Commercializing ideas and introducing products into the market is no easy task and not every idea in the innovation pipeline has the makings of a viable offering. However, identifying the right idea and turning it into a commercial success can be extremely lucrative. Once an idea is identified, driving it to market requires process precision and focused, cross-functional collaboration to transform it into a living product for consumers in the real world.
Success ensures that the final solution hits target costs, usability requirements, reliability metrics, and that it can be repeated at scale. We recommend following the five steps discussed below that illustrate how to take your product from idea to store shelf.
How to Take Your Product from Idea to Store Shelf
1. Conduct a Patent Search
To cut upfront costs and avoid infringing on someone’s intellectual property, you should conduct a Google patent search relevant to your new idea. Proceed with caution though, as it’s common to perform a patent search and not find what you’re looking for, even though there are queries that would return applicable results. Before spending thousands of dollars to file a patent, we’d advise using a professional firm to conduct the search on your behalf.
2. File a Provisional Patent Application
Some may call this a Provisional Patent. Under United States patent law, a provisional application is a legal document filed with the United States Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO) that establishes an early filing date, but does not mature into an issued patent unless the applicant files a regular non-provisional patent application within one year. A provisional application should include a specification or description, and drawing of your unique invention.
3. Design & Build a Prototype
Most people who ask, “How can I build a prototype?”, are asking the wrong question. They typically mean, “How do I create the design for my product?”. Building a prototype is something you do as part of the design process. Prototype building isn’t the same as physically designing the product. If you don’t possess the skills to design the product, you’ll want to hire a product designer and/or engineering firm.
Design firms are traditionally lead by designers, and, intuitively, they emphasize design, styling, human interaction and ergonomic conceptualization as the most important elements of a project (subjective impressions).
The next phase, engineering, would be the development and solving of practical and measurable solutions intended for mass production, which is also known as Design for Manufacturing (DFM). This is normally where CAD and technical specification drawings are created, and materials, tolerance analysis, and assembly sequence are considered (objective facts).
Although most product design and engineering companies tend to offer a broad array of services, they usually work in certain industries, like consumer electronics, health care and medical, and residential appliances for example. Some firms are built for producing exactly what you give them while others can deliver what you need based on your description. Be sure to align your idea with the selected firm’s expertise.
Once the design firm has visualized your concepts in the form of sketches or wireframes, and the engineers have created CADs and specifications for the components, a prototype can be created. The high-level goal of a prototype is to communicate core features or benefits to consumers.
An alpha level prototype provides key features of the solution and gives customers/stakeholders the first chance to interact with your product. The alpha prototype attempts to answer the question, “Does this validate how well our idea solves potential consumers’ problem, and does the product function in the way we intended it to do?”. A beta prototype seeks to refine upon the lessons learned from the earlier iterations and incorporates them into the new design. This is a great opportunity to present the more aligned version, which closely resembles the appearance and functionality of the proposed final product.
4. Create the Bill of Materials
A properly executed Bill of Materials (BOM) is a document communicating and detailing every critical aspect of your project’s components and an effective BOM setup is imperative to capturing all the costs associated. The BOM will provide information regarding the total cost of your materials, quantity of parts in each assembly, sourcing status, lead supplier classification of parts, supplier information, unit of measures, procurement type, etc.
5. Find a Contract Manufacturer
Numerous considerations go into the manufacturing equation. Our advice would be to first understand your projected production volume needs as well as desired lead times. There’s no “one size fits all” rule here, but if you’re a startup with lower volume needs, are tight on cash flow, or require short lead times then manufacturing your new product overseas to capture savings may not be the best option.
Conversely, if your plan is to sell to big box stores or to customers with large national footprints and you have the lead time/cash flexibility to produce every 3-5 months, then the cost savings from overseas may be beneficial. In working on a recent program centered around an electronics product, we found the most successful relationships with CM’s overseas had a sales/technical presence here in the US, along with technical expertise in reviewing complex BOMs and strong systems for mitigating supply chain component risks.
There are several factors that individuals, as well as organizations, must account for when launching a new product. That’s why we believe following these five steps will successfully support taking your new product from idea to store shelf, increasing efficiency, expediting timelines, and reducing costs and risk along the way.