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Archive for October 7th, 2008

Is An Invention Service Company the Solution? Very Few Inventors Ever See Successful Results

Tuesday, October 7th, 2008

by: Geoff Ficke

Essentially these dream merchants are boiler rooms. After viewing the commercial and calling the toll free number, the inventor is contacted by a sales person. Submission materials are forwarded, promises made and costs are discussed. Many entrepreneurs do not have the needed investment monies to appropriately file patents, create prototypes, conduct the research and produce the documents necessary to professionally present the product. television viewer has seen the infomercial spot showing the forlorn, wanna-be inventor, crushed, their idea being successfully marketed by another party. He did not get a patent. The answer offered in the commercial, contact an Invention Submission Company, get a patent, market your product or opportunity to thousands of corporate decision-makers, get rich. This is the American Dream, is it not?

Every television viewer has seen the infomercial spot showing the forlorn, wanna-be inventor, crushed, their idea being successfully marketed by another party. He did not get a patent. The answer offered in the commercial, contact an Invention Submission Company, get a patent, market your product or opportunity to thousands of corporate decision-makers, get rich. This is the American Dream, is it not?

One of the saddest aspects of my work as a new product development and marketing consultant is the whole area of invention submission firms. We see dozens of entrepreneurs every year: mentally torn, financially rocked, hopes depleted after their experience with the invention mills. In a number of cases real opportunity has been slaughtered. In many other cases the product or service offered would never be a realistically viable commercial opportunity, and any capable consultant would honestly advise such.

The invention mills, however, typically offer in-house financing and advise that they take care of all of the needed elements required to professionally excite investors or license deals. Often at usurious interest rates, the hopeful inventor makes a down payment on their dream, finances the balance, and, seduced by thoughts of riches, fully buys into the program. Then reality quickly rears its ugly head.

The Patent Filing

There are two styles of patents, utility and design. Only utility has real value, offering specific protections. The design patent can be easily overcome with elemental design or art changes to a product. In addition, a relatively recent filing class has been created: the provisional patent. Essentially the provisional patent is a simple letter to the United States Patent and Trademark Office announcing to the agency that you have an idea and are keen to pursue it. It offers virtually no protection.

The provisional patent costs almost nothing to file and has a life of exactly one-year from date of filing. The provisional must then be amended to utility or design in a new filing. The invention firms have in-house attorney’s that routinely spit out the provisional filings and offer this as proof to the inventor that real patents have been filed and protections secured. Inexperienced, gullible first time entrepreneurs often believe that their product has real patent protection.

After the 12 month provisional period ends, the invention is never supported with a utility filing. The result, product protection rights are fully vacated. The inventor has a lapsed provisional and the submission firm walks away from pursuing the really valuable, and much more expensive, utility patent filing.

Securing a valuable, solid patent protection is the most touted benefit viewers of invention commercials will hear. Is a patent that important, valuable? Yes, and, no. Of course, a utility patent has immense value for any product. Given the choice, we always recommend pursuit of every patent, copyright and trademark claim possible. However, there are many non-patented, very successful products in the marketplace.

Patent strategy is crucial. It requires really experienced patent attorneys, fully committed to securing every possible protection available. This is not available from invention submission firms.

Create a Prototype

It is almost impossible to successfully market a new product without production quality prototypes. This requires diligence, creativity, sophisticated skills and equipment. The steps usually involve a mix of creative meetings, several 3-D, Computer Assisted Graphic (CAD) drawings, a rough model, styling tweaks and then the final model(s). The art is essential as exhibits in utility patent filings, as a tool for source of supply and to determine cost of goods. The models affirm commitment, features and benefits, product uniqueness and viability. Invention mills provide virtually none of this.

The inventor will receive an in-house generated piece of 3-D art. That’s it! No models, prototypes or hardware! This will be the basis for the campaign to market the submission for sale, joint venture or license. And, it can not work, ever.

The inventor provides a verbal description, or self-generated renderings, that are revised by in-house artists. There are almost never face to face meetings, essential to the creative process. The result is a piece of art that appears professional to the inexperienced. This is the prototype. It is sophomoric, unusable for the intended purpose of exciting investors.

Marketing the Invention

With the patent (provisional, of little value) and model (a drawing, of no value) in hand the product invention is ready to be sold, supposedly. Selling, marketing or partnering a product opportunity is hard work and requires contacts, research, experience in highly targeted areas, networking, attending trade shows and tenacity. No is a word heard many, many times more often than the word yes is heard.

