Treasure Hunting for New Products
How To Find A Product or Service
Direct Sales Journal
by Michael L. Sheffield
CEO The Sheffield Group
Greater Phoenix, Arizona is a shining urban oasis in the center of the Sonoran desert. With its giant cacti, multi-colored canyons and mysterious mountains, this desert is a land that lends itself to legends. Looming larger than life, these legends include such infamous characters as, Geronimo, Wyatt Earp, and Jacob Waltz — better known as the Lost Dutchman.
As with most legends, when it comes to the Lost Dutchman, the lines between hoax and history get a bit blurred. The tale told is that back in the late 1870s, an old prospector named Jacob Waltz went up into the Superstition Mountains and struck gold. Surviving rattlesnakes, Gila monsters, Apache arrows and murdering bandits, Waltz hauled out huge amounts of wealth. He kept the location of his mine a secret all his life and died without leaving a map or even a clue — just this challenge: "You go get it for yourself."
That's exactly what a lot of folks have tried. Over the years people from around the world have ventured into the Superstition Mountains looking for the Lost Dutchman's mine. So far, no one has found it.
And before you pack up and head for the hills looking for Waltz's treasure you may want to take a closer at your immediate surroundings. Chances are, you're already standing in a gold mine, a veritable bonanza of products just waiting to be worked.
You see, the gold being extracted today isn't coming out of creeks and caves; it's being mined from, the minds of entrepreneurs like yourself. Profit generating products are everywhere, waiting for the observant eye to notice. Like the geologic conditions that create gold, product opportunities are simply conditions that offer a chance, a lucky strike, which depending on the prospector, can either be claimed or missed.
So begin your product search in your present position. As John Burroughs, noted, "The lure of the distant and difficult is deceptive. The greatest opportunity is where you are." Besides, unlike old Jacob Waltz, I'm offering you this article as your treasure map.
Here are a number of methods we use at The Sheffield Group to explore new product concepts. You, or your staff, can use these same methods. In fact, they should become an integral part of your on-going new-product development programs:
• The Internet – It goes without saying that the Internet is becoming the greatest research tool of our time, or any time for that matter. There is an almost overwhelming amount of data that can be accessed 24 hours per day. I doubt there is a faster way to assess new product concepts, market trends, or product-pricing strategies. Even on a limited budget, an inventor or entrepreneur with a new product idea but no advertising budget can reach out to the marketplace. Treasure hunting on the Internet is fun, inexpensive and will allow you to spot new product ideas early in their life cycle. Contact can be made with the promoter instantly through e-mail and you are soon on your way to negotiating for that next hot product to drive your company sales. Assigning an Internet-smart individual in your organization with the responsibility of prospecting for new products could be a great investment. There are also clipping services that will search key words giving you clues to your next million-dollar product. Remember, there are still more products looking for distribution than there are companies looking for products.
• Newspapers – Subscribe to several "big city" newspapers. Or, better yet, review the ones that are on the World Wide Web. During their idle moments, your employees can scan these papers for ads and articles on new products. This information will add to your efforts in tracking and monitoring trends. While they're looking, they may find interesting news items that relate to your present product line or that supports your product benefit claims.
Occasionally you will find feature articles about inventors and their products. Reading between the lines, you'll find that often as not the inventor has gone as far as possible with his or her concept. Inventors can have a great idea, but are clueless when it comes to getting that new product to market. More ideas than you'll ever imagine go down the tubes because a product needed a marketer's magic touch. That touch could have brought the product to life and made it a reality to millions of paying customers.
So when you see something interesting, follow it up. Contact the writer or the editor and find out how to make contact with the product originator. Negotiating exclusive rights to a great product you first discovered in a newspaper will give you a great sense of accomplishment. In fact, without this type of aggressive approach by entrepreneurs, many successful products would have never found their way into network marketing distribution.
• Classified ads in newspapers and magazines – When reading your newspaper, don't stop with the front page. If you really want to know the pulse of the market, read the classified section. While most people are reading all the negative news in the headlines or losing themselves in the comics, my entertainment comes from the classifieds. I scan them for new products being offered, while paying attention to the employment and business opportunity sections. Why? Because some products and services offered by the companies advertising for salespeople might just make good MLM candidates.
Remember: find the product and stake your claim. Negotiate for ownership or exclusive rights. Then use your creativity to position the product differently.
• Trade magazines – Go to the library and ask for a reference called the Standard Rate and Data. This guide lists all trade publications in the United States by category. Reading trade publications can put you out front as one of the first to know about new products. You'll also learn about upcoming trade shows and other areas relating to your existing product line.
Every industry uses trade magazines to showcase new product concepts. However, don't just look at recent publications; go back several years. Reading past issues will help stimulate your creative thinking and perhaps unearth some buried idea. Look for products that may have seemed like good ideas at the time, but for whatever reason didn't make it in the mainstream market. Many of these concepts may have just been ahead of their time. Others just lacked proper marketing. In any case, they could prove to be a real winner today. An example of this is: Aloe Vera, hypo-allergenic food grade cosmetics, pycnogenol, fiber supplements and aluminum-free deodorants were available for years before scientific studies finally verified their health benefits; and that was only after these products had found their way into the market via Multi-Level distribution. Who knows? Maybe there are other powerful products just waiting for that MLM magic touch.
• Trade shows – Trade shows provide an excellent opportunity to see hundreds of new products all under one roof. More importantly, you'll get a glimpse of emerging trends that will affect what products will be in demand in the future, and the way consumers will buy them.
