturing.’ During production ramp-up, the work force is trained as the first products are being assembled. The comparatively slow product build provides time to work out any remaining problems with supplier components, fabrication, and assembly procedures. The staff and supervisory team is organized, beginning with a core team, and line workers are trained by assembling production units.

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As the company is comfortable moving forward from its success in the pilot manufacturing stage, the next and final phase of the product development cycle is full manufacturing production. As full manufacturing kicks off, typically a review team including representatives from strategic sourcing, engineering, quality assurance, and operations monitor for any final flaws or failures. Once the review is passed and the design has been fully approved, final units begin to be manufactured.

Whether a business plans to outsource manufacturing or not, the transition from conceptualization to full manufacturing can be either a path to success or a long road with many delays to final product launch . Getting products to market on time and within budget is dependent on the speed and fluidity of each transition throughout the various manufacturing phases. Those with the ability to react fast to errors and quickly adapt to each phase may reap the benefits of a consolidated product development cycle. The end result – larger profit margins for everybody.

 

Michelle Scheblein is China Business Analyst at BaySource Global. She has a B.A. in international business from the University of South Florida and has studied abroad, worked, and traveled throughout China between 2011-2014. She can be reached at mscheblein@gmail.com

Using a China Agent vs Going Direct

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.

Top 10 Pros and Cons

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?

New Product Developers Part III

In our four part series dedicated to new product developers, innovators and inventors, we explore the 8 top considerations when developing a new product.  So far we have covered:

  • Product Development Costs
  • Distribution Channels
  • Inventory and Startup Financing Capital

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?

For Part Three we turn to renown and widely respected author and expert, Jim DeBetta, who has led firms such as TV Goods, Rymax Marketing and Carson Optical.  As one of the foremost authorities in helping inventors and consumer product entrepreneurs develop and launch their products through infomercials and retail store placement, Jim is widely sought as a guest speaker at many nationally recognized events.

BaySource Global: What are emerging methods, tactics and strategies for introducing new products in the public domain?

Jim DeBetta: “DRTV can be effective to quickly brand a product but the costs are very high.  Internet marketing techniques offer the least costly and potentially most effective way to introduce new products – whether your own or on other’s sites.  Its also critical to have a comprehensive social media campaign that can include Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and others.  This can be a fast and effective way to reach many people while allowing them to provide instant feedback.”

BSG: What are overlooked tactics for getting a product into retail distribution?

JD: “Using a broker or rep is always a good idea as they have the contacts and experience to get products introduced to retail buyers.  Again, it’s also a good idea to start by marketing your products online.  Having a powerful internet marketing plan is a great way to start and often not seriously pursued.  Also, using distributors to sell your products to mom and pops and even larger chains can be effective as they already sell other products to their customers and can offer yours as well.  You may make less working with a “middle man” but the sales you achieve more than compensates for it.”

 

 CostvsPrice 

Price vs. Value 

In the initial phase of a 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 price point at retail 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.

BSG: Where do inventors miss the mark on price vs. value, either in over pricing or under estimating suggested retail price? (Retail sometimes dictates a cost not attainable in the startup phase due to lower initial volumes at manufacturing)

JD: “Many inventors often feel their products are worth more than they are and so they price them at too high of a retail.  Also, they often do not offer enough margin for the retailer…So instead of them offering a cost of lets say 10.00 to a retailer when the MSRP is 20.00, they offer them a price of 12-13 dollars which does not give the retailer enough margin.  It’s critical for inventors and startups to make money but they cannot get too greedy and have to understand the margin requirements of big retailers

 

Jim DeBetta is President of DeBetta Enterprises and is a mentor, coach and consultant.  He is the author of The Business of Inventing and offers Group Coaching courses for inventors.  Jim can be reached at jim@jimdebetta.com Facebook-Get Retail Ready or 770-826-2606.

David Alexander is founder of Baysource Global specializing in contract manufacturing, new product development and distribution.  David can be reached at david.alexander@baysource.net or 813-251-4184.

 

New Product Development and the Adaptation Curve Part II

In our 4 part series dedicated to new product developers, innovators and inventors, we explore the 8 top considerations when developing a new product.  Whether a seasoned marketing professional or first timer, these eight critical components include aspects related to product design, positioning, manufacturing, distribution and financing.

What You’ll Need to Start: Ample Capital  

Beyond personal savings, innovators look to family and friends, explore small business loans and even tap into retirement accounts to raise money for their startup products. The initial outlay of inventory capital—that which could be tied up for months is often the greatest obstacle to overcome. Minimum order requirements (MOQs) by factories usually cause a lump in the throat for the first time product developer.  Even if you have the greatest gadget in the world, how do you plan on financing that first big P.O.?  You’ve likely invested significantly to develop your innovation—a figure that has hopefully been taken into consideration for ROI and overall budget.  While established corporations have ample cash flow for typical starting inventories, this may be the greatest initial hurdle for those new to the process.

Inventory Financing / Purchase Order Funding / Factoring

There are a half dozen inventory financing groups (IFGs) in the U.S. who provide bridge capital, purchasing and taking title to inventory which goes to a third party distribution warehouse. You then pay the IFG as for the cost of goods plus any in and out fees required by the warehouse as you sell merchandise.  Purchase order financing is a new twist on Factoring, an older practice in which small businesses sell invoices at a discount for faster recovery of cash, providing the factoring company with a substantial fee.  The caveat is that the invoices must be to reputable clients, i.e. Walmart to be considered.

