From Concept To Customer

By Sakina P. Spruell & James C. Johnson

how to package your product because each retailer wants something different.”

By the beginning of 2006, Perkins hopes to be finalizing an online distribution deal with Birthday Express (www.birthday express.com), an online retailer that sells wholesale party supplies. By the end of this year, she expects to have generated $25,000 in sales from her own Website, which launched in April.

When searching for distributors, many entrepreneurs assume that big retailers are the way to go. But the McHughs used a different strategy, believing that their customers would more likely shop in smaller, specialty shops. “It’s all about knowing your customer,” says Linda Gorchels, director of executive marketing education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Business and co-author of The Manager’s Guide to Distribution Channels (McGraw-Hill; $39.95). “You want your product to be available where consumers would expect to buy it,” she says. “If you sell it through a convenience store and people expect to buy that type of item at a specialty store, you don’t have it in the right location.”

Utokia Langley and her husband, Trent, a couple in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, opted to seek out big retailers for their product as well as use the Web. In the beginning stages, the proprietors of Behold Me L.L.C. cosmetics (www.beholdme.com) sought out Hecht’s and Macy’s department stores to gauge their interest level. Utokia thought it best to have an actual product before she approached buyers, so she produced a small inventory of the company’s signature fragrance and began marketing it on a small scale. This allowed her to get the word out about the product before it actually hit the shelves.

Utokia, 33, and Trent, 28, spent nearly $75,000—which they raised from an investment property refinancing—to develop their fragrance. They set up consumer testing events and got feedback from the attendees. “I smelled over 500 samples just to come up with one scent,” says Utokia. “Once I came up with my best scent, then I conducted public polls and testing events. Sampling is not a huge expense, but once you pick a scent, the initial investment ranges between $10,000 and $15,000, just for the scent alone,” she explains. Behold Me launched its signature fragrance in March and its skincare and makeup products were launched in September.

Schorer says small business owners have to get customers intrigued and anxious to buy their product. He suggests approaching a store that sells items that complement your product and setting up a promotion: “If you are selling party items, then go to a Carvel or Baskin Robbins and offer to give away a dozen plates with every cake purchase in exchange for some display space.”

GETTING YOUR PRODUCT TO MARKET
Here are some things to keep in mind when looking to bring your product to market:

  • Start your business with just af ew samples. Set up deals and make plans to distribute your product to customers before you spend a lot of money trying to execute your ideas, says Columbia Business School professor Cliff Schorer. He recommends surveying potential customers
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