PART 3 – Product Line Development.
A six-part series on the necessities of starting a business.
As we continue with our six-part series on building your business, we know at this point from Part 1’s business plan development that you should have an idea of what you are going to sell and what the competitive advantage is. After all, we wouldn’t be here if you didn’t have something to offer. This section, however, will focus on firming up the details of your product line, including identifying the exact products you will offer and their quality, costing the products, procurement, storage and even legislation regarding those products. Ready to develop your line?
Identifying the Products in Your Line
Research! Let’s go back to the fundamental part of starting any business. There are so many places to start, such as online research, industry trade shows, industry associations and print media (especially annual source books, which provide industry- and topic-specific company lists).1 Most of these resources can easily put you in touch with manufacturers and distributors of products.
Compare and contrast providers based on quality and product range. For the food business, this means sample and test! Schedule a visit or request samples of products to fully understand what it is you will be offering your own customers – a chef never serves something he doesn’t taste and test over and over again. And, be sure to understand everything a provider offers throughout the year; look for products you may not initially order but will be critical for certain seasons. Buying from multiple providers can be costly and result in inconsistencies.
Ask the provider for recommendations. Based on sales numbers and customer feedback, they know what products sell. Don’t base your picks just on sales, but consider outside variables that will also affect what you offer, such as seasonal and regional (for example, the southwest loves spice), and even consider the holidays. Planning a product calendar will help you choose your product line (and will help with marketing later on too). If you’re not ready to make a calendar, at least make a list of the products you absolutely want to serve, the ones you might want to serve and future product line additions.
Understand the preparation of the products you wish to purchase. In our industry, there are many different methods, machines and variables that affect preparation, so be sure to identify what works best for you and test it. Remember, quality and consistency are what keep customers coming back. Most companies offer demos and training so take advantage of those to fully comprehend what goes into developing the end-product you will sell to customers. PreGel AMERICA’s Professional Training Center provides various classes that allow customers to learn about products, gain hands-on experience and test the different industry equipment.
Once you understand the preparation, the next step is to elaborate on each of the products by developing a description you would provide your customer and why the customer would purchase or benefit from it (individual competitive advantage). This exercise will allow you to further develop your product and evaluate it for your line. If you can’t describe what it is on a piece of paper, then your customer will have a very hard time understanding it. The most compelling product benefits are those that provide emotional or financial rewards to the consusmer.2
Cost Analysis and Procurement
Now, you have the products you want to use to start your shop, but you have to be willing and able to pay for them. Cost analysis is very important and not just from the standpoint of the product costs, but also the procurement, cost of shipping, preparation and labor, and the frequency of purchasing required. Price comparison between suppliers is critical, but as mentioned above, do not just base it on price, as quality is usually worth the extra expense. When evaluating suppliers’ pricing, also make sure you look at the price per measurement (grams, ounces, etc.) as price differences may lie in the quantity or packaging supplies.
Preparation time and labor can cost you too. A labor-intensive product may cost less as a raw product, but once you employ the labor for the extra time to make it, your costs may be comparable. Understand the whole picture – certain products require specific equipment and preparation that can add up, but less preparation may also lead to pricey products.
Shipping can also play an important part, as companies may charge more shipping the further away they are; and be sure to be aware of shipping policies as rush items can become very costly. In general, you should evaluate all purchasing policies because some companies have minimum orders and some give discounts for bulk orders. Knowing these and taking advantage of the best deals will save you money
While quantity can affect the frequency of purchasing, so can the shelf life of the product. Knowing the shelf life of both the raw ingredients and the finished product can help you evaluate how much you can get out of a single product. Additionally, be sure to keep inventory of your products, allowing for ample time to reorder and pay attention to items on backorder. Costs can emerge anywhere, so review all the details.
Offering a wide range of products is great, but ask yourself if you have the appropriate storage available? Buying a lot of product for bulk discount is great financially, but not if that product expires and/or is stored in an unfit place. Based on your space, you will need to strategically plan for storage of your items; food products, should be elevated or kept in enclosed places, and placed according to storage directions (e.g. temperature, humidity, etc.). Remember, shelf life is based on the optimal storage for the product; if you store items in overly humid or hot temperatures, you may find your products’ life spans to be a lot shorter than anticipated.
This is an area many business owners don’t even consider when developing their product line – they believe if it can be distributed, it can be sold. Federal and state laws may not always agree, especially when it involves foods such as dairy, which has many different classifications. From the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to state law, research legislation that may affect the selling of your product. Frozen yogurt and pasteurization are two big topics with regard to our industry in which the regulations can vary from state to state. Visit http://www.cfsan.fda.gov/~ ear/retcode2.html, foodlaw.org or the FDA’s site to research any food laws, codes or regulations that may affect your business. After all, not adhering to legalities can easily get your place shut down. And be sure to do this research ahead of time – you will want to be well-educated when determining what products are going lead to a successful business.
Your product offerings are your calling cards, your life line and the very essence of your business, because without them you have nothing. Developing a product line is crucial, time-consuming and requires a great deal of research and understanding of all the factors; but if done right, will bring customers straight to your doors.
1 Spaeder, Karen E. “How to Find Product Sources,”entrepreneur.com.
2 “Protect Your Ideas.” Small Business Association. sba.gov.