Wednesday, December 24

Be did't know that

Tomorrow is Christmas so I thought it would be fun to take a look at the evolution of an age old product invention that by this time we're glad to have, but sick of using- Wrapping Paper.

I for one was interested to see where the tradition of this tool of temporary secrecy came from, and how it evolved from its earliest forms into the rolls of brightly decorated paper we see today. 

So - using a timeline first compiled by my good friend Eric Hart we can see the unlikely path this age old tradition took to end up here in 2014.

1509 – Earliest-known sample of wallpaper. It was used only briefly as gift-wrap because it cracked and tore too easily when it was folded.

1745 – We have a mention of “brown or wrapping paper” used “to wrap up Goods, therefore called Shop-Paper”

19th Century – Gifts were sometimes presented in decorated cornucopias or paper baskets

1804 – First advertising for Christmas gifts in America

1823 – First publication of “A Visit from St. Nicholas“, aka “‘Twas the Night before Christmas”. St. Nicholas fills stockings hung by the chimney with toys. There is no mention of presents under the tree, or whether anything is wrapped.

1837-1901 - The Victorian Period– Wrapping paper is decorated similar to the Christmas cards of this era. Flowers, cherubs, and birds are among the more popular patterns “Christmas papers were intricately printed and ornamented with lace and ribbon. Decorated boxes, loose bags, and coronets bore cutout illustrations of Father Christmas, robins, angels, holly boughs and other seasonal decorations”

1881 – Stockings hung either by the fireplace or bed and filled with presents were in common usage in England at this time

1843 – Sir Henry Cole of London commissions the first commercial Christmas cards from John Callcott Horsley

1857 – Joseph Gayetty introduces toilet tissue to the world. Tissue paper springs from this invention. 

1863, Ebenezer Butterick chooses tissue paper for his newly-invented graded sewing patterns, implying that it was somewhat widely available by that time. The use of tissue paper for gift-wrapping soon follows.

1874 – Louis Prang, the “father of the American Christmas card,” becomes the first printer to offer Christmas cards in America.

1890 – Flexography, a printing process using a flexible relief plate, is patented. It makes possible the mass production of a foldable, stiff paper which could be printed with colored inks

1900 – According to the Hallmark press room, gifts are wrapped in tissue or plain brown paper during this time

1912 – Cellophane paper is used to wrap Whitman’s candy. Sales of cellophane triple between 1928-1930 following the introduction of moisture-proof cellophane. It is used as wrapping paper, either alone or in conjunction with regular paper.

1917 – According to the Hallmark site, Joyce Clyde Hall and his brother, Rollie, invented modern gift-wrap in their Kansas City, MO, store. When they ran out of their solid-colored gift dressing during the peak of the Christmas season, they began substituting the thicker French envelope liners for wrapping presents. It sold so well they began printing their own. Previous to this, they sold white, red and green tissue and one holly pattern for gift-wrapping.

1930 – “Scotch” tape is invented. Check out the Tape Innovation Timeline at the Scotch website for more milestones in transparent tape, as well as pictures of vintage tape dispensers and packaging. Before this, gifts were tied up with string and sealing wax.

1930s-40s – Wrapping paper patterns become more stylized due to influences from Art Deco. Some more popular patterns include ice skaters, snowflakes, Christmas trees, and candles.

1939-1945 – During World War II, gift wrap was not rationed to keep morale up.

1950s-60s – Wrapping paper patterns become more realistic.

2014 - The gift wrap industry now accounts for over 3 billion dollars annually in retail sales.

Well there you have it, a chronological look at wrapping paper. A simple invention, but one that brings wonder to the process of gift giving and just one of many inventions we take for granted each holiday season.

To the over 20,000 people a month that read the Daily Inventor Education Blog - Thank You - and have a Blessed, Joyful, and Safe Holiday season - Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah from my family to yours!

Mark Reyland     

Monday, December 22

What a supid product.....

Several years back I was asked to create a top for a soda can. Needless to say it was not the high point of my inventing career, but it did start my wheels turning. Not about how to create it, but rather why in my entire life I had never seen a person using this product I was sure had already been invented.

A little research and there it was, no less than nine versions of a reusable cap for the top of your soda can. So now I had a mystery to solve. I didn’t know anyone who owned one, I had never seen one being used, and for a product that had been on the market over 30 years that was almost a statistical improbability.

The answer came in a phenomena we call "first purchase". First purchase happens in retail products where the consumer purchases the product once, but never again.

The Can Cap example shows us very clearly how and why this happens.

Each consumer product lives on what I call the Benefit/Detriment scale. Think of it like a see-saw of sorts where you pile things on both sides. First on the detriment side is cost – after all, the consumer has to purchase the product so that will always be the first detriment. We start to balance this out with benefits of the solution the product offers. The name of the product design game is to keep the benefits of the product far higher than the detriments. But that’s not the entire story. The Benefit/Detriment scale often operates within a frame of reference. This frame of reference is called a product use cycle.

Let’s use this simple retail product as an example of how this works.

As you can see from this image the can caps on the market are functional, however they use a manufacturing process called injection molding. While this manufacturing process gives you a very accurate part, it requires expensive tooling that has to eventually be paid for by the consumer.

Consequently, these caps range in price from about $3 to $5 dollars a pack. This price point by design makes them reusable since a consumer does not normally view a product in that range as disposable. This means the product use cycle will repeat itself each time the consumer uses the product.

When you first look at the benefit/detriment scale of the Can Cap, you can see it does exactly what the manufacturer said it would. But when you take a closer look at the entire retail equation, within the context of the use cycle, you find that the benefit/detriment scale is actually shifted far to one side. Let’s look at this example.

It’s Saturday morning and you're taking little Johnny to a soccer game. You grab a coke from the fridge and a can cap from the kitchen drawer. Pop it on, and immediately it starts giving you benefit back for that detriment you suffered in the purchase - exactly as the manufacturer and the inventor said it would.

Fast forward, and its ½ way through the game, you’re done with your coke and you remove the reusable can cap and throw away the empty can.

At that very moment the product starts causing you detriment and the scale starts to tip back. You now have to get this sticky piece of plastic into your pocket for the rest of the game, back to the mini-van, drive it home, take it out of your pocket and wash it off before putting it into the dishwasher, run the dishes, take it from the dishwasher and place it back in the drawer to complete the use cycle – all the while adding nothing but detriment to the scale since the point you took that last sip of coke.

By this time the scale has significantly shifted with far more detriment than the benefit the product offered you back in the store. In fact the product caused you more work than it saved you. This is why you never purchased it again (first sale) and why next Saturday you will likely take