Any product you bring to market is going to be the direction of your life force for the next four or five years - maybe longer. So the first rule of thumb in the selection of a product is to make sure you love the product, the industry it serves, the prospects, and the purchasers - because you’re going to be immersed in their bathwater for quite a while. Better make sure you like the scent.
If you have no product in particular you’re thinking about bringing to market, how do you select one? Well… do you have a hobby? Do you have a passion? For example, do you love computers? How about plastics? Are you interested in metals? Or in manufacturing? Can you sit and talk about antiques endlessly with your friends? Does the conversation always turn to airplanes? Or to food? All of these passions are great pursuits that become industries you can get involved in. The industries become markets to sell your products.
Or… do you have an industry that you’re familiar with? Have you been on the distribution end of a particular field? Are you in retail (ouch, those long retail hours!) Are you familiar with direct mail? Do you enjoy catalogs?
What are you good at? Are you a good writer? A great chef? Do you enjoy working with your hands? Are you creative? Are you good at design? Are you good at art? Are you skillful at creating mechanical objects? Are you a great negotiator? Are you detail oriented? Do you have a special gift in any one area? These are all considerations in product selection.
Once you figure out some product ideas and the industry you’d like to be involved in, ask yourself if, somewhere down the road, there are other products you can market to the same audience. Keep in mind that some products can’t be marketed profitably by themselves. You may need to have additional depth in your product line and companion sales to make a profit. For example, if you sell a book, can you sell your purchasers additional books by the same author or by other authors in the same field? A person who buys one book on computer programming is likely to purchase a second on the same topic.
Throw the above mix into a hat, swish it around with a few beers, and these are your considerations for product selection. Stay with product fields in which you have a great interest. If you decide that you can stick it out, selling the same products to the same group without getting bored or tired of it, here’s where to find the products.
The U.S. Patent Office holds a wealth of stimulating ideas for products in every field. There are 81 patent depositories, located in libraries around the United States, where you can look up patents to find hundreds of thousands of both great and poor ideas in any particular field. Since patents are only good for 17 years, any patent issued before 1980 is fair game for you to duplicate, improve, or borrow from. Take a look at the product; if you can improve it - all the better! Voilà - your product concept is ready to go.
If you see a product with a patent issued after 1980, call the patent holder and ask if you can license the patent. Don’t offer - or pay - any money up front, and only offer a very small percentage - 2% to 5% of any net income - “if and when” your marketing of the product is successful. Most patent holders never market their inventions and will be happy to grant you permission to sell their products. Most inventors are just that - inventors; they invent a product, then move on to the next invention. Most aren’t marketers, which is a profession far removed from inventing.
By the way, one of the most fun government publications to read is the Patent Gazette. It’s the weekly publication of the Patent Office, and it shows all the patents issued for that particular week - usually 1,500 to 2,000. The booklet shows a line drawing of the invention and a one-paragraph description of the device. A single copy costs $50, but you can find it at the patent depositories.
No luck at the Patent Office? Go to the library and ask to see their copy of the Thomas Register of American Companies. This set of reference books weighs in at an incredible 270 pounds and contains products and their manufacturers in EVERY field. There are about 30 books in the Thomas Register set, each containing well over 1,000 pages. Just imagine all those manufacturers and distributors, all referenced in this one huge directory for only one reason: just to increase their sales. Can you find products and manufacturers to help you? Heck, yes. And in great depth.
So look up the industries you’re interested in, and get a look at all of the manufacturers and the multitude of products in each. Call any of them and see if they have any inventory - or tooling - of products they’ve tried to market and haven’t been successful with. Remember, most manufacturers are good at… well, manufacturing. They may be horrible at marketing, and as a result, they may have had little success in launching new products. These may be great products. Of course, they may be terrible products, too. But you never know until you ask and explore.
One thing is for sure - if you're an OK negotiator, the price will be right. Products sitting in their basements for a couple of years have little value to manufacturers - and have already cost them time, and still cost them space. They may just want to get rid of them. They may take 5¢ on the dollar. Plastics houses, like injection molders, are a good source of overstock and unsold inventory. Toy manufacturers, too!
If a manufacturer already offers a product you’d like to market, the price goes up. Naturally, as a “special marketing licensee” of their products, you’ll want their best pricing structure. But if you have to go through their set of distributors and retailers, there won’t be enough profit for your nontraditional marketing efforts. You may ask to license their products only for select industries, or through special avenues where they have no presence, such as only marketing through the mail or through TV ads. Make an offer.