How does the invention submission firm approach deal making? They take shortcuts, and shortcuts are death to opportunity. Shortcut number one is blind mailings. A list of companies and contact names is used and a cover letter, copy of the art and nothing else is mailed as a teaser. Anyone can relate to the results of this approach. Executives and corporate decision- makers never respond to junk mail, and that is what this type of submission really is.

The internet is a wonderful invention, and, of course, the invention clearing houses really enjoy this tool, shortcut number two. Mass emailings, unsolicited, otherwise known as junk mail, are a group favorite. The results are always the same, no deal.

Shortcut number-three, the product is added to an encyclopedia of the firm’s past product’s, and the book is offered as a repository of business opportunities for commercialization. A hard copy is available for viewing or on-line access is available. Unfortunately, this completely reverses normal progression of deal making.

Many, many more products are seeking a home than there are homes available for successful placement. Products must be sold and marketed with aggression, vigor, and creativity. Passivity is a model for failure and that is the approach taken by invention submission firms with these strategies.

I have asked many inventors, “Did you ask for successful product placement references”? They universally answer, “I was told, that because of secrecy agreements they signed, they could not provide specific product names and details”. This is gibberish and a subterfuge. A successful product placement is by nature openly sold in the marketplace. It is no longer a secret.

Here are several important keys to consider when interviewing or seeking assistance in marketing or launching a new product:

  • Demand a face to face interview before hiring a firm or consultant.
  • Demand references of successful campaigns.
  • Demand to see successful product specimens.
  • Check the firm out with Better Business Bureau, States Attorney General.
  • Demand a patent strategy for a utility filing.
  • Demand a template of processes the firm utilizes.
  • Break out costs for each service provided.
  • Will there be a customized business plan.
  • Interview more than one firm, at least three.

Ask lots of questions and if you do not receive clear, concise responses, walk away. There is competent, reputable help available for every projects needs.

What Is a Business Plan? And Why Do I need One?

Tuesday, October 7th, 2008

by: Geoff Ficke

For many entrepreneurs the creation of a business plan is the biggest hurdle in the development process of their fledgling enterprise. There is a mystery, almost a dread in many people when discussion of a business plan requirement is first broached. They conceptualize a boring, dry, painful experience and many would like to avoid this step if at all possible.

What is a Business Plan?

A business plan is a document that qualifies, quantifies and narrates a commercial opportunity. It is that simple to state, more difficult to execute, but anyone can customize a business plan that gets results. The plan must have an exciting Executive Summary. Like the opening scenes of a movie, or the first chapter of a book, the writer must set a hook.

Typically, active investors, angels, venture capital groups and investment bankers are deluged with business plans. Screeners typically read the document before passing along to decision-makers within the firm. However, very few move a business plan along the decision making food chain precisely because the Executive Summary lacks excitement, punch or sets a high level of anticipation about what is inside the document.

Having written hundreds of business plans for clients I can attest that creating a plan that works is, well, work. No two plans are alike. The plan must be customized, well researched, structured and direct. I receive more than 500 business plan submissions annually in my consulting firm. Less than 1% have commercial potential as written. Many describe products, services, retail or new business development ideas that otherwise might be exciting. However, the plan does not convey that potential.

One of the worst things to evolve from the arrival of the internet is the ability to download a business plan template and write the document by filling in the blanks. The template itself is not problematic, I use a self-developed template when I customize plans. The problem is that many entrepreneurs do not have the writing skills, the research in hand, know the keys that turn on investors and thus, take shortcuts. Filling in the blanks without sweating the details and doing comprehensive research results in a document that will not be read and an opportunity that will never launch.

Rule number one in the development of any commercial opportunity: shortcuts equal failure!

I am a self-taught business plan writer. If I can do it, anyone can. In reality, however, most people just want to expose their opportunity to investors, licensees or potential partners. They don’t have writing skills, do not know the types of research necessary to support the plans sales model, need help in creating the marketing strategy, and will never be able to narrate financials.

Where can they go to create and exciting business plan document.

The following are resources readily available in most communities. Many are free.

Many colleges, community colleges and universities have developed small business incubators. They attract additional state funding, as small business growth and development are keys to job creation and an increased tax base. Take advantage of this community asset. Students, graduate students and professors are often available to direct your efforts. Ten years ago there were only a handful such programs. Today, over 1000 schools have some version of an entrepreneurial program.

Many states, regional and local governments offer business development programs. They have retired business people and mentors on hand to support, guide and train prospective entrepreneurs and guide business plan creation. There is no charge for utilizing this service, after all, your tax dollar supports these programs.

