10 Easy Steps to Product Development by @SweetSoaps

by Ellen Cagnassola| Featured Contributor

1.      Identify Niche

You can have a million ideas but if there isn’t a niche, it will never fly.  It requires research and insightful observation.  The Internet is the best way to find the most up to date real time information about any product in the world. A funny product that comes to mind is the Snuggie; everyone has seen this on TV and in stores.  With a down turn in the economy someone realized that people would be more homebound and in need of mental security.  The Snuggie was warm, cozy and affordable to most of the population.  They exploited this concept on a second level aimed at dogs because we all know that humans pamper their animals and it is a multi-billion dollar industry.  There is a market for just about anything if you can get behind the psychology of the consumer to find your niche.

2.      Product Concept

I used to develop products for a company that sells to big box retail and specifically to the craft industry.  Many of the products I created that were successful came from my brain but occasionally a buyer would give specific requests.  One that sticks out in my mind that drove me crazy was the “wedding ducks”.  They were the kind you float in your bathtub and they are still in many big box retail craft chains in the US.  I thought it was odd and to this day I am shocked that it is such a hit.  This is an example of a product concept and if you listen to the needs of a buyer or customer it’s a sure ticket to success.

3.      Who is your market?

When you are creating a marketing plan, you need to identify who this demographic is and make sure it is large enough to sustain.  Is there a way to gain a larger market share by making minor changes to appeal to more than one age group or gender? Can you take that concept and simplify it further and create something for kids? I can give you a real life example from my soap company.  I design beautiful boutique soap but I also make novelty and holiday items.  While we all need to use soap, I try to bring beauty and fun into the equation and create a more enjoyable experience.  I sell to adults and kids because I am not just creating luxury; I am capturing the silly side to all humans with crazy ideas like Bacon Soap.  I did not reinvent the wheel I just made it a lot more fun.  It appeals to the little kid inside all of us.

4.      Packaging

Go into retail stores and take notes on the packaging you find on the shelves.  Today being eco friendly has great advantages, as many big retailers are dictating specific requirements.  You should be realistic about durability of packaging and you know damaged packaging does not sell.  Is your product a shelf only option? Can it be displayed on a peg wall display?  If your item is very small you might want to create a POP display to create an “impulse item” concept.  Make sure your packaging tells the story of the product or that it is visible to the consumer with little explanation needed.  Another way to make your product jump off a shelf is buy being the plain and simple item in a sea of color and vice versa.  How does that retailer display specific products?  Is there a way you can stand out through the shape of a box or materials used in your packaging?  Don’t try to copy old concepts, look for unusual packaging ideas in a different industry to spark your inspiration.  I really look at food packaging for new ideas in soap packaging.  It bends your mind a bit and we all know that packaging sells!

5.      The Brand

If you are developing product for your own brand, it’s a bit easier to stay on track.  Being a creative person I still get distracted by ideas but I reel myself back in by asking myself “does this idea reflect my brand?”  Creative people have to battle idea explosions.  I learned to quiet that creative crazy person voice by writing down an idea, and then look at it again in a week.  If my enthusiasm is still high then I might take it to the next level.  Otherwise it gets tossed out!

If you are designing for someone else’s brand there should be specifics outlined for you.  They might have in house graphic designers to create 3D images of your ideas and then create the packaging that will then be turned into a 3D product in a box as a prototype.  Generally when pitching a product to big box buyers if an actual prototype can’t be easily made, a graphic representation will suffice.  Once that idea is approved a company would then invest in the creation of a prototype for final approval and tweaking.  The package design and branding would be designated by the client or buyer.

6.      Protect Ideas

It’s simple and don’t make the mistake of trusting people on this one!

Have potential buyers sign a non disclosure agreement at the very least.  You can file for trademarks, copyrights, and patents yourself.  If you can’t afford a lawyer then use your sweat equity and try www.legalzoom.com I registered my logo and name here for like $850 and I was clueless.  Patents are very expensive and can take years to finalize.  At the very least file for a provisional patent for $125 it gives you a year to shop your idea and still protect yourself.  Visit www.uspto.gov for other help and info on protecting yourself.

7.      Cost

Figuring out your cost should include samples, shipping, potential import fees (if manufactured overseas) and cost of goods.  You should also note that shipping costs might fluctuate as the cost of fuel directly effects your per piece cost.  Each category of goods has a different rate of import tax when you ship from overseas.  I am an advocate of made in the USA because it puts jobs in this country, lessens the carbon foot print, and there is a shorter turnaround time in filling reorders.  Shipping from overseas can be stressful because once the goods are on a boat and on the open water there is no way to know if the goods are on schedule.  The crazy weather patterns are also wreaking havoc on this process.  I have heard horror stories about the humidity actually ruining an entire shipment of goods.  This can bankrupt you before you even get the goods on the shelf.  The other bad news is that if you can’t deliver those goods as promised a company might sue you for their lost revenue.

