One of a Kind?

A Winning Strategy

While the $330 vs. $30 price difference would floor most consumers, Hogle was confident that corporations and other organizations would pay the higher price to protect employees. "OSHA estimated that the average cost of computer-related injuries is $22,500 per worker," Hogle says. He reasoned that $330 is a small price to pay to avoid injuries and potential lawsuits.

Hogle's initial distribution strategy focused on corporate end users with 50-plus computer workstations, health-care companies, government offices and contractors, and schools and universities. Active Input Solutions Inc. focused its early efforts on the Southern California region and attended trade shows such as the National Safety Council exposition, the International Facility Management Association show and the NeoCon World's Trade Fair.

Even better, office accessories magazines and trade shows offer annual awards for the best new products in many categories. Winning these kinds of awards could generate publicity for a new product. Luckily for Hogle, his EasyMotion CPM product has won numerous awards in its category since 2001.

The Right Stuff
In the first version of his product, Hogle used an electric motor. But he discovered that users, accustomed to quiet keyboard support systems, wouldn't tolerate the motor's noise. So Hogle decided to switch to a pneumatic air diaphragm system that slowly inflates and deflates to move the platform up and down. The change solved the noise problem. "Now when we demonstrate the unit," Hogle says, "people ask us when we are going to turn it on. It's silent, and the motion is nearly imperceptible. They can't hear a thing."

But Hogle had yet another problem. "Major competitors [at the same price point] offered [ergonomic] products on an articulating-arm platform that swung under a desk," he says. "People didn't want the keyboard on their desktops because it was too high for safe long-term use of the keyboard and mouse." So Hogle started offering an articulating-arm and platform with his product as well.

The final hurdle? Competitive products also claiming to prevent carpal tunnel syndrome offered a range of keyboard positions. Hogle answered by allowing users to select movement settings--between 1 and 3-1/4 inches up and down--with his platform. These changes let Hogle position his product as "similar to the competition, but with more features without [a high] cost." That's the pitch Hogle used at the 2002 NeoCon show, and it's working. Not only is he picking up interest from dealers nationwide, but he's also negotiating with workstation manufacturers to make his EasyMotion CPM product a standard component of their product lines.

Turning the Tables
The three major complaints inventors with unique inventions often hear from retailers and dealers are that their products are too different, cost too much and lack a market. That's certainly what Hogle would have faced if he had tried to sell through retailers to consumers. Rather than butt heads with the market, you're much better off following Hogle's lead: Find a niche where your price is right, and then configure your product so it doesn't seem all that different from what's already being offered.

Your product could end up being perceived the same way Hogle's is--as offering a lot more value for the same price. Today, Hogle's customers include American Airlines, Mattel, Mitsubishi USA, Nike and Sony. That kind of positive perception can turn almost any product into a surefire market success.

READ ALL ABOUT IT
To gain a general understanding of how you can use patents, trademarks and copyrights to increase your business's worth, check out The Patent Process: A Guide to Intellectual Property for the Information Age by Craig Hovey. The book doesn't explain the nitty-gritty details of how to obtain intellectual property, but it does explain when to get patents, how much they will cost, what type of protection they offer and how they will benefit the person who owns them. The book also offers a particularly valuable discussion of trademarks and copyrights, both of which can typically be obtained for less than $300 and are often underused by growing businesses.

Don Debelak is a new-business marketing consultant and author of Think Big: Make Millions From Your Ideas. Send him your questions at dondebelak34@msn.com.

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This article was originally published in the December 2002 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: One of a Kind?.

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