I Have a Great Product Idea! How Do I Get Started?

If you have an idea for a product that you would like to take to market, you can get started by creating a prototype and testing it with your potential customers. Showing the product to friends and family might be fun, but in the end, your customers will be the ones to make a purchase and will offer the best feedback to optimize your products for sale. Once you have created a prototype and adjusted it for feedback, test it again. You do not necessarily need to test your product for years, but you might go through three or four iterations of your product before you launch it to the market.

Once you are confident in the product that you want to create and sell, you can find a source to produce your products. If you can mass produce your item, you might want to look for sources overseas or companies that produce mechanically if you want to manufacture your item domestically. No matter where you produce your product line, you will need to determine the logistics of getting the goods from your factory to your shipping location or warehouse. 

Even if you cannot mass produce your item, you may be able to optimize your internal logistics by outsourcing packaging and shipping services. This will depend on the products and may vary even within your own assortment. Ideally, your assortment should move along the same supply chain to keep costs down, especially in the early years of your business.

Now that you have a product and a production source, you can determine how you will sell your products. Do you want to sell directly to consumers? If so, you have several options. You can set up a storefront where you and your sales team can sell your products in person. The overhead involved in opening a store is incredibly high. You'll need capital for the fixtures, inventory, and probably for employees. However, if your location is good, you can gain plenty of foot traffic and sales from people just passing by your store. For a much lower capital investment, can also set up a booth that you use at trade shows or craft fairs or other consumer-direct events where you and your sales team can sell your products in person. If you choose to create a booth, you can travel to new markets and target only the shows where you will find your core customers.

Alternately, if you do not want to sell in-person, you can create an ecommerce store where you can sell your products online. Your ecommerce store can go through a marketplace, like Etsy or Amazon Handmade if your products are custom made. Your ecommerce store can be through marketplaces like eBay or Amazon if your products are not custom made, as well. There is a lot of competition in marketplace stores and they do not offer a lot of flexibility, but there is exposure to customers that might not find your products if you have a standalone ecommerce site. A standalone ecommerce site offers a true 'store' experience for your customers and much more flexibility to make the site your own and tailor the experience for your customers. You can create a simple Squarespace or Wordpress site that offers ecommerce fairly quickly.

If you decide that you do not want to sell direct or that you want to grow your brand beyond your own direct sales, you can sell your products through existing retailers. If you decide to pursue boutique retailers, you will need to create a pitch letter for your products, samples, and a sell sheet that details the retailer's expected margin rates, package quantities, and additional support that you are willing to offer. If you sell to large retail companies, you will need to be prepared to show your products in a line review process where they will make buying decisions for the year. Each retailer is different, and they will offer you details about the information that you need to provide in your presentation and the accompanying paperwork. Because the process to get into retail stores can take a long time, a lot of small companies now set up their own ecommerce store right away and simultaneously pitch to retailers.

If you want to take your product idea to market, create a plan that you can follow through the entire process. It's much easier to stay on track with a checklist of your next steps. Good luck!