Turning a million-dollar idea into a reality: how to manufacture a product in 6 steps
Maybe you sketched it on the back of a cocktail napkin or jotted it down in the middle of the night. Maybe it has been in the back of your mind for months—or even years. It’s a brand-new product idea, and you have a hunch it could be a success.
Transforming that inspiration into concrete reality—much less a product on a store shelf—can seem like a pipe dream. But with perseverance and plenty of research, you can design and manufacture a quality product that will resonate with customers. We’ll cover all the main steps in this blog.
The steps include:
01. Get clear on the concept
While a burst of inspiration may have gotten you started, you’ll need a much more concrete concept before moving forward with manufacturing. To get a clearer picture of what your product is, answer these questions:
What is it? You might have a single object in mind or something that’s part of a larger set. Will buyers assemble it themselves, or does it come ready-made? If multiple sizes, styles, or colorways are involved, consider how many you’d like to offer, given that each variation adds to your initial production costs. Pro tip: Research your options for raw materials, and keep sustainability in mind: 77% of consumers want to make more sustainable choices and 49% have paid a premium for products labeled eco-friendly or socially responsible in the past 12 months, a survey from IBM found.
Who will be interested in it? Conduct research to understand the size, makeup, and location of the potential market for your product. Identify other brands that serve a similar audience and study their offerings—as well as styles, features, and pricing that seem to resonate with buyers. Consider surveying your potential audience, and tap experts in the industry through professional organizations and trade shows. This additional background research will not only help cement your product concept; it can help you flesh out a business plan, plus attract investors or secure a bank loan to finance development.
Where can it be sold? If the ideal marketplace for your product is through a major retailer, your strategy will be different than if you plan to sell it exclusively through an online store. In general, selling directly online is a quick way to move your goods into the market while waiting to finalize dealer and retailer partnerships.
What’s your unique selling point? Your product may not be an entirely new invention. However, it may offer updated technology, features that appeal to a specific audience, or new style options. Define what makes your product different from other products that are like it.
02. Protect your idea
Once you have a concrete product idea to introduce to potential investors, suppliers, and manufacturers, take proactive steps to ensure you retain ownership and creative control. At this stage, it’s a good idea to consult an attorney.
Create an NDA. As you begin sharing your concept and seeking manufacturing bids, a well-crafted non-disclosure agreement (NDA) helps to protect against improper use, copying, or sharing of your idea or the information you’ve collected and created in the process. An NDA also requires any designers or producers who work on your product to return materials they’ve created or used once their work is done, ensuring that your trade secrets stay secure.
File a patent with the help of an attorney. If you believe your idea is inventive, you can research existing patents and publications to determine whether your product may be patentable. With a patent, you can prevent others from making, using, or selling your invention without your consent. A patent can cover both your product and any innovations in materials or processes you use, according to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. A working prototype is not necessary before filing a patent application, so making early preparations to file can streamline the process and save on legal fees when the time is right.
Protect your branding. Consider obtaining a federal trademark registration for the name, logo, or other branding of your new product once they’ve been created. Where applicable, you may want to make a copyright registration for any associated artwork, creative designs, or original music.
Make sure you’re in the clear. If you’re building on someone else’s technology or incorporating existing designs into your products, run a check on existing patents, trademarks, and copyrights. That way, you’ll avoid accidentally infringing on others’ work and can obtain any required licensing upfront, without needing to pay costly fines or legal fees.
In addition to preventing others from copying or stealing your work, these safeguards may come in handy when selling via retailers and third-party marketplaces. The U.S. government has identified more than three dozen online marketplaces as hotbeds for counterfeits and pirated products. In response, multiple marketplace sites have begun vetting sellers to ensure they own or have permission to use intellectual property associated with their wares.
03. Build a good-enough prototype
With solid research, a concrete product idea, and legal protections in place, it’s time to make the physical product for the first time. Start with a prototype, which can be a single item or a limited-production run to test how your idea actually works in real life.
Hire professionals to help. You may need to enlist engineers, designers, artisans or other experts to build your product. This will enable you to obtain a reliable and realistic prototype that you can confidently show as an accurate representation of your idea.
At the same time, don’t wait for perfection. In fact, you may want to use the concept of a minimum viable product (MVP) to guide development. Rather than waiting until every detail is exactly right, you can create an MVP with the most essential product features and begin collecting feedback from testers to shape the final version. If speed to market is a factor—e.g., a competitor is planning to launch a similar product and you’d like to be the first to market—you may even decide to launch the MVP version to the public and add other features in an upgraded edition later (though tread carefully).
Think about product packaging. Use your prototype to start designing the product packaging. Bulky or oddly-shaped items might be costly to transport, and extra labels and materials may be necessary to pack component parts, so getting an early start on packaging can influence the product design itself and inform the initial price of your product.
04. Find a manufacturer
Once your prototype is tested and refined, you’re ready to find manufacturers and put your project out to bid. Finding the right partner to transform raw materials into your finished product is a complex process. Logistics, sourcing relationships, pricing, and other considerations may influence your decision, so weigh your options carefully and don’t rush this step.
