Testing The Waters

Will They Buy It?

The ultimate test of whether or not a product is worth launching is to find out whether people will buy it. Black made Clean Shower in his garage and gave away samples for a year and a half before he was ready to introduce it to the market. At that point, he didn't have to worry if it was wise to invest a lot of money in advertising and inventory; he knew his product worked and that people would keep buying it.

Black's Clean Shower is a mixture of water and chemicals that can easily be made in small quantities. You may have a tougher time making small quantities of your product at a low cost, but there are several tactics you can use to get orders without having any product inventory:

1. Use a prototype to obtain orders. A prototype is a model that's very similar to your finished product. You can make a sales flier about the prototype and approach catalogs, retailers, manufacturers' representatives and distributors seeking orders. You can also show a prototype at a trade show--or even a flea market--and take orders for future delivery.

2. Run ads, deliver product fliers door-to-door or send out a direct mailing and see how many orders you receive. You don't need to have inventory to advertise a product for sale; all you need to do is offer customers an option to cancel the order if you can't deliver within 30 days.

3. Produce and sell a small quantity of products made with low-volume production techniques. For example, instead of buying a mold for a plastic part, you might make the part by bending and machining a flat piece of plastic. Don't worry about losing a small amount of money during market research. Consider it an investment that will tell you if your product will really sell.

Thousands of new products are introduced every year. There isn't room in the market for every product, even if they're all terrific. Take the time to do your market research. It's worth the cost, because it's the only way to know if your product will succeed.

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This article was originally published in the February 1998 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Testing The Waters.

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