By Steve Strauss
Jane Angelich loves her dogs. And she also loves business. Her innovative invention, Supercollar, allowed her to combine both
passions. Supercollar is a unique dog collar that has, get this, a built-in retractable 36 inch long leash. If you are taking Fido for a
walk and need to gain control of him immediately, you can, and without having to take the time to find and attach a leash.
Jane got her big idea one day when noticing her fireman husband’s utility belt. Firemen need to carry a lot of tools around their
waist and do so by having them attach to a retractable belt —the tools can be pulled, used, let go, retracted, and returned to their spot quickly.
Jane thought that that would be very useful for dog owners; if she could build a retractable leash into a collar, it would be easy and convenient, and especially for older people, since attaching the leash clip to thecollar is not always easy for them.
Here’s how she did it:
1. She had a great idea: Great products begin with great ideas. To me, the Supercollar is one of those ‘why hasn’t this already been
invented?” ideas. It makes so much sense. But of course, Jane checked with other dog owners and people whom she trusted first,
before expending the necessary money and time required to get the project off the ground. Other people had better think you
have a great idea, too.
As the Supercollar marketing materials say, the product is “a revolutionary all-in-one dog collar and retractable leash. It is perfect
for dog owners with an active lifestyle who want to make life easier and keep their pets safe.”
It’s no wonder that it was selected as the 2010 Best New Pet Product of the Year and recently featured on The Early Show.
2. She made sure it was unique: Your best bet of creating a breakthrough product comes when you combine something the market needs with something that is different. The Supercollar is strong, durable, and waterproof. Made of sturdy polypro webbing, it features two specialized retractors containing high-tech coated steel cables, which have over 100 pounds of break strength each. The collar also features 3M Scotchlite reflective accents for pet and customer safety.
3. She got a prototype built: Fortunately, Jane had a head start in that she had seen the essence of what she wanted in her product on her husband’s belt. She was able to show and explain it to design engineers fairly easily. It also helped that she has a strong business background, and those skills proved to be transferrable. A successful business coach, writer and a speaker, Jane had previously worked with and for the Gap and Salomon Brothers, among others. After leaving the corporate world, Jane went on to found, grow and sell several businesses.
All of this helped her source a design firm in Texas that was able to create a prototype. Cost: About $75,000.
4. She got a patent: As I wrote about previously, if you want to protect your invention and retain exclusivity rights, you need to obtain a patent. No, there is no “patent police” that will enforce your rights once you get a patent, but at least by having a patent you will have the right to enforce your rights. Having no patent at all means that anyone can take your ingenuity, hard work, time, and expense, rip it off and make their own version of your product. And there is almost nothing you can do about it. So you gotta get a patent.
5. She rolled it out, but maintained control: Once she had a prototype she liked and a patent to protect her, Jane began to seek out stores who would sell her product. So often, I hear from readers who ask, “How do I get my product into Wal-Mart?” (Or Kmart or Costco, etc.) Jane didn’t want that. She did not want her product to be just another forgotten product in some pet superstore. She knew that her product needed a little more attention and would likely get lost in a Big Box store (at least in the beginning.) So she focused on small chains and pet stores that would take the time to learn of her product and become fans. They did and they are. Jane started smaller, worked out the kinks, learned her business, and is in a better position because of it. You don’t always have to swing for the fences.
The entire process, from great idea to award-winning product on the shelves, took about three years.
Jane Angelich did it, and so can you.
When inventing a product, be careful of companies that promise they will market and sell it for you. Of course, there are many
reputable ones out there that will do just that, but there are also some bad guys. Do your homework.
Steve Strauss is one of the country’s leading small business experts. USA TODAY columnist, author of The Small Business Bible, speaker, and small business spokesperson. He can be found at http://www.MrAllBiz.com