Trade expos are also a great way to test your own ideas. More than once, I've shelved what I thought was a unique idea after seeing several similar concepts at trade shows, or in trade journals. Yes, it was disappointing to discover that others had already moved on what I thought was my original idea. But believe me, it would've been far more discouraging to have committed significant time and money to a concept only to find myself behind the development curve.
• Foreign publications – One of the most fascinating and exciting ways to treasure hunt for new products is prospecting abroad. A number of successful MLM companies have made fortunes by locating unique, non-duplicable hard goods and consumable products in a foreign country. And they didn't have to travel around the world to achieve this success. You can explore the product opportunities of any nation on earth simply by reading its trade publications or reviewing a Web site.
Just launching your MLM company? Don't worry. When it comes to getting exclusive rights to a product, you have just as good a chance as a giant multi-national corporation.
Designate time for international market research. I'm not suggesting this kind of product exploration is easy You may need to subscribe to dozens of foreign trade magazines, write hundreds of letters and make who knows how many inquiries by e-mail, fax and phone.
It goes without saying that to save time and money, you should limit your research to products that fit your interest and are consistent with your company's philosophy. Be systematic, examine each publication, keep track of your discoveries.
You should be able to find a few foreign publications at your local public library. If you want the name of a specific journal from a specific country, write that country's embassy in Washington D.C.
• Manufacturers – It may interest you to know that most nutritional and skin care manufacturers have unique product formulas just sitting on the shelf waiting for the MLM touch. Some of these formulas might be suited to your product line under a private label arrangement.
Then there are the manufacturers who mold plastic or stamp metal, producing products that were an inventor's dream. They usually have dozens of molds and dyes laying around for the same reason. They or their customers just didn't know how to market the end product. It's not unusual for a savvy marketer to get exclusive rights to, or even ownership of these molds or dyes, and sell the products they create in areas the manufacturer never considered.
There are gold nuggets hidden in the dormant files of factories all over the world. Who knows how many great product concepts have been abandoned due to poor sales through traditional marketing? Or, perhaps the product didn't even make it to market. Short on money, the developer may have been forced to abandon the project. Then again, maybe the product just needed a little Multi-Level magic.
Talk to nutritional product manufacturers, cosmetic and skin care processors, diet product producers, and even injection molding companies. Ask what product concepts are just gathering dust. Many times the owner's pet project was a failure. They may be happy to let you take over marketing of the product just to give it one more chance.
Once you catch the vision of a product's potential, don't let anyone kill your enthusiasm. I'm not suggesting you reject wise counsel, but if the product feels right, go for it. We're all different, each of us the sum total of our personal experience. Your imagination and life encounters provide you a unique perspective. An idea may have failed because the other guy couldn't tell the difference between fool's gold and the real thing. Sometimes you just have to trust your instinct and play it out.
Before I move on, let me leave you with these words of wisdom. Your distributors may bring you products from time to time. While this is good, you need to be careful. First, you should have a policy on distributor product sourcing. How are they to be compensated? Will they receive a finder's fee? An ongoing royalty for finding this product? While you'll want to be fair in this matter, over rewarding can cause serious repercussions.
The distributor may lose site of his or her main responsibility — to sell your products and sponsor others who do the same. While some reward is appropriate, a generous finder's fee, trip or other incentive is sufficient. Just be sure this is clear to your distributors from the start.
I've been retained more than once as an expert witness in legal battles between an MLM distributor and the company The distributor had sourced a product for the company with no clear understanding of reward. Trust me on this, these collisions can become very messy The hard feelings created by such conflicts can cause serious challenges with the distributor and every person they touch in the organization.
In his timeless classic Think and Grow Rich, Napoleon Hill tells the story of a man who stopped just inches from his dreams. The man's name was R.U. Darby. Burning with gold fever, Darby and his uncle went to Colorado to find their fortune. It didn't take long to hit pay dirt. Convinced they had struck the mother lode, they quietly covered up their claim and returned home to Maryland. With passion and persuasion, they convinced several investors to back them in a mining venture. With the capital, Darby bought everything from picks and shovels to railroad cars to haul out the ore.
Back in their mine, Darby went to work. Everything was going as planned — until one day, the vein simply vanished. In panic, Darby hacked at the hill. Bloody, broke and exhausted, he conceded defeat. Selling their mining equipment and claim to a scrap dealer, RU Darby and his uncle returned to face their investors. He would spend the next 20 years paying off the debt.
Meanwhile, the scrap dealer decided to give the mine one more chance. He hired a geologist to study the mountain and you know what they discovered? Due to a long-ago earthquake, the gold vein had shifted a few feet. They saw from the pick marks on the walls of the mine that RU Darby had quit ... less than a yard from where the vein started again!
If you don't strike it rich with your first product, find another, and another, and another. There is no quality so essential to success as perseverance — it can overcome almost anything. Good luck and good hunting!
Michael L. Sheffield is the CEO of The Sheffield Group, a full-service direct sales and multi level marketing (MLM) consulting firm. He is a Co-Founder and Chairman Emeritus of the Multi Level Marketing International Association and in 2001 he was inducted into the MLMIA Hall of Fame. He and the Sheffield team have assisted in hundreds of national and international MLM corporate start-ups as well as offered a full line of services for established direct sales companies including consultation on MLM Website development. As the most noted expert on compensation plans, he has been a guest lecturer on the subject for the DSA, University of Illinois, University of Texas, Berkeley and Harvard Alumni Association. He has helped launch over 200 new products marketed by direct selling companies around the globe. He can be contacted at 480-968-6199, The Sheffield Group, 2239 N. Hayden Road, Suite 103, Scottsdale, AZ. 85257, website address: www.sheffieldnet.com.
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