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Archive for November 6th, 2008

What Would the World Be Like Without the Simple Screw

Thursday, November 6th, 2008

by: Geoff Ficke

We take the simplest devices for granted in our modern technologically advanced world. We turn a tap and water is delivered, hot, temperate and cold. We hit a wall switch and darkness is overcome by light. We open the refrigerator door and peer into a compartment that contains climate controlled stored foodstuffs. These conveniences are omnipresent in the developed world in the early 21st century.

And yet, we reflect little on the simplest, most important inventions that make all forms of product possible. Consider the humble screw. Yep, the little fastening vehicle that is ubiquitous in every tool-box, do it your self pre-pack, or kitchen catchall drawer. The ability to affix two opposing elements or surfaces together and insure that their attachment is permanent is essential to the structural integrity of virtually every non-consumable product we use today.

No one knows who invented the screw. We do know that wooden screws were in use during the time of Christ. They were widely used in the Middle East in pressing grapes for wine, olive oil production and woodworking. The applicable uses for screws really did not change much until the 18th century. Englishman James Ramsden invented the first “screw cut lathe” to mass- produce steel screws in 1770. This advance made screws more economical and their usage in industrialization processes began to increase exponentially.

In the 1930’s, Henry Philips, in response to the booming automobile industry’s need for closer tolerances, invented the Philips Head Screw. This square headed screw was a significant advance as it enabled machine tools to apply more torque to the screw head, thereby providing much tighter fit and finish between conjoined parts.

Billions of screws are now used every year in millions of applications. Screws of all sizes and metallic composition are essential to every product that we manufacture. As useful and universal as the common screw is in our lives, we never really reflect on it’s importance, it’s efficiency, it’s economy and what the world would be like without these ingenious little linkage devices.

There is a contemporary lesson here. The simple screw has made life easier and more comfortable for every consumer. Jobs are created to produce screws, distribute screws and utilize screws. Prosperity is enhanced by the usefulness of this simplest of inventions.

Many entrepreneurs and inventors seek to improve life and profit commercially by creating new innovative products. The lesson we can all learn from the plebian screw is that sometimes the most valuable, most useful concepts are the simplest. It is not necessary to re-invent the transistor or discover a new system of water desalinization to profit. Looking into your universe of work, family or play and finding a simple improvement that will benefit consumers is the easiest path to commercial success.

In my consumer product development and marketing consulting company we review hundreds of product submissions each year. The best, most commercial are inevitably the simplest. They offer the most utility for the greatest number of consumers. These concepts typically do not require re-educating the consumer, which can be a difficult and expensive proposition.

So keep it simple and apply the simple “screw” test to determine simplicity, facility, cost effectiveness and applicability. This is a wonderful template that can be transferred from an ancient product to modern inventions to determine prospects for success.

How to Snatch Commercial Failure From the Jaws of Victory

Thursday, November 6th, 2008

by: Geoff Ficke

As readers of my articles well know, I run a marketing and product development-consulting firm. We review hundreds of novel consumer products, new service concepts and prototypes each year. The level of creativity contained in some of these offerings is truly stunning and always amazes.

Entrepreneurs have always found the United States to be the mother lode of places to birth ideas and bring them to successful fruition in the worlds most aggressive, cluttered marketplace. As Frank Sinatra crooned in his classic song New York, “if I can make it there, I can make it anywhere, New York, New York”! If you have an idea and you can not make it happen in this country, you might not have such a good idea. But, this is the country in which to try.

I recently saw a great product, offering excellent features and benefits, a clearly defined unique selling proposition and wonderful margins, crash and burn because of a totally flawed launch strategy. This product was in the Health and Beauty Aids (HBA) category. HBA can be a wonderful space to launch differentiated products. The barriers to entry in HBA are relatively low. The market hungers for the freshest, most advanced product and price resistance is limited.

This product was not one that my firm developed, perfected and then launched. We looked at the product and declined the opportunity. Based on what I have written above, why would we turn down such an option to work on a cosmetic beauty program that offered real commercial potential? The answer to this question identifies the single biggest reason that good concepts fail in the marketplace: people!

The entrepreneur is as important as the product they have created. An unrealistic, deceptive, bombastic or flighty character is almost always death to an otherwise product offering. Investors become wary of such a person. Suppliers are put off. Buyers want to look into someone’s eyes and feel they are dealing with an honorable resource.

In this case, the entrepreneur was an immigrant, spoke excellent English, American educated, very bright, very driven. The product regimen was in the very hot skin care/anti-aging category. The performance (we signed Non-Disclosure Agreements) of the products was special, demonstrable and an advance over the competition. The potential channels of distribution were varied and international. Our excitement, initially, was very high.

However, as we did our due diligence we became concerned. Ingredient specifications, clinical testing, testimonials and proof of performance results that were supposed to exist were never produced. The entrepreneur held severely inflated estimates of the initial equity value of his product, which had as yet, sold not a single unit. For these, and a number of other reasons, we declined the opportunity to contract to consult on the project.

We pass on the vast majority of projects we review. Usually the product is not commercial. When the project does pass muster, then we have the issue of the entrepreneur, their wants, needs, perceived valuations, project harvest goals, etc. Are they realistic? In this case we chose not to proceed, but kept loosely in touch with the owner out of professional curiosity.

Over the next year we started to lose touch with this skin care project. The product did not appear on store shelves, there was no infomercial that we could find and there was nothing we saw on the inter-net. Then surprisingly, we attended a huge international cosmetic industry trade show and saw the products, and the developer, presenting the anti-aging regimen to distributors from all over the world.

After cursory greetings with the owner, we perused the public presentation that he had assembled. In product development business there is one almighty truism that can never be bent: “you only get one chance to make a great first impression”. This most important of all absolutes had been severely abused by this entrepreneur.

Visuals, branding, sales collateral, display, tester units and demonstration elements were uninspired, uncoordinated and appeared to be of poor quality. The owner had fallen in love with his product. It was of excellent quality but he felt it was good enough to stand alone without supporting the brand with top quality esthetics. Disaster is imminent when shortcuts are taken.

The first day we visited the stand the entrepreneur was understandably excited about his prospects. We stopped back each day to touch base at his stand. It became more and more obvious as the exhibition progressed that disappointment had replaced excitement and the products were not receiving the reception he had expected. By shows end he was totally deflated. By going it alone, and his inexperience, he had doomed a truly innovative product to failure.

Having a good, or even a great product, is simply not enough. The marketplace is cutthroat. Success is difficult to achieve unless the entrepreneur anticipates and addresses each aspect of their product, it’s performance, packaging, marketing, branding and sales and distribution strategy. Failure to offer buyers and investors a comprehensive, professionally constructed package of features and benefits is the key to a very short shelf life, minimal or no sales and then death.