SCORE, the Service Core of Retired Executives is a Federal Government sponsored initiative. Thousands of retired, experienced business people make themselves available to evaluate commercial opportunities and direct the development and launch of those deemed to have potential. They are often intimately involved in creating business plans.

The Ewing Kauffman Foundation in Kansas City, MO is devoted solely to the development of entrepreneurial development. Mr. Kauffman started, nurtured and developed Marion Labs from a tiny drug local company into a multinational, multi-billion dollar powerhouse. He also owned the Kansas City Royals baseball team. His devotion to developing and promoting the entrepreneurial base of the United States resulted in creation of the foundation that bears his name.

Seek out a consultant. Typically consultants charge a fee, just like lawyers, accountants or plumbers. The advantage of an experienced consultant is that they write business plans for a living, will be strong writers, able to properly direct or perform research, narrate financials and differentiate a commercial opportunity by creating an exciting word picture. Always seek references and talk to several before deciding on a consultant.

Why Do I Need a Business Plan?

However, if you are attempting to fund a start-up business, self-market a product or buy a small business you will absolutely need to create a road map. That road map is your business plan. The map is not linear, there will be curves and setbacks, but by quantifying, qualifying and narrating a well- researched, customized business plan you are much closer to success.

You might not. You might not need a deeply customized business plan if you are seeking to license or sell an invention, a patent or a prototype product. In this situation, the potential licensee would take your work product and develop a plan that fits their internal organizational needs.

Sales Talent is Available and Affordable

Tuesday, October 7th, 2008

Fear of Selling Should Not Impede

Entrepreneurs and Inventors

by: Geoff Ficke

Ponder the daily aspects of life virtually all of us experience. We seek out, and interview, for jobs. We seek out, then court, and marry our mate. We compete in sports, lobby for promotions, seek support for church and charities, and support causes. Each of these, and so many other activities, require us to utilize some portion of a sales experience.

In reality, sales are nothing more than asking for a preferred result. The seller wants to receive consideration in return for placement, or acceptance of their product or service. A selling situation almost always requires an equal transfer of benefits. A simple example is selling a car. If book value of a car is $5000, and the seller asks $7500, the sale will almost never happen unless a witless soul arrives and can be hustled.

Nevertheless, many people get the sweats, can’t sleep, or hyperventilate at the mere thought of an imminent sales presentation. No matter how confident they may be in all other situations, standing, presenting, selling their opportunity before a stranger is a chilling experience. There are affordable alternative options available to avoid this difficult hurdle for many entrepreneurs.

  • Utilize the inter-net. There are many web-sites specializing in specific areas of sales: technology, consumer products, hard-goods, giftware, etc. SalesGenie.com is one, but a thorough search will turn up many more. These e-commerce sites specialize in matching sales agents with appropriate products.
  • Research trade organizations specializing in your product category. One example, if you develop a new hair care device, research the Barber, Beauty, Salon Institute (BBSI). This is an industry specific trade group that organizes expositions, lobbies, provides research and acts as a central clearing-house for the salon market. Sales agents are members and are always seeking out new products to represent, and they work on commission. From hardware to auto parts there are similar trade associations seeking the next hot new product.
  • Hire a consultant. There are many consultants specializing in sales and marketing within specific industry categories. The advantage of a sales consultant is that they will work more closely with a seller to customize the approach, strategy, the offers and promotions. This will result in a stronger opportunity to close a deal, and that is always goal number one. Search the inter-net using keywords such as sales consultant, sales engineer, sales strategy, marketing consultant, and hundreds of other search-word combinations. Remember to always get and check references.
  • Visit and utilize gift mart showrooms. There are huge permanent Gift Marts in Dallas, Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and Los Angeles. Millions of square feet are devoted to presenting a bewildering array of products in licensed showrooms. Each showroom also has a field sales force covering specific states. These territories are assigned by vendors (sellers) and are commission based. Again, most of these thousands of showrooms specialize in a product or category. From Christmas, to lighting, to tabletop, to clocks, and thousands of other product categories, you may discover a sales group potentially ready to handle your line of product.
  • Seek out expositions, fairs and trade shows specific to your commercial opportunity. I typically walk trade shows to network for clients. This is invaluable. Each category of product has an inside baseball aspect. Trade terminology, unique trade terms, assigned coverage territories, trend cycles vary greatly by industry. You need to learn what is going within your area of interest and there is no better place than shows to study, research and meet potential sales partners.

These are only a few ideas offering alternatives to fear of selling. There are far too many opportunities that never get off the ground simply because the creator believes, “I am not a salesman”. You do not have to be. There is a sea of experienced sales talent ready and able to sell their expertise.

