Look What I Found!

Steps to Success

You can spot new opportunities with a strong chance for success by following these criteria:

1. The product has a big difference people will notice. With so many thousands of products on the market today, you won't succeed without a big enough advantage to make people stop and take notice. In the case of Crystal Pearls, the product had two features customers observed immediately: First, it came in a much smaller, more convenient bag--4 pounds vs. a 14-pound bag of traditional kitty litter. Second, Crystal Pearls clearly absorbed all fluids, while competitive products simply turned the liquid into little clumps.

2. It has a strong selling point that will entice the distribution channel to carry your product. If you can't get the distributor to carry your product, it won't matter if consumers like it or not because they'll never even get the chance to see it. Because a distribution channel may only carry 10 to 25 percent of the products available to it, getting distributor support requires that you have at least one strong selling point. The Schlueters had two advantages: First, the smaller bag that's attractive to customers is also attractive to retailers because it allows them to produce more sales per amount of shelf space than the competition; and second, the Schlueters were able to offer a better margin. One of the biggest mistakes inventors make is to believe distributors will carry their product for less margin because their product is new. Actually, the opposite is true: Distributors want more margin from a new product.

3. Pricing should be comparable to competing products. In the case of Crystal Pearls, a month's supply cost about the same as a month's supply of a competitor's product. Fact is, consumers are more likely to take a chance on a new product if it's close in price to existing products. Most consumers have been burned dozens of times on the supposed benefits of a new product, so they approach new product claims with a great deal of skepticism. A high price is all they need to decide not to buy.

The Schlueters clearly have an entrepreneurial bent. In addition to Harvest Ventures, they run two other businesses: Sourcing Solutions, which helps companies locate international sources for their products, and RDS Associates, which creates engineering solutions and custom parts for the motorcycle industry. But an entrepreneurial spirit only works when you sell products or services that people value. To attain business success, keep your eyes open for opportunities, follow the guidelines for a saleable new product, and move fast before someone else discovers your "golden goose."

The Federal Consumer Information Center Web site is loaded with helpful, easy-to-understand articles about patents for new inventors. Topics range from the Document Disclosure Program, which inventors can use to establish a record of their invention for just $20, to how to submit an appeal to the Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences when your patent application has been denied. Another great source of information is the U.S. Department of Commerce's pamphlet Patents and How to Get One: A Practical Handbook ($3.95). To order a copy, log on to www.uspto.gov.

Don Debelak is a new-business marketing consultant and author of Think Big: Make Millions From Your Ideas.

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This article was originally published in the July 2002 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Look What I Found!.

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