Launching a Product From Start to Finish

Expanding Your Horizons

Jeff Zinger, inventor of the Walk-O-Long, a padded wraparound safety and learning device designed to help children walk while minimizing back strain on parents, soaked in all the knowledge of the industry insiders he turned to for help in creating his first prototype and hooking up with a large distributor. Zinger, 39, got the idea while caring for his toddler daughter right after he had back surgery. He designed the product to support her safely and make it easy for him to lift her when she fell. "We sewed up a version. I didn't have to bend over [to walk with her]. She could walk around the house, and she was gaining self-confidence," he recalls. "When we were out and about, people would [ask], 'Where can I buy one of those?'"

He started the company in January 2005, but it wasn't until after the product hit the market that Zinger realized all the other needs the Walk-O-Long could meet. It can do everything from supporting a child learning to ride a bicycle to helping special-needs children walk and maneuver more easily to just keeping kids close by in crowded areas. Now this Orange, California, entrepreneur is focused on promoting his product to multiple markets-baby products, sporting goods, travel products, and special-needs and rehabilitation products retailers as well. Sold nationwide through specialty baby stores like Baby Outfitters and Bergstrom's Children's Store, Walk-O-Long projects sales to hit about $800,000 in 2006. Zinger has also marketed the product overseas in places such as Belgium, Germany, Holland and Taiwan.

Thinking global right away is a definite plus, say experts. "Getting the word out into the marketplace is much more important now than it was in the past," says Miller-Davidson. "Now it really is an instant global market because of the internet, TV and everything else--people can see a great new product instantly."

And in 2006 and beyond, "The delivery of a product is going to be even faster," notes Stone-Geier. Citing trends like the building of smart homes with gadgets embedded in everyday objects to make them easier and safer to use, she adds, "[Consumers] are looking for solutions to life rather than another 'thing' in life."

The final message for all you would-be inventors: It's definitely possible to launch your product into the eager hands of consumers. And with the proper research, partners, manufacturing, distribution and marketing, you can do it in short order. "If you have a great idea, go for it. When we say that, we don't mean next month or six months from now or next year," says Miller-Davidson. "That idea has come to you for a reason. But there's a good chance a lot of other people are having that same 'aha!' moment. So don't sit on it--move on it."

Make Yourself Known
The experts teach you the basics of promoting your new product.

If you have the coolest widget in town, you're going to want to shout it from the rooftops. According to experts, you should have a multipronged promotion strategy for your product launch. First, figure out what's unique about your product-how it differs from others in the marketplace. You might hold a focus group asking consumers to judge your product along with two or three others in the marketplace to get honest feedback, says inventing consultant Don Debelak.

Then, when you've determined your product's unique selling point, try to get testimonials and word-of-mouth buzz going, says Alyson Dutch, CEO of Brown & Dutch Public Relations, a Malibu, California, PR firm specializing in product launch publicity. "[Word-of-mouth] is the best marketing [your business] can receive."

Also focus on third-party endorsement--i.e., getting the press to cover your product. "You need to create credibility in a way that other people are talking about it, and repetition is important," says Dutch, who is also author of The PR Handbook for Entrepreneurs, due out this winter. By the fourth or fifth time consumers hear about your product, they'll have that trust, and that will drive them to buy a product.

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This article was originally published in the June 2006 print edition of Entrepreneur's StartUps with the headline: Prepare for Takeoff.

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