Welcome to a look back into the product development process of Sir Scrubbington,. This section contains insight into product research, design, factory sourcing, patents, marketing, competition. and challenges along the way. The project is ongoing and should provide valuable insight for product developers, inventors and small business owners that may want to bring their own product to market.
Cast Iron Cookware is amazingly versatile and millions of people love its all natural non-stick surface. It continues to be one of the most popular pieces of kitchen equipment for home chefs. However, maintenance and cleaning can be labor intensive and solutions have not kept up with advances in material science and technology.
The market opportunity for an ergonomic tool that could help Cast iron enthusiasts was large and overlooked. Research showed that a majority of home chefs were using flat sheets of chainmail they had to roll tightly in their hands. This was inconvenient for people with limited hand strength and mobility. Understanding the need for a better user experience and better ergonomics necessitated an exploration of shapes and sizes.
The challenge was to help give the flat chainmail shape and structure. It had to be something people were familiar with and comfortable to hold. The familiarity of a rectangular sponge came to mind. The next challenge was to explore different manufacturing methods, material selection and structure.
The first prototype was made a few days before Thanksgiving 2015. It used smooth chainmail bought from Amazon and a silicone trivet I found in Walmart. The flexible and collapsible walled structure of the trivet was ideal for giving the cleaning tool flexibility and shape while keeping the weight down. A disposable sponge was also considered but the need for hygiene and longevity helped make the decision to use silicone rubber instead. To make the prototype, the chainmail was folded and edges carefully closed by hand with pliers. This prevented the silicone core from slipping out. It was then tested on all the pots and pans left over from Thanksgiving with resounding success!
Many mockups were made to help evolve the product to its final stage. Holes were cut into the silicone trivet to allow water and debris to flow through. This modification helped the inner core remain clean without trapping dirt and grease allowing water to flow through while still providing shape to the outer chainmail. It also reduced weight and improved flexibility.
Overseas Factory Sourcing
When it was time to find manufacturers, it helps to be cautious. Finding trustworthy partners is a challenge.
You may find your project on Alibaba or sent to competitors to solicit orders before you even finalize production. I have seen and experienced this first hand on corporate and personal projects.
In the picture above, the initial prototypes from the Chinese factories had a wooden or paper core.
This was a precaution. I wanted to find out if chain factories were able to mass manufacture my chainmail pocket design while keeping the new silicone core design secret.
Despite careful planning, an early prototype was leaked and caused much harm to the development and growth process which lasts to this day. This the largest challenge when working with overseas factories. It is difficult to prevent unauthorized access and dissemination.
By using rounded 316 surgical grade Stainless Steel chainmail rings wrapped around a Silicone rubber core, I was able to simplify the cleaning of Cast Iron Cookware while helping to preserve its non-stick surface. The uniquely designed open lattice core helped bend and flex based on the user's scrubbing pressure and allowed dirt, grease and water to flow through. The familiar sponge like shape improved its ergonomics and allowed the user to easily perform targeted cleaning operations that was not possible with chainmail. And, it was dishwasher friendly.
After reviewing samples, I chose a factory with the best workmanship and a fair price to work with and they shipped me a flawless production run. I started testing the Amazon marketplace on April 2016.
One of the toughest aspects of business for any brand is marketing. One has to constantly generate content to advertise, promote and tell your story. If you are an introvert and find this challenging, one way around it is to find the fun parts and focus on that. For me, it was coming up with fun slogans for the ads. You may also consider hiring freelancers to help you post.
One of the quickest ways to gain traction is to send your items to relevant Social media influencers. Their built in audience can help bring awareness to your brand much faster than trying to organically grow it.
I used this technique with much success to make my first sales.
The Importance and Cost of Patents
If your product is innovative, consider going forward with a utility patent to gain protection in the marketplace. However, law firms and the patent process can be very expensive. It may not be in your budget. It wasn't for me at the time.
But through the years, I've found that Upwork has a wide range of affordable experienced patent attorneys that can help you with the patent process for a fraction of the cost of a law firm. There are even patent lawyers that do pro-bono work like VLANY.org
What you don't want is someone else to see your invention, try to patent your product and prevent you from selling it.
What would be worse still is if that person licensed that patent and the parties made money from your work while keeping you out of the marketplace. These scenarios can happen and can be challenging to overcome.
Get your ideas protected!
This project produced unique challenges and hurdles that required growth in areas that few designers consider. Production, patents, advertising, and competitor ethics are all areas that you are required to know make a product successful. There is much more to product design than drawings and prototypes when bringing a product to market.
It also gave insight into business practices and decision making when I was invited to Lodge Manufacturing to discuss my innovation in May 2018.
Overall each challenge turned into a valuable teaching moment that one can only find while engaged in the design and development of innovative products.
Today, this design has spawned many iterations available in Walmart, Target and other mass retailers.
Some of you may want to bring an innovative product to market one day. I hope this story helps you plan and prepare for what may lay ahead. Protect your ideas, get professional help, find the right partners, be smart when sourcing and know that there will be challenges along the way.