During my many years of reviewing and analyzing inventions, new products and service offerings I have been amazed by the innate fear of selling expressed by so many otherwise capable entrepreneurs. There exists a palpable fear of selling that mimics vertigo, arachnophobia or a fear of snakes. This fear should never stop a project from successfully entering the marketplace.

America’s Great Advantage – Creating Divergent Industries

Tuesday, October 7th, 2008

by: Geoff Ficke

The American economy is the growth engine of the industrial world and will continue to be so, as long a steady stream of innovative, divergent products is successfully created. The history of capitalism is replete with cycles of unique, needed product and technology advances that exponentially expand the economic base and evolve into completely new industry categories. No country comes close to America in dynamism, creativity and energy in pursuing cutting edge new growth opportunities.

Why is this so? Many other countries have a much longer historical pedigree with features of freedom and capitalism as significant foundations of their heritage. Old Europe has been trading, exploring and investing for centuries before Jamestown and Plymouth were settled. The Dutch, British, Venice, Swiss and Spanish have wondrous commercial histories. The Japanese and Chinese were commercial powerhouses before the Europeans. And yet, none has left a commercial footprint like the United States in just over two centuries of enterprise.

Why? The answer is the constant curiosity, drive and ingenuity inherent in America’s unique form of capitalism. This is most clearly reflected in the risk/reward benefits gleaned from an almost endless stream of product inventions. Hugely significant new industries are in existence solely because of the divergent nature of the product, technology or service created.

A divergent product or service is one that did not exist before its invention. The wheel was a divergent product. The radio was a divergent product, as was the airplane. Computers, lasers, McDonalds franchises and hearing aids are examples of products that were divergent and first to market movers.

Today we take the radio for granted. However, when invented it was an amazing device, truly divergent, revolutionary, a breakthrough. Many refinements, improvements, and new features have been added to the original radio apparatus. Radios have been enhanced with clocks, alarms, lights, FM, placed in cars, portable and satellite delivery. These new benefits and performance embellishments are dependent on the original ground breaking radio product platform and are convergent products. All add to the usability of the radio and generate income, but, without the original invention, they would be of little consequence. The radio was, and is, the home run divergent product.

The result of the continual creation of divergent products and technologies is to continually fertilize and grow these industry segments with ancillary convergent business opportunities. The computer begets the software. The software attracts bugs and security services are required. New retail categories are required to sell the computers, software, security and accessories. Service companies evolve. A whole new industry has been developed on the shoulders of the original divergent invention.

Critics of the American capitalist model rarely consider the huge benefits modern society enjoys from the creation of these divergent technologies. One elemental example: the light bulb. Light bulbs provide safety and the opportunity for people everywhere to more productively utilize evening hours. Light bulbs are manufactured in dozens of countries, providing jobs and sustenance. Bulbs are made for innumerable uses. They must be transported, warehoused, marketed and sold. The result is a complete supply chain benefiting every human utilizing this simple, but amazing divergent product. This is a fantastic benefit provided by capitalism and divergent technologies.

When Thomas Edison invented the light bulb he had no real knowledge of the potential universality of the product at that time. There was as yet no power grid system available to deliver the electricity required to light the bulb. He was seeking to solve a problem, answer a need and make a profit. He could have failed, and he did so many times. However, he kept trying and his effort was rewarded.

American capitalism rewards effort, drive and, of course, success. Uniquely, in America, failure is allowed. Failure is not regarded as finality. Americans are encouraged to try, and if they fall down, get up and try again. Almost every other society punishes failure with a different outcome, a very negative outcome. The result is a lack of creative risk taking, a lack of dynamism.

Virtually no net job growth has been created in Europe in the last 20 years. European states place huge barriers in the way of starting a business, commercializing a product or organizing capital. The successful Japanese model of the 1970’s and 1980’s has declined precipitously, and was largely based on manufacturing clones of convergent products created in America.

Korea, India and China are currently under political and media scrutiny for the imbalances they enjoy in trading with the United States. However, name a single divergent technology, product or service proprietary to any of these countries. There are none. They are formidable competitors for resources, but they are not inventors and will not, at least yet, be competitive in creativity. Low cost, low margin production, product duplication and industrial theft are not long term strategies the United States should fear.

Rigid socialist, centrally planned economies by their very nature can not be creative. The free flowing nature of American capitalism is a blessing for this country, and the few other countries (Hong Kong, Canada, Singapore) willing to let humans do what humans do best: enjoy freedom and seek personal opportunity. Much like the food chain, where the ox-pecker lives off the ox, we need divergent product advances to feed the desire of convergent enterprises for fresh growth opportunities. No country yet approaches America in industry pioneering, nurturing and growth.