Start with very specific requirements. Assemble detailed specifications, measurements, schematic drawings, and even swatches or samples of raw materials that you have in mind to help manufacturers understand the scope of the undertaking. It may also be worthwhile to connect manufacturers with the designers or engineers that helped you design the prototype and/or sharing testers’ feedback as you talk through the options for producing at scale. In addition, consider what quantity you need to launch, how often you think you’ll be replenishing your stock, and how quickly you’ll need items to ship. Are you planning to store inventory at a retail location or warehouse, or will you dropship items on demand? Ask about your manufacturers’ capabilities upfront and document details like production turnaround and order lead times.
Evaluate the pros and cons of domestic and overseas options. Overseas manufacturers are plentiful and tend to offer lower prices than manufacturers in the U.S. But the past two years have shown how an unstable global supply chain can impact even the smallest retailers, so consider whether the risk is worth the cost savings. Additionally, domestic manufacturers enable more control over the safety, quality, and provenance of raw materials—all important considerations, given consumers’ growing expectations around sustainability and sourcing transparency. Working conditions for employees are another potential flashpoint; domestic manufacturers will by and large adhere to U.S. labor laws. Meanwhile, you may need to request that overseas manufacturers follow a code of conduct you specify, but you may have no legal recourse to enforce that behavior.
Obtain quotes and order samples. Once you have a list of prospective manufacturers, request price quotes based on the detailed information you’ve provided. Select at least two top contenders for comparison and request that they make samples. Evaluate these samples for quality, durability, and safety. Compare your original specifications to the finished product. Did the manufacturer follow your instructions thoroughly? This stage is a good time to gauge how easy it is to work with manufacturers, as well. While you don’t want to invent reasons to complicate the process, don’t hesitate to request assistance, provide feedback, and even ask for multiple samples in different styles, sizes, or colorways. Is your manufacturer responsive to emails, text messages, or calls? How detail-oriented are they? How do they handle supplemental requests?
Negotiate terms and finalize the agreement. While manufacturers may ask for payment upfront for an initial shipment, expect and negotiate for more flexibility when it comes to subsequent orders, e.g., 50% payment when placing the order and 50% when products are received. Before you sign on the dotted line, make sure timeframes and other expectations are spelled out clearly, and consider having an attorney review the contract to ensure that it’s clear, legal, and enforceable.
05. Plan and test logistics
Once you have a manufacturer agreement in hand, finalize the logistics of moving your goods from the factory to customers. More than four in five consumers say they won’t return to a brand after a poor delivery experience, according to a survey from FarEye, so it’s essential that you invest time during the pre-launch period to streamline the process.
Get a holistic view of fulfillment. Use a solution, such as Wix for eCommerce, to centrally manage inventory across all of your sales channels, apps, and fulfillment partners. Having a source of truth (or a unified system) is the first step to avoiding costly errors due to inventory mismanagement.
Get your multichannel operations in order. If you store and fulfill orders through a program like fulfillment by Amazon (FBA), make sure that you’re fully aware of any product prep instructions, lead times, and other factors that impact your logistics.
Prepare for good problems and headaches. When your product launches, you may experience a rush of orders that outpaces production. This is a good problem to have, but one that can lead to customer dissatisfaction if you don’t have a system in place to expedite backlogged orders. Your manufacturer agreement should include pricing and expectations for placing rush orders, and you may want to consider building up a reservoir of emergency stock. Once your product has a track record of typical monthly or seasonal demand, you’ll be able to predict inventory needs and can judiciously reduce the reserves.
Don’t forget about reverse logistics. Prepare in advance for returns with a robust reverse logistics operation and a plan for returned merchandise, whether resale or recycling. Double-check the agreement with the manufacturer to ensure that costs are shared in the event of returns due to product defects or recalls.
06. Start rolling and listen
As you ramp up production at last, take a moment to celebrate. But remember that your work is just beginning. Monitor operations closely for quality control, and stay in close communication with your manufacturer as products begin rolling off the assembly line so that you can respond to any unforeseen glitches.
Launch a marketing campaign to drive interest. Let new and existing customers know about your product using a tool like Wix’s eCommerce marketing features. Consider incentivizing orders with special thank-you gifts, extra loyalty points, and hashtag contests on social media. Don’t forget to give your manufacturer a heads up so that they’re not surprised by the influx of orders.
Use early customer feedback to perfect product content. If early buyers are flooding customer support with questions or complaints, re-examine your online product content to ensure that images and descriptions are accurate and set realistic expectations. (Need inspiration? Check out these standout product page examples.) Consider proactively addressing the most frequently-asked questions in how-to videos, FAQs, or in your product descriptions. Respond to reviews promptly and respectfully. Document recurring feedback so that updates or future iterations of your product can incorporate customers’ suggestions.
From idea to reality, then to success
Bringing your product idea to life takes patience, careful planning, and investment. But a research-backed approach maximizes the chances that you’ll not only recoup the upfront costs of your new product, but also find new customers and boost the reputation of your brand in the process.
Allison Lee Editor, Wix for eCommerce
Allison is the editor for the Wix eCommerce blog, with several years of experience reporting on eCommerce news, strategies, and founder stories.