My New Product on Store Shelves – How I Screwed Up!

My New Product on Store Shelves – How I Screwed Up!

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Read the previous part of my story about how I got a manufacturer to invest over $100k in my project.

Seeing my product on the shelf in the first store was a very exciting moment for me!

But the sales results from this first store, although positive, ended up hiding a secret that would later come back to haunt me when my startup was scaling up.

My product was a miniature lighting device called the Pop-up MicroLite which could illuminate any surface it was attached to, including the buttons on a remote control.

By this point in my product journey I already had written interest from Blockbuster Video and an agreement with a manufacturing partner which I talk about in previous videos.

But it was still early and I only had 3D printed prototypes and no actual sales validation yet.

Although everyone I spoke with told me they loved my product, I knew that didn’t necessarily mean it would sell well.

I suggest you take any positive feedback from people who haven’t paid to buy your product with a grain of salt.

My product didn’t cost enough to sell profitably online, so my strategy was focused on brick-and-mortar retail stores.

So my first sales test ever was at a local Ace Hardware store.

Ace Hardware is great for testing new products because most of their stores are individually owned and they can carry whatever they want to.

Most other big retail chains are corporate owned and require a much higher level of approval to carry a new product.

But with my local Ace Hardware, all I needed to do was convince the store manager to test out my product.

You’d think after pitching my product to top executives at Blockbuster Video, that presenting my product to a local store manager would be easy.

But, nope, and I was still incredibly nervous to talk to him.

I think the first day I tried, I even convinced myself he was too busy so I should come back another day.

When you put so much of yourself into creating something, it can make you feel very vulnerable sharing it with others who you think may be critical.

I bet you can relate with your own product idea:)

By this point we had moved from Alaska to Hawaii and were living on the small island of Kauai, so my choices for test stores were extremely limited.

But you don’t need to live in a big city, or especially in Silicon Valley, to make headway with a new product.

I did it from two of the most remote locations in the United States.

And yes, all of this moving around was before we had any kids.

Since my product wasn’t yet manufactured I had to build these test units manually on my own.

First, I built and assembled 6 units that were 3D printed and fully functional.

But I also needed retail packaging so I made six home-made blister packs.

These consisted simply of a paperboard card with the product details along with a stock see-through plastic blister, glued on, to hold the product in place.

Next, I built a retail display box to hold these six units, similar to what you commonly see holding products sitting by the cash registers.

Finally, I included a note with the product explaining these were only early prototypes, and that the customer could get a free production unit once available.

The only problem is I had no idea what would be “good” results. Selling 3 units per day, or 3 per week or month?

I needed a sales baseline, so for several weeks before presenting my product, I checked the store almost daily to try to count how many similar products had been sold.

Those results were all over the place, and many products didn’t sell any units after a few weeks.

So I decided if I sold a couple units per week then I’d be happy with that.

Although secretly, I dreamed they would all sell in one day!

Finally, my product was in a display box for sale at the front register of Ace Hardware!

I was nervous every day when I came to check on it, fearing that I wouldn’t sell any.

But after a two week sales test I had sold all 6 units.

So I quickly came to the conclusion that the product would sell on average 3 units per week per store.

Of course, for all I knew, it could have been a single person that bought all of them, which would totally invalidate my results.

But the dreamy entrepreneur came out of me and I quickly did the following calculation:

3 units/week x 52 weeks/year x 5,000 Ace stores = 780,000 units sold per year!

I’m going to bet you’ve maybe done some similar mental gymnastics with your own product trying to estimate how much money it can generate.

After this one short sales test in one store at one cash register, I felt I had validated the product enough.

I was ready and excited to scale this up quickly!

Dumb move John:(

It turns out that my sales data wasn’t totally valid.

But I was over optimistic and in a rush, which caused me to miss some critical issues.

If I had slowed down and been more thorough with my sales validation, I could have seen and resolved these issues while they were still small.

But, no, I was in a big rush, and started ramping up manufacturing.

What did I miss?

Well, it turned out that my packaging didn’t do a very good job at demonstrating what the product can do and why you would even want it.

Also I made the huge mistake of doing zero marketing!

I assumed that just having my product in a store was all the marketing I needed to do it.

I figured people would see it there, read the package, understand it, and know immediately why they need it.

But that wasn’t the case. It rarely is for a new product.

People not only needed to know my product existed but most importantly they had to know why they needed it.

I was counting on my packaging to do ALL of the selling, yet the messaging was all wrong.

After I realized this, I began doing a lot more testing on the package design, working to improve its ability to sell the product.

But by this point I had already purchased a few thousand packaged units with the old packaging.

So I ended up with a bunch of units with ineffective packaging that I had to sell before I could afford to purchase new units with better packaging.

If I would have spent more time upfront optimizing my packaging, it would have saved me a lot of time and money.

Honestly, in hindsight the best thing I could have done was hang out in that store and talk to any customers I saw looking at my product, or shopping for similar products.

But that seemed too scary to me then, and it was all I could do to get the courage to talk to the manager:)

This does get easier though with practice, and about a year later I was more confidently pitching my product to retailers at a major trade show in Las Vegas.

If you just slow down, do a lot of testing, always seek advice, and get as much feedback as possible from potential customers, you will ultimately reach your product goals much faster.

Read the next part of my story where I share how I got lost searching for investors.

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