Have You Been Downsized? Consider the Options for a Better Life

Tuesday, October 7th, 2008

by: Geoff Ficke

A friend was effectively eliminated from the traditional corporate work force in the early 1990’s. It was traumatic. He was a college graduate. He had climbed the corporate ladder, rapidly, inexorably. He enjoyed a six-figure income, a second home, club memberships, prosperous investment accounts, wonderful benefit packages, a College investment plan for his three kids, sports cars and extensive travel. He was devastated! But, it became the best thing that ever happened to him, children included.

He went from regularity, a false sense of security and believing that he enjoyed a bit of that “Master of the Universe” complex, to really considering things he had taken for granted. Yeah, he was down for a few weeks. The house was glum. What was next? However, fairly quickly, he realized that he had to make things happen. Things weren’t going to be falling into his lap. He needed to start thinking like an entrepreneur.

It can be difficult re-learning to think like an entrepreneur. Why do I use the word “re-learning”? Simply because, we are all entrepreneurs at some point during our lives. A kid cutting grass, or working a paper route is a budding entrepreneur. The ritual of seeking a job requires a certain amount of entrepreneurial dash. Selling one-self to the opposite sex requires self-marketing and packaging. Presenting a thesis and selling arguments to professors is an entrepreneurial act.

Until we enter the corporate world almost all of our efforts share elements of entrepreneurial activity. Then the Mr. Big Corporation enters our lives and things seem to change. Report at this time, to this address, to Mr. Smith, your boss, for an agreed pay packet and a certain benefit package. Do this consistently, and fairly well, and we will move you along at our pace, the classic “Career Path”. Our actions become focused on job performance, judged by the Corporations standards. We adapt professionally. We also adapt our family and social life to the corporate ethos.

And then, that ethos was gone. My friend had to adjust and rapidly. Here are a few recommendations he found of great value in successfully making the change from a corporate to entrepreneurial lifestyle. First he broke his life into manageable components, a bit of introspection here.

Put Family First

Nothing earth shattering here, my friend had been a good parent. The children were a joy. And yet, he knew he could have attended more recitals, games and parties. He immediately began to be more active as a family group. He enjoyed activities together more and began to appreciate how quickly time slips away. When children grow up, they move on. That opportunity to be involved in a daily basis is gone. Don’t waste a minute of this precious time.

As much as possible, keep the children generally in the knowledge loop on current business affairs. All of a sudden he wasn’t going to work. How do you hide that? Also, make every effort to place a positive, forward- looking face on your reality.

Family Budget Priorities

My friend sat down and seriously analyzed current assets and liabilities. What did he spend that was not really a necessity? Starbucks? Dinners out? Movie Rentals? Underused automobiles? Pool Service? He discovered that his lifestyle could be well maintained by simply being more aware of his spending patterns and considering each purchase. Was it a need, or a want?

He also involved the children in spending decisions particular to them. Was a club necessary? What about that two week summer camp? A new formal might not be in the budget. They were remarkably mature and agreeable to the idea of relative shared sacrifice.

The Social Network

Be direct with friends and family. You have been outsourced, downsized or, God forbid, terminated (a better word than Fired!) No sense hiding the truth. Lying is such hard work. You have enough on your plate.

Where to Go for Income?

If there is one recommendation every corporate ex-employee should recognize it is this: Time is not your friend! After the shock of your release, a few tears, maybe a beer or two, immediately start assembling a Personal Business Plan. Honestly consider every detail in your current life situation. Including:

*Your Age     *Short Term Needs      *Relocation Options       *Networks

*Window of Time       *Savings       *Expenses        *Interests      

*Family Flexibility        *Severance         *Health        *Corporate options         

Ben Franklin, our great Founding Father, used to settle difficult questions in his typically logical way. He took a piece of paper and drew a line right down the middle. On one side he marked a +, on the other column he marked a -. Then he considered each element of his problem and honestly placed that issue in the appropriate column. When he had exhausted his list, he counted the items assigned to each column. The side with the most entries indicated the proper decision for old Ben to take.

Do this, as honestly as possible. More often than not, there is an interest, a skill or hobby that you have always dreamt of utilizing as your source of income. It worked for him. He loved sales and marketing. That became his avenue of financial resurrection, and more importantly, it has lead to a freedom and lifestyle more exciting and varied than he would have considered possible. Making a living doing something you love is a blessing and many more people can achieve this today than ever before in history.

