A Novel Dilemma

Lessons Learned

1. Don't be easily discouraged. Even experienced marketers have trouble introducing a new type of product. Retail-store and distributor buyers are always afraid of making a mistake, and you might have to approach them several times before they'll listen seriously to your sales proposition.

2. Distributors will make room for a winning product. One of the confusing factors about the market for inventors is that every buyer wants to carry the next hot product, yet they also fear handling new products. The reason for the contradiction? Only one out of hundreds of new products will become the next big thing.

Your job is to show the buyer your product has a chance. If you generate publicity, find success by selling the product at fairs and shows, acquire endorsements from people who are important to the market or highlight a success story, buyers will listen.

3. Understand your target customer and the distribution channel. Most inventors who succeed have learned virtually everything about their target customer and market, or they've aligned with someone who does. From a retail buyer's perspective, inventors come and go in a big hurry. So expect them to be skeptical of your staying power, especially if you don't seem to know the ins and outs of your chosen distribution channel.

4. Watch your money. Your money will run out quickly if you have to move from one distribution channel to another. You may need new packaging, and you'll definitely need to attend trade shows regularly to meet new distributors. This all costs money, and you won't be able to attack a second market if your money runs out. Inventors should always spend their money slowly, but this is particularly true when a product lacks an established distribution channel.

5. Big companies are a hard sell in tough times. One mistake inventors often make is to assume that a big company is an easy sale. In reality, just the opposite is true. Big companies move slowly and are rarely the first ones to take on an innovative product, primarily because so many people need to approve each major decision. And that's in good economic times. When the economy slows, big companies are more interested in cutting costs, which typically means little innovation occurs.

Are you stuck figuring out how to make a prototype or the design of your final product? Do you need stronger or lower-cost materials? The Thomas Register of American Manufacturers, available at most larger libraries and online, is the place to look. This resource, composed of more than 20 huge volumes filled with product information, provides information on most suppliers for virtually every type of component, from cheap fasteners to million-dollar production equipment. Many of the companies have even included a product catalog in the register.

To find what you're looking for, search under the appropriate category, then call the companies and explain what you need. If they can't help, they'll most likely refer you to someone who can. Don't just call one or two firms-call them all until you've determined who fits your needs best.

Don Debelak is the author of Think Big: Make Millions From Your Ideas. Send questions to dondebelak34@msn.com.

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This article was originally published in the June 2003 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: A Novel Dilemma.

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