Corrections or additions?

This article by Bart Jackson was prepared for the April 17, 2002

edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

The Birth of an Idea

Bringing a new product to term in this market can prove

the most teeth-clenching experience of your life. The gestation period

— from initial conception until that happy day when the consumer

slaps you product on the counter and declares it profitable —

can rival that of an elephant. Every decision of the expectant

entrepreneur

during this time seems fraught with anxiety as to its successful

outcome.

For those seeking to shorten this 24-month gestation and ease all

the introductory labor of birthing a new product, Linda

Coppolino

stands as a ready and expert midwife. Her seminar, "Bringing Your

New Product Idea to Reality," will be part of the annual New

Jersey

Association of Women Business Owners (NJAWBO) conference Thursday

through Saturday, April 18 through 20, at the Ocean Place Conference

Resort Center in Long Branch. Cost is $450. To register call

609-581-2121.

Coppolino’s program, set for Thursday at 1:45 p.m., is designed for

both the lone inventor and the established firm. She will punctuate

her product realization strategy with a series of hints on how to

cut time and cost on each step.

NJAWBO offers an ideal network for finding everything from your next

supplier, banker, or golf partner. In addition to its statewide

seminars,

each of the 13 chapters each holds monthly meetings with informative

speakers. For information visit www.NJAWBO.org.

If you were a sharp young business lady from Brooklyn, with an equally

sharp sense of fashion, you might quite naturally move toward a

marketing

career with Playtex, Revlon, Charles of the Ritz, Caswell-Massey,

and Krebs personal care products. But what you probably would not

do is forsake the smooth, quiet executive offices and during your

off hours get down into the factory. And almost definitely, you would

not think to work on the assembly line, study the manufacture and

shipping process, take notes and store all this information for future

use. But Linda Coppolino did exactly that.

Thus today, when a client needs to know how long it will take to

retool

for his new lipstick, Coppolino can tell him. Her Howell-based

Marketing

& Design Depot, which she founded in l998, and its more

marketing-oriented

spin off company, Coppolino-Kenter Creative Partners, have eased the

way onto the sales floor for scores of products from skin lotions

to tractor parts.

Coppolino sees product development much like a chess game in which

you mentally follow the consequences of each move down the line before

you make it. Ticking the caveats off on her fingers she lists,

"Where

are the bottlenecks? What’s the cost in time and cash? What are your

tradeoffs?" She recommends the entrepreneur feel his way through

the process with agility. With so many variables, the startup firm

must be ready to decide and change at any stage of development.

Overseas vs. Domestic Production. Typically this is a

cost factor. The general 18 to 24-month timetable for getting a

product

to market is seldom affected by this choice. On labor intensive items,

such as children’s products and graphics, overseas manufacturers can

bring in great per-piece savings. Also, for lighter articles, overseas

makers frequently have similar equipment more readily available, thus

cutting down on retooling costs.

However, quality control becomes a major issue the further your specs

get shipped from your supervision. Having your company one floor above

the factory where managers can run down and check on things is, of

course, ideal. When abroad, it will at least become necessary to hire

a special quality control agent to check all the work on site during

each shift. Seems expensive? Bitter experience has forced many firms

to have each piece submitted to a domestic inspector at each stage.

"Never underestimate the enormity of the language barrier,"

advises Coppolino. "You would not believe some of the errors in

graphics that I have seen come out China — both in design specs

and on packaging instructions."

Upfront Modeling Investment. Of course, it is thriftiest

to present your backers with a flat board picture of your new shoe

line. More and more funders want to can the glitz and see their funds

invested in the nuts and bolts of production. However, setting a

tangible

pair of shoes on the table before each potential funder for her

personal

inspection beats a disc full of graphics. It also teaches the

entrepreneur

many things. By special-ordering samples from a potential supplier,

you get to see how he works, his quality, and his ability to meet

deadlines.

Insource vs. Outrsourcing. Outsourcing’s flexibility,

thrift, access to experts and general convenience has been

exhaustively

touted. And truly for the startup business, each of these factors

becomes especially poignant. Most of all, a deft blending of

outsourced

personnel, Coppolino points out, saves time. You can set several

projects

of your launch all swiftly overlapping and thus bring your product

to market often months earlier. On the manufacturing end, outsourcing

production remains popular due to huge factory and equipment costs.

However, when seeking an outside manufacturer, few contractors make

full inventory of what materials the plant owner uses on other jobs

that can be cheaply purchased and require minimal changeover.

Yet, ever wary of trends, Coppolino warns outsourcing’s very

flexibility

can lead to a loss of control when you need it most. Project teams,

if not well orchestrated, can get ahead of each other and force you

to backtrack and undo work. Further, the contract worker holds no

great loyalty to your shop and he may be working elsewhere during

those vital hours. Also, his intellectual property may very well not

fall under your control.

Sales and Distribution. "This continues to be one

of business’ greatest bottlenecks," says Coppolino. It is very

hard to cut a retailer’s time schedule. The mass merchandiser wants

to see your item in January for July. Between that time, while it

passes through the hands of the buyer and the sales force, you wait

without a penny. The only hope here is to search for an appointment

and make your contacts early, so your delivery demands and your

production

dates mesh.

Gut vs. Consumer Research. The final decision, Coppolino

says, looms over every step of the product development process, and

whether you should trust your instinct or objective research is

sometimes

a tough call. No one can deny that business would not stand remotely

where it does were it not for continuing advances in science. And

as the scientific methods of consumer research make for increasing

predictability, it seems foolish not to rely on them. But you, Mr.

Inventor, are bringing forth a product you are in love with. Probably

this affords you a better, not more biased, view of its marketability.

In the end, exactly how your product reaches the almighty store shelf

must be your choice. Just remember, consumer research absolutely

proved

that the coffee drinking public would never shell out the extra cash

for a cup of Starbucks.

— Bart Jackson


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