If this topic seems familiar, I touched upon it in another blog back in 2014. I’ll look at it from a different perspective in today’s post.

One morning, as I was showering, I had an ‘aha’ epiphany for a slim wallet that would hold many cardsbut also be flexible in the back pocket. That idea became a product I called Savvy Caddy wallets and years later became commercially successful as a TV sensation: the Wonder Wallet. I had an idea, fell in love with it, worked hard for many years to develop it and ultimately turned it into a success. While it worked out well for me, it was an incredibly inefficient, and – dare I say it – a bad way to invent. Why? Read on.

A Better Way to Invent

What is wrong with randomly coming up with product ideas and then hoping there is a market for them? That is likely the way most inventors conceive of new inventions.

I’ll use my experience with my wallet product to illustrate the problem more clearly. It happens that the small leather goods category of wallets, purses, etc. is a low-margin, slow growth market segment (except for luxury items). As I wrestled with trying to successfully position my invention for success, I realized that the small leather goods category not only wasn’t growing but, in fact, was gradually contracting over time. The largest manufacturer in 2008, Tandy Brands Accessories, is no longer in business. This meant that, for me to succeed with my new product, I had to take market share away from one or more bigger, entrenched competitors. Maybe that is why it took me a very long time to succeed with my invention.

That is not the way I invent today. Today I pick a segment before I pick a product.

What kind of market segment should you select for your invention? Do some research to locate product segments that generally have some (or all ) of these characteristics:

  • Large, growing product segment
  • Not cyclical or seasonal in nature
  • Products that are consumable, are bought, used up, and purchased again
  • Products that sell in both good economic times and in bad (ideally)

My current favorite segment is pet toys. Americans spend about $62 billion on their pets each year, just a bit less than parents spend on their children.

My newest product is a cat toy. People who buy toys for their dogs and cats, do so with very low expectations. A customer is unlikely to return a cat toy for a refund because her cat doesn’t play with it; her cat doesn’t play with most of the toys she buys for him. Less returns means higher profits. Furthermore, if the cat likes the toy but it gets lost under a couch, the owner will just go buy another toy for the cat: two sales instead of only one! Also, even during a recession, people buy inexpensive toys for their pets. They like to see their pets happy and entertained, even when they don’t feel very happy with the job situation.

What are other good segments for inventing? There are many.

The kitchen is a great place for innovative, new products. While it is ‘crowded’ space, there will always be demand for any new kitchen item that is easier to use or provides better results with less effort. The childcare segment is also a good one, including baby strollers, car seats, diaper bags and many other items. Once again, the field is crowded, but a great product that makes the frenetic, hectic lives of young parents just a bit easier can be a big hit.

Don’t constrain your creative energies and ideas, but rather, direct them towards categories where your invention has a better chance to flourish and succeed.

Stay tuned!