A cell phone, a computer, inter-net access and a web-site can be the basis of a business. Over 700,000 people alone make a living in full, or part, on eBay. Think like an entrepreneur. What did you do for Mr. Big Corp.? Approach similar clients and customers with a customized, targeted list of services. Put your years of experience to use. Research the market for opportunities. Write a realistic business plan for your new enterprise. There are more start-ups in the United States every year than every place in the world; combined. It pays off to be an entrepreneur in the USA!

Work from home. Attend trade shows. Consider being a re-seller from shopping mall kiosks. Contract out services to call centers. Be a consultant in your area of expertise. Send out Press releases on your project. Your network of past work associates and clients is your best future customer base. Partner with a Company already in your field, come aboard as an independent contractor. Work part-time for several firms until something opens in one. Wow them with effort, positive attitude, results, and creativity.

The Mr. Big Corp’s of the world do not owe you a career. They make decisions based on market realities. That shouldn’t mean that your continued success potential is limited or damaged. Your opportunities are open ended.

American Automakers Have to Change – So do We!

Tuesday, October 7th, 2008

by: Geoff Ficke

The past few months have presented nothing but bad news for the formerly world leading American automobile industry. Henry Ford must be rolling over in his tomb. Alfred Sloan, the architect of the multi-division General Motors juggernaut, is a very sad “car guy” in the sky these days. Plant closings, huge employee layoffs, lost market share and horrid fiscal performance indicate that the “big three” (including Daimler-Chrysler) are in big trouble. They must change, and change is not pleasant for huge business complexes, or for employees, suppliers or customers.

This brings to mind a change that occurred right before my eyes as a small boy growing up in Kentucky. Several times each week, a horse drawn ice wagon would pull up in front of our little house and deliver block ice. The iceman was named Herb. My mother would always pleasantly greet Herb and they would exchange small talk, how about that the Reds game last night or the nice weather we were enjoying. Herb was a hard working and very nice man. And then, one day this regular ritual in our lives abruptly ended.

My parents bought a refrigerator. The hand delivered block ice that was essential to keep the old icebox cool was no longer needed. My mother was very concerned about the effect our new wonder appliance would have on Herb. She met him in the yard and told him as gently as possible that his ice deliveries were no longer needed. Then she asked him if he would like some iced tea and to sit a minute.

As clearly as I remember anything in my youth, I remember that conversation. Herb knew the inevitable march of progress and technology; in this case a 12 cubic foot Frigidaire, meant that he was soon to be looking for another line of work. It was sad. He was very matter of fact and my mother tried to be encouraging. Over the next few months we saw Herb in the neighborhood less and less. Within six months the ice Company was out of business.

Accept Change or Get Run Over

Like the barrel industry, the bicycle industry or dozens of other formerly thriving business segments, the ice delivery service, and now the American automobile industry was forced to change business models. If change were not embraced, indeed aggressively pursued, industry subsets would be superceded by new upstarts and technologies. “The Big Three” still have an opportunity to adjust to new market realities, but they will have to be relentless in the pursuit of economies, creativity and changing cumbersome bureaucratic business cultures.

Change is short-term pain. Managers will be significantly fewer. Blue-collar workers will not earn $65,000 per year plus benefits for unskilled labor in new jobs. Communities will undergo brisk changes in tax revenues, real estate prices and shopping patterns. College plans will be upset. Retirement dreams will be delayed, in some cases destroyed. Parts suppliers will be pressed on pricing. And yet, the future for all effected parties can, and should, be bright.

Since the Luddites in the mid-19th century attempted to stop the industrial revolution and preserve old-world work models, there have been groups trying to thwart progress. Progress requires change. Fortunately, looking in the rear view mirror is not a widely admired American trait. The parties most effected by this sea change in the American auto business have multiple opportunities to re-train, re-strategize, and start new businesses and services. With normal American drive, work and creativity our society will be blessed with a new generation of wealth creation, entrepreneurs and growth. It has always been so.

We live in a global market place. Nothing will change that. If foreign auto companies make better products at a better price we have to confront, and overcome, these market realities. Americans always have in the past, and there is no reason not to foresee a bright, but different future, for every current participant involved in the radical restructuring of our formerly great auto business.

The American economy is the most dynamic in history. Opportunity abounds and is available to every citizen willing to compete in the marketplace of ideas, work hard and not look backwards. Ford, Chrysler and GM can survive and prosper. Nevertheless, understanding and preparing for change will separate the successful from the losers, or modern day Luddites.