Advantages

These can be good options that allow you to purchase greater quantities thus commanding volume discounts.  Another benefit is that you don’t have to give up equity to outside investors.  Many times the factories’ terms require money down at the time of placing the purchase order.  IFGs make it possible to abide by these terms.  These companies will want to know:

  1. Your sales and marketing strategy (refer to Part I of the series) and about your team
  2. The quality of the products produced
  3. Your margins
  4. Inventory turns
  5. Your credit worthiness and track record

Disadvantages

Personal guarantees and background checks are almost always standard protocol which usually means demonstrating some form of net worth whether savings, retirement funds, property, creditworthiness and no criminal records.  They may also not take a chance on a new client—one who has no real balance sheet to speak of.  Another downside is that these lenders charge interest rates that can be as high as 40% annually.  Lastly, there is always a time requirement (term) for making good on these loans which are usually around 60 days. If you are unsuccessful in meeting your sales plan, stiff penalties may be imposed.

 

Crowdfunding

In just the past few years companies like Kickstarter have created tech based forums which bring creative projects to life and are open to investment by the general public.  To date, over five million people have pledged over $800 million and funded more than 50,000 projects to date on Kickstarter in categories such as films, music and the arts, video games and inventions.

Advantages

Crowdfunding is catching on and becoming more accepted as a means of raising capital.  Investors do so at their own risk and there is little to no governance or regulation meaning no reporting or other administrative overhead.  Crowdfunding is really an eco-system for philanthropy and those playing in this space have an entrepreneurial spirit.  Mostly, investors do not generally require any form of equity or preferred stock so your ownership is not diluted.  On April 12, 2013 the JOBS (Jumpstart Our Business) Act, was signed into law and is designed to increase job creation and economic growth.  The good news is that it eases fundraising regulations imposed by the SEC enabling more entrepreneurs to raise capital.

Disadvantages

Because blocks of investments can be minimal—as low as $1,000 or less, investors may be less motivated to provide insight or contribute to the long term success of a project.

Seed Capital / Angel Investors

Advantages

The difference between Seed Capital and Venture Capital is that Seed money comes from individuals vs. institutional investors. Most angel (seed) investors have a wider appetite for risk and a savvy track record for assisting startups with building their businesses.  These professionals are also versed in providing feedback on pro-formas (financial targets for top line revenues and margins; cash flow models and debt.  Generally seed investors are less hands on in the day to day running of the business once they have a sound idea of your business plan.  Seed investments are less administratively complex with less formal corporate contracts and governance.

Disadvantages

Seed capital usually comes at a cost—Equity. There is risk on both sides.  The investor may never recover their investment or you may give away too much ownership.  Usually the latter results because it is just so tempting for the inventor to commence their dream.

Read Part III of New Product Development

New Product Development and The Adaptation Curve Part I

In our four part series New Product Development and the Adaptation Curve dedicated to new product developers, innovators and inventors, we explore the Top 8 considerations when developing a new product.  Whether a seasoned marketing professional or first timer, these 8 critical components include aspects related to product design, positioning, manufacturing, and distribution.

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.  Most any product requires both two dimensional (2D) and three dimensional (3D) engineering drawings that specify material requirements, accurate measurements and tolerances which are very minute, allowable thresholds or variances in gaps, thickness, or practical limits without significantly affecting function of a component.  These are the physical requirements of a product. There are also electromechanical tolerances which measure allowable ranges of energy output or resistance.

2D & 3D drawings are computer generated or Computer Aided Designs (CAD) are then used for creating the tooling for parts whether metal, plastic or other materials, even cut and sew projects.  The first commercial applications were in the automotive and aerospace industries.  Through the use of some of the most common software such as Solidworks and AutoCAD, two of the more widely used platforms, designers create the physical properties of a product.  Depending on the complexity of the part and the actual quantity of components this cost can range from the low to tens of thousands of dollars.

Distribution Channels

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.  Determining how to sell your product comes down to the “4-P’s” or Product, Promotion, Price and Placement.  Entire marketing strategies are built around this.  How you position your product will dictate your brand strategy.  From there it is necessary to determine price, sales tactics and a marketing campaign and budget.

Products are sold through single or multiple channels.  Often and most overlooked by new product developers is the benefit of working through wholesale/distributor channels.  These organizations have years of traction and relationships with retailers and can be the best avenues for introducing your product.  They have sales teams in place and assumedly the category expertise for not only implementing your programs but also helping positioning and building your brand.  Your distributor is your customer and investing the time to work with and support this resource will pay off tenfold.

Think about all the valued functions that are fulfilled by a strong distributor partner.  They have the infrastructure in place that includes:

  • Sales: category expertise and feedback
  • Warehousing; the ability to handle large single shipments
  • Customer service and support— activity based interface with multiple customers
  • Inventory reporting; purchasing and replenishment
  • Shipping and logistics

Read Part II of New Product Development

 

New Product Development and “The Adaptation Curve”

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.

Calling All Product Developers

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.

1. 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.

2. Distribution Channels

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?

3. Inventory Capital 

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?

4. 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?

5. 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. 

6. 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.

7. 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.

8. 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.

Read Part 1: New Product Development and the Adaptation Curve

David Alexander is president of Baysource Global and has a decade of experience with new product development and contract manufacturing.