Creating a Physical Product

THE IDEA

Growing up, I always wanted to create something.  I was the type of kid that would be taking apart things and putting them back together or hacking it with something else to create something new.  All grown up, I had a desire to create a physical product that would be used by people other than my family.  I didn’t know what to create though and thought it would cost a lot to create something physical.


It’s funny, ideas and opportunities can come up anywhere if your mind is tuned to seeking them out.  I just started an inside sales position (cold reaching out to people) at a software company.  I consider myself an introvert and was struggling to pick up the phone and make the dials, which was an important part of the job, as a result I was losing focus as well.  In another interview before I got this inside sales position, one of the employees there told me how he gamifies his calls - moving toothpicks from one glass to another until the original glass is empty.  I gave this a go, but instead of moving toothpicks I drew circles on a page and colored them in. 


I started doing this everyday on a blank sheet of paper.  Also, using productivity and focus principles I read in The One Thing (recommended by David Priemer), I would write down my one important task to get accomplished for the day and then reflect at the end of the day to make the next day better.  One day, I walked into a local bookstore and came across the Productivity Planner (created by great local Toronto entrepreneurs) and I thought there should be one specifically for insides sales professionals.  I thought there had to more than just me going through the struggles and would benefit from something like the system I hacked for myself on a blank piece of paper everyday.


POWER OF AN INFLUENCER

How could I test this out? One thing I could do is ask my colleagues and the local sales community but I wanted to reach out to a larger audience for an unbiased feedback.  Using the confidence built up from cold reaching out to people, I cold emailed a sales coach/extraordinaire/influencer - Trish Bertuzzi (if you are in sales and haven’t read her book, it is a must - The Sales Development Playbook).  She graciously accepted to have a quick chat on the phone about the idea.  During our call, Trish suggested I write a blog post about the idea and she would put it out to her audience.


A few months go by and the post goes live.  


An overwhelming response.  It was being shared on LinkedIn and being picked up by other influencers in the space.  A weekly review of tools for inside sales featured it in their must-have for sales people.  Requests were coming in on where they could buy it.  

Sales Journal Page

Here is a link to the post, I photoshopped what a page would look like and explained the benefits and features of the “Sales Journal”.  


MOVING QUICK

“Strike when the iron is hot”


I knew this moment wouldn’t last long and had to act quick on it to capture the attention and demand.  I didn’t even know what I was calling it at that point.  I kept everything simple and stuck with the name “The Sales Journal”.  I registered the domain name (using a .co) and put a Shopify site to accept pre-orders.  The pre-orders started rolling in and it was exciting to see they were coming from all over the country (to people I didn’t know!).  


How did I choose the price?  


With a bit of market research, I looked into other planners, journals, agendas and gather data on how many pages, size, and price.  I figured with the access to suppliers anyone has with an internet connection, I could get my margins low enough to support the market retail price of similar journals (assuming they were all making a profit).


FINDING A SUPPLIER

Concurrently, I hopped on Alibaba and posted an RFQ for a journal with the specs I did in my research.  My four important criteria for choosing a supplier to build this was: Quality, Communication, Price, MOQ. I didn’t want to keep my pre-order customers waiting too long so I stayed up throughout the night talking with suppliers over Whatsapp (this is normal business, feels weird, but is very convenient).


Within a week I had some blank page samples shipped to me, this was to check the quality of the pages and construction of the books.  Narrowed it down to 2 and it came down to price and MOQ.  I was going to store the journals in my condo storage locker, so I couldn’t bring in too much.  Also, after working in corporate retail on buying teams I knew the troubles associated with too much inventory.


Once I had a supplier chosen, I had two options for shipping: boat or plane.  Shipping them by plane was much more expensive but the timeframe would be a week.  Shipping them by boat the time frame was 30+ days.  I didn’t want my pre-order customers to wait that long so I took the hit on the margin to get a portion sent by air and the rest by boat.


SHIPPING

They arrived!

Sales Journal Cover

The journals turned out to be amazing in quality.  There is a feeling about seeing, holding, smelling a product that you created from an idea that can’t be matched.  It was my baby, you could say. I kept the shipping simple, no fancy packaging, I figured for this type of product the most important thing is the contents not what it comes in.  I used standard bubble-lined shipping envelopes, wrote the addresses by hand and dropped them off at the local post office.  For my Canadian merchants, I was shipping these from Toronto to primarily the United States.  I didn’t take this into account prior, but found out that shipping a book across the border was in a classification to not be charged duty.


MARKETING

The majority of the early orders came from the original idea blog post.  After that, I started getting requests from podcasteres to be on there show.  The majority of the sales came from these channels.  I didn’t invest any money into paid campaigns.  As a result, after the podcasts and the original article, sales started to slow down.  I was still working full-time and my focusses got pulled into other directions.  When orders came in, it was great to see (sometimes a company would order books for their team).  I didn’t do any social media marketing as well (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn).

 

SOLD

There was a lot of opportunity for the business, but as I was focussing on other ventures I decided to sell it through Flippa.com.  As of November 2017, after just over a year, I sold The Sales Journal.  I was profitable after the pre-orders.  If you’re interested in the economics, please message me, I will not post it publicly out of respect for the new owner.


LESSONS

  • Minimize the non-selling time as much as possible (packaging/shipping)
  • Test the pricing
  • Invest in social channels
  • Run paid campaigns


If there was something in the process that you would like to know more about, please leave it in the comments.  

To purchase a Sales Journal, please visit salesjournal.co  (full disclosure, I do not receive any commission from this link or from any sales of the journal). 


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