Have you ever had a great idea for a new product, but not known how to get it from your head to the marketplace? We tapped into the genius of top fitness industry entrepreneurs to see how their ideas evolved into viable, successful products—and how yours can, too.
Fill a Need
The market is saturated with fitness products and gadgets that often end up on eBay® before they’re even out of their original packaging. Before you begin making your idea a reality, you need to consider how this product will fill a hole in the market.
“As a lifelong fitness athlete and gym-goer, I needed a boost for my workouts, and music played a huge role in that,” explains Deekron, “The Fitness DJ,” founder of the RockitWave8 fitness music label and Motion Traxx™. “I started taking group fitness classes and asking the instructors if they would be open to trying out music from a new company. They all replied with a resounding yes, citing various complaints about the music they were currently using.”
Michol Dalcourt, creator of the ViPR™, a function-based tool that combines strength training and movement training, saw a need to train more authentically, relative to life’s demands. “We saw that farm kids were stronger than city kids, and we were curious as to why,” he says. “Loading movement the way these farm kids did makes more sense for the muscles, fascia, skin and nerves, as well as joint motions.”
Phil Black, founder and creator of FitDeck® Exercise Playing Cards, saw a need to simplify the overwhelming amount of exercise information that consumers are expected to digest. “People are overwhelmed with too much information about fitness and nutrition,” says Black. “FitDeck breaks the steps down into simpler ones that are understandable and accessible, and addresses the three biggest obstacles to maintaining a consistent exercise routine: time, simplicity and fun.”
Sometimes the need comes directly from the consumer. “Our hot-yoga customers were actually asking for and looking to us to create [a hybrid mat that doubles as a towel to catch perspiration]” explain Greg Egan and Jeff McSharry, co-founders of Kulae and creators of the Elite Hot Hybrid yoga mat. “They wanted a ‘cleaner’ practice, without the constant adjusting of a towel, but with the absorption and grip a good towel provides.”
Make It a Team Effort
Once you’ve established that there’s a true market for what you’ve envisioned, you need to decide what ancillary services will help you succeed. Unless you’re an expert in product design, engineering, legal issues, Web design and marketing, you will likely want to bring other people on board. This is part of establishing a business plan—your blueprint for product development and for getting your product to consumers.
“In bringing any concept to market,” says Dalcourt, “it is important to have a strategic vision and identify scalability, cost to produce, initial target market and capital outlay.”
Deekron kept it all in the family: “My initial partner was my brother. He brought the music production ability while I focused on the business end of things. We also received marketing and admin support from our cousin, who was also passionate about working in a music venture. Family backed us with some investment money. I guess you can say it was a ‘family thing.’”
Anthony Carey, MA, inventor of the functional fitness tool Core-Tex™, brought multiple people in on his project, all of them experts in their own fields. Olden Carr, a good friend and engineer, was first brought in to help put the idea on paper; he eventually became Carey’s business partner and co–patent holder.
“We financed all the research and development, prototypes and initial manufacturing order ourselves,” says Carey. “Since that time we have grown the business with some investor help and financial incentives from our manufacturer.”
Carey and Carr also had the support and guidance of key industry leaders, including Tom Campanaro, founder of Total Gym®, and Chris Poirier, general manager of Perform Better®. “Chris saw the unique benefits and placed it in a prime location on the back cover of the Perform Better catalog.”
In addition to actual product development, there are other areas where you may need experts to lend—or, more likely, charge for—a helping hand. “I worked with graphic design artists, exercise models, a chiropractor, a website developer, a latex band manufacturer, a publicist and a legal advisor,” says Estelle Underwood, CPT, creator of the BodyWorksBand™.
Understand Financial Investment
In today’s world—and today’s market—dreams come with a price tag. Perhaps Deekron made the least expensive initial investment of our experts, since “creating fitness music mixes is not very capital-intensive. The biggest cost was licensing the music. That, plus production artwork and CD manufacturing, brought the upfront investment to about $5,000. That does not include the cost to market the product.”
Black’s initial investment for his first run of custom playing cards was under $10,000. Underwood’s BodyWorksBand required $25,000 to get off the ground.
“Just in research and design, patents and prototypes, we spent close to $100,000,” says Carey. “Then on top of that came the cost of inventory, marketing materials, trade shows, etc.”
When it comes to funding your project, Dalcourt says to think big. He advises projecting a lot higher than you’d think. “Most products are well into the seven digits to get to market.”
How do you get some idea of your budget? According to the experts at O’Connor Technical Systems in Jefferson, Louisiana, “You can get some idea of the cost to manufacture a product by comparing it to other products that are similar to yours. This does not mean similar in function. It means similar in the way they are produced.
“You can approximate the manufacturing cost if you know the retail price and the markup of the distribution chain for such products. An overall markup of about three to four times the manufacturing cost is a reasonable starting point for typical consumer products.”
Take It to Market
So you’ve developed this incredible product and even have a way of duplicating it. Congratulations! But just having a great product won’t make you any money. You need to get it into the hands of people who need it and will pay you for it. Your marketing plan should be varied. You’ll want to include grassroots efforts and also look into paying a person or company to market the product for you.
Grassroots efforts might include maintaining a company website, producing an e-newsletter, connecting with potential clients through social networking, attending tradeshows and appearing on local radio and television programs. A public relations (PR) representative can take your marketing program to the next level, creating more of a national and global campaign for you. A PR rep will have contacts and clout that will help get the product into the hands of influential professionals, including writers, editors, bloggers and other industry leaders. The rep can also get your message out to a larger audience—something that may be difficult for you to do by yourself.
“Our PR effort is cost-effective and provides us with a deeper consumer engagement through a richer, meaningful message, when and where the message is relevant to them,” say Egan and McSharry.
“Your marketing budget will eventually dwarf whatever money was spent on developing the product,” adds Carey. “If you are thinking about dumping your life savings or mortgaging your home for research, development and manufacturing costs, then you might end up with a garage full of product that no one knows about. Have a plan as to how the product will be marketed before you are into production.”
Deekron’s advice for fledgling inventors is this: “Let your passion drive you, but don’t let it blind you. It’s easy to get excited and spend lots of time and money trying to put out the perfect product. Find ways to get relevant feedback from customers and influencers without spending a lot of money.”
“Love your product to death, or the down periods will cause you to question what you’re doing,” adds Black.
SIDEBAR: Trademarks and Copyrights and Patents . . . Oh, My!
With the exception of Deekron (since only original songs can be protected), all of the experts interviewed for this piece have trademarked, copyrighted and/or patented their products—and they strongly recommend that you do the same. This is a necessity if you want to protect your intellectual property.
What is intellectual property? According to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) website, at www.uspto.gov/trademarks/basics/trade_defin.jsp, “it is imagination made real. It is the ownership of a dream, an idea, an improvement, an emotion that we can touch, see, hear, and feel. It is an asset just like your home, your car, or your bank account. Just like other kinds of property, intellectual property needs to be protected from unauthorized use.”
The USPTO website can provide everything you need to apply for patents, trademarks and copyrights. However, you may want to enlist the help of a knowledgeable, qualified patent and trademark attorney to help ensure the paperwork is filed correctly. After all, no dream is too small to protect.
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