Does My New Product Idea Really Have Legs?

Tuesday, October 7th, 2008

by: Geoff Ficke

My firm looks at hundreds of new product ideas, concepts and inventions every year. Many have great potential. When reviewing these opportunities the creator inevitably asks some form of the following: “Before spending any money, how can I get a feel for the potential success of my new idea?”

Consumer research, focus groups and test marketing are commonly utilized by established companies to gauge the market reception and viability of new product offerings. Even limited, controlled programs such as these are beyond the reach of most entrepreneurs. There are, however, other options that can yield a strong indication of potential success, or failure.Review with Friends, Family, Co-Workers

The inventor needs to be very protective of their proprietary idea. Never discuss the product or idea with any stranger or business without obtaining a signed Non-Disclosure Agreement. This protects both you the inventor, and the reviewer. My firm will not accept any idea submission without first completing a Non-Disclosure Agreement.

Nevertheless, family and trusted friends often provide an excellent sounding board. Ask questions of them. Would you buy if the product were available? What price would you pay? What price would be too high? What don’t you like about the idea? Do you see any flaws in my thinking? Have you ever seen such an item? If the answers are consistently positive then you have conducted a self-administered mini-focus group. Check out the Competition

Visit every store, review catalogs, websites or businesses that sell any product that competes in the space you are targeting for your invention or new product. For instance, if you have an idea for a new kitchen widget, go to stores like Williams Sonoma, Bed Bath and Beyond, WalMart, etc. Check eBay and websites devoted to kitchen accessories. Seek out the endless number of specialty catalogs offering cooking and kitchen specialty products. If, after a comprehensive market search, there is no product that duplicates the benefits and features of your invention on store shelves, you will have further positive indication of potential success.Use the Internet, It’s Free

Patents, copyrights and trademarks are best handled by legal practitioners that are expert in this highly specific area of law. However, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (www.uspto.gov) website is free and available for anyone to utilize. Use this website to search for products or trademarks in the space you are considering for your opportunity. A cursory search will add to your comfort level that you have discovered an uncovered item niche, or confirm that there is another prior claim to your invention. What’s Next for my Idea

Assuming you have received a positive response from trusted family and friends, seen nothing like the idea in your market research and the USPTO search is promising, you are probably ready to commercialize your concept. Consultants, patent attorney’s, prototype engineers and professional service providers are readily available. Depending on your business background, energy and diligence you may be able to self-market the product and avoid paying some fees and development costs.

Ask yourself this: If your tooth hurts, whom do you visit? Uncle Ernie, or the dentist! When the transmission on your car dies, do you set an appointment with a plumber? Properly vetted professionals should save you time, money and mistakes. The marketplace is closed to offerings that take shortcuts. It is a competitive world and you, and your new idea, only have one opportunity to make a great first impression. Make that impression the best one possible for the sake of ultimate success.

The Entrepreneurial Spirit Burns Brighter Than Ever

Tuesday, October 7th, 2008

by: Geoff Ficke

During a recent quick business trip to New York City a normal, everyday travel occurrence ignited a recurring observation I enjoy more and more frequently. The Entrepreneurial Spirit is booming in America!

While sitting in a dank Yellow Cab, crawling in the normal snail paced city traffic, I struck up a conversation with my driver. His name was Aquil and he was a native of Pakistan. After the normal chatter I asked Aquil how long he had been driving. “Three years,” he said, “but I am really not here to drive, I am setting up an import/export business”. We talked about his goals and dreams, why he chose America, likes and dislikes, until I reached my destination. I left a business card with Aquil and told him to call if he needed any guidance and to keep me posted on his progress.

Upon leaving the cab I realized, again, that in this brief meeting I had met the heart, soul and future of America. And it has always been so. No other country in the world provides the energy, creativity and resources necessary for its citizen’s, and those from the worldwide Diaspora to make unlimited attempts at the pursuit of opportunity, prosperity and fulfillment.

I enjoy a variant of my chat with Aquil on an ever-increasing basis. The volume of exciting business opportunities, inventions, new products and product enhancement available in the 21st Century marketplace is stunning. While success is not a given result, the opportunity to try is. Real entrepreneurs keep trying, work harder, and do not flee upon hearing the dreaded word: NO! They are inevitably optimistic, positive and see the glass as always more than half-full.

Unexpectedly, I received a call from Aquil about two months after our brief taxi cab meeting. He quickly brought me up to date on his progress. He had incorporated, negotiated an exclusive distribution agreement providing his new business the exclusive rights to distribute a line of artisan crafted, marble tabletop accessories for the United States market. I was able to introduce him to a showroom that has undertaken sales of his beautiful products. He is still driving the cab, but each month he comes closer to being in position to devote all of his time to his new enterprise, and achieving his dream.