8.      Tweaking Your Design

Original designs rarely make it to the final stages.  All ideas and designs have to be fine tuned to meet cost and functionality requirements.  You have to remove your ego from the equation so that the product sells.  This is the hardest part for me because like most designers everything we create feels like “our baby”.  Move on and get over that because in order for you to get to that next level you need to own your success.  Success means sales!  Once you have proven yourself other opportunities will find you.  Start with a grandiose idea but know it will change before it hits the shelf.  The customer is always right so we need to give them what they want and at an affordable price point.

9.      Sales Copy

If you are marketing the product yourself you will need to create sales copy and line sheets to market your product.  Basic product info and functionality along with pricing applies here.  When writing the copy you must put yourself in the consumers mind set.  What solutions does your product bring to this person’s life?  Is it a great gift? Where can it be purchased?  Your company info and history with a photo is a great visual comfort to potential retailers and customers.  I think people want to know where the product is made and some personal information about the creator.  Stories really do sell products just as much as the packaging.  Everyone loves a good underdog company story especially when it is made in the USA.

10.  Execution

Hopefully this part is about breathing life into your product and not death by execution.  There are many ways to market your product thanks to the digital world.  Traditionally tradeshows were the only option to meet and greet retailers.  Web sites and mobile shopping are changing retail forever, brick and mortar is a tougher game as a result.  Mobile shopping is the future, sales figures prove this, 9 billion dollars in 2011.  In addition some other options are email marketing, direct mail, cold calling, infomercials (expensive), and Social Media.  Social Media is so many things today i.e.; Face book, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and blogging.  They require time and effort and they are free platforms to get you started. Perseverance is king!

I hope you find this information helpful.  It is like anything in life if you want it bad then you must to do the work to make it happen.  Nothing happens over night, it takes time and inspiration to make things happen.  Being resourceful is your key to longevity.


Our commitment to made in the USA and creating manufacturing jobs in America remains paramount.  Ellen Cagnassola is also represented by Micah Johnson of Media Stars as an expert and analyst, http://www.mediastars.tv/media-talent/experts-and-analysts/ellen-cagnassola

Ellen Cagnassola, owner of www.sweetsoaps.com, creates unique soap and candles for the craft and gift industry.  Ellen designs product and packaging for mid sized and large companies in the US and Canada.  Sweet Soaps product development is cutting edge due to Ellen’s unorthodox approach to artistic expression.  In 2011 Cagnassola signed a licensing deal with a manufacturer that markets and distributes her soap kits and accessories to big box retailers.  Cagnassola’s ability to generate media interest for herself has landed her major media coverage.  Television placement on MSNBC “Your Business”, The Verizon Channel “Push Pause”, Daytime TV,NBC,CBS, and The Ellen DeGeneres Show.  Print publications that have also done features on Ellen are Woman’s Day, Real Simple, Entrepreneur, Promo, Pitney Bowes “Priority Magazine”, The Newark Star Ledger, Patch.com, Foxnews.com, Nationalist Magazine,Trendhunter.com (1 of 33 most creative candles),CBS.com, Bride and Groom , American Express Executive Travel Oct. 2011 issue.  In November of 2011 Cagnassola was a speaker at The Brands Conference, discussing the use of social media in marketing products.  http://brands2011.140conf.com/product-development-the-bacon-soap-factor   In July 2012 Sweet Soaps was named one of the top Made in the USA product lines by Nationalist Magazine http://www.nationalistmagazine.com/magazine#!__magazine

Sweet Soaps has designed and manufactured for the following well known branded companies; Neiman Marcus Catalog, Horchow Catalog, Solutions Catalog, Touchstone Catalog, Nike, and Warner Brothers Studios.  Ellen has also marketed her products into the hands of celebrities such as Howard Stern, Kevin Gillespie of Top Chef, cast and crew of Two and a Half Men, and Ellen DeGeneres.  Sweet Soaps made headline news in 2010 for marketing Santa’s Coal Soap and becoming the #2 product on Amazon.com in the beauty category.  Sweet Soaps will continue to be marketed through luxury brands and retailers.  Sweet Soaps is #2 in Google searches for Logo Soap and is expanding this product by offering 2 sizes.

Our commitment to made in the USA and creating manufacturing jobs in America remains paramount.  Ellen Cagnassola is also represented by Micah Johnson of Media Stars as an expert and analyst, http://www.mediastars.tv/media-talent/experts-and-analysts/ellen-cagnassola

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5 Replies to “10 Easy Steps to Product Development by @SweetSoaps”

  1. Kathleen

    These are all great tips, but I am curious about the manufacturing aspect of a product that may be too large-scale to produce in the home. Do you have any tips on where / how to go about manufacturing the product (in my sister’s case, leather handbags) specifically here in the USA ?

    1. Ellen Cagnassola

      I would start by googling “manufacturers of handbags made in the USA”
      another suggestion would be to look for a manufacturer that makes something similar in the USA like wallets, belts, or luggage. If you have a good product with a Purchase order from a company they might be looking for new business to add into their exisiting line. I would suggest marketing it to a luxury retailer nnot a value retailer because other wise the profit will disappear.

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  3. Moxie Lisa

    Great advice…identifying your niche is the most important thing in my book. You have to be original (or put your spin on something) if you truly want to stand out.

    1. Ellen Cagnassola

      HI Lisa
      Yes Unique alwasy wins the race.

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