This Founder Created a Genius Way to Do Market Testing on the Cheap

Time to get creative.
This Founder Created a Genius Way to Do Market Testing on the Cheap
Image credit: Michele Monet Photography
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This story appears in the March 2017 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

How do you market test a new product when you can't pay for testing? Joelle Mertzel found a sneaky solution -- and it cost only $39. Here's how she developed her new butter dish, Butterie

The research

Mertzel wanted to make a flip-top dish so that butter could be stored unrefrigerated -- safe up to 21 days, and so soft! -- without smearing all over the lid. But would people want it? “Thorough research is the key,” says Mertzel, who used to own a PR agency. “You don’t want to spend all your money and time on a product no one will buy.” She began by surveying people from her daily life. Her next step: formal market research on her prototype dish. A consultant quoted $10,000 to see if 40 to 60 percent of people would buy the product. (If so, it’s viable.) Mertzel didn’t have that money, but she had an idea: If she went to places where people were sitting around doing nothing, she thought, they’d answer that question. 

Related: 10 Experiments to Test Your Startup Hypothesis

Whenever she flew somewhere -- Houston, New York, Mexico -- she’d interview idle travelers in the airports. She even bought a $39 one-way ticket from L.A. (her home) to Las Vegas to get her through security. (There’s no rule saying she had to get on the plane.) Soon she had more than 1,000 responses with “validating” results: Ninety percent of people used butter, only 46 percent knew there’s no need to refrigerate it and 67 percent said they’d buy Butterie. 

The color

Mertzel wanted to sell her dish in multiple colors, so she matched best-selling kitchen gear from brands like KitchenAid and Martha Stewart to a Pantone color wheel. The results: white, red, blue and taupe. Then, of course, she ran her market research and discovered that 55 percent of survey subjects wanted white. That helped accurately set her inventory. “Instead of producing even amounts of each color, I produced two times more white than the other colors,” she says.

The price: $12.99 

Butterie sells for $12.99 at Bed Bath & Beyond, as well as two for $22.50 on QVC. Mertzel wanted to sell it for $15, but her nationwide audience said $12 was the ideal price. She cross-referenced that with a manager at her local Bed Bath & Beyond. He explained that for chains with stores in higher- and lower-end markets, you need one price that works across both. 

Related: 10 Questions to Ask When Pricing Your Product

“A price of $12.99 would make it successful in all the stores,” Mertzel says. She’s glad she listened; the lower price recently helped get her into a California supermarket chain, not far from the butter. 

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