Question: I've invented a manual vacuum pump that could be sold for industrial use to drain coolant and oil out of machines, or sold to homeowners to drain oil from boats, autos and lawnmowers. The product needs to be slightly different for each market, and I can only afford to go after one market. Which do you recommend I tackle first?
Answer: The consumer market's appeal is its large size and its (relatively, in this case) glamorous nature. The downsides: Competition is fierce, buyers are hard to reach, promotional programs are expensive, margins can be low, and plenty of marketing pitfalls exist for new entrepreneurs. Among the things that can derail an inventor are slotting allowances (fees some retailers charge before selling a product); co-op advertising allowances (fees retailers charge manufacturers to advertise their products); and product returns (retailers will return products returned by consumers or damaged in the store).
The industrial market is typically much smaller than the consumer market. But it has many attractive features for inventors: Buyers tend to behave in a more uniform way, competition is less cutthroat, prices are higher, the market is more open to a one-product company, and low-cost trade shows provide effective access to key buyers.
I recommend you approach the industrial market first. It's easier to penetrate, and the costs to introduce a new product are lower than in the consumer market. I'd recommend targeting the consumer market first only if you have an experienced contact in the market who will spend up to 10 hours a week helping you launch your product.
Don Debelak, author of Bringing Your Product to Market (John Wiley & Sons, $19.95, 800-225-5945), is a marketing consultant specializing in bringing new products to market.
Sally Bergmoser, (703)?38-4533, http://www.ripen-it.com