One of America’s first great entrepreneurs was Ben Franklin. Today we mainly remember Ben Franklin’s staggering importance as a Founding Father of our nation. Though born into poverty, and a family of 15 children, he achieved great wealth from his inventions and business acumen and retired from commerce at age 42. He devoted the rest of his long life to statesmanship. We still enjoy the benefits of his creativity, publications and ideas, both commercially and politically.

Almost 250 years separate Aquil the cab driver and Ben Franklin. The country and world have changed in ways Ben Franklin might find amusing or alarming. Nevertheless, he would immediately recognize, and be immensely proud of the system he helped create and the road he helped pave for millions of people like Aquil to use for their, and society’s benefit.  

The New Distribution Strategies Your Product Will Need to Succeed

Tuesday, October 7th, 2008

by: Geoff Ficke

Amazing changes in the retail marketplace over the last 15 years has created new, different obstacles to successfully launch a new product. Marketing romantics muse glowingly about the old days when there were supposedly multiple placement opportunities in every level of retail. True, there were. But on closer inspection, there are as many options now, if not more.

People and organizations are not usually open to change. Change is hard, requires a different thought process, imagination, flexibility. In the 1980’s there was a seemingly endless array of local, regional and national store chains, including department stores, drug, discount, food, hardware and mass merchandisers. Most are now gone. They did not change.

WT Grant, Montgomery Ward, Venture, Ayr-Way, Gold Circle, Hills, Super-X, Bambergers, B. Altman, Bonwit Teller and Wannamakers are only a tiny sampling of strong store brands that no longer exist. The new big box chains that have taken their place feature massive purchasing, merchandising and logistic assets. Certainly Wal-Mart, Home Depot, Macys, Walgreen and Kroger have earned their collective perches as dominating chains in their categories.

The question for small businesses and entrepreneurs is how to successfully place product in these retail behemoths. And if they can’t be penetrated what other options are available. The difficulties of selling a short line or a single item to Wal-Mart are daunting, but can be overcome.

To successfully sell the big boys, you have to adjust, change your terms and conditions to fit theirs. The key to the modern big box success is based on huge sales volumes, lowest price available and logistics that enable ever-faster deployment of inventory and resources. Software for shipping and receiving is as important as product features and benefits. You have to have the capacity to participate in these advanced control systems.

The inter-net and electronic media have created whole new sales opportunities that did not exist a generation ago. If Ebay counted all of the independent contractors they serve as employees, they would be the world’s largest employer. Over 700,000 entities now sell product through this vast, democratic, web community. Many make a full-time living from Ebay sales. This is an inter-net department store with an auction format. And there are dozens of other targeted web-based sites seeking inventory to sell as well.

Home Shopping Network, ANC, Shop at Home and QVC are simply electronic department stores and each has a huge appetite for new products. Every year these cable television retailers search locally and through on-air solicitations for fresh, creative, new products that can be demonstrated in this powerful sales venue. A product that sells successfully on HSN will soon be in demand on traditional retail shelves.

Years ago late night infomercials were the frequent butt of comic skits. Today major companies such as Proctor & Gamble, General Motors and Estee Lauder utilize this sales venue. Hundreds of products are launched in short format infomercials each year, and many succeed. These spots can be produced at amazingly affordable prices and test media buys mitigate financial risk. Most big box stores feature an area displaying the “As Seen on TV” logo. It is much easier to penetrate the bureaucratic maze of a national chain with a bit of proven sales success in hand.

Much as TV infomercials have revolutionized product marketing, an even less expensive strategy can be undertaken utilizing print media. Main stream newspapers, magazines and print supplements increasingly sell print

Advertorials. An Advertorial is an article that reads and appears to be non-commercial, but contains a specific product message. These have been extremely powerful guerilla marketing tools, inexpensive, easy to monitor and strong revenue generators.

There are many other potential avenues to pursue in order to create sales traction for a product. Publicity campaigns (have the advantage of being free), specialty catalogs, remittance envelopes, commission sales coverage, and a customized web-site with an online pay-per-click program are just a few.

The old days and stores are gone. We only have the new days and a whole raft of new opportunities to utilize. Maybe Lowe’s is not the place to launch your product. Successful pursuit of a guerilla option will enable a product to develop a sales base, sales, traction and growth. This will level the negotiating field when the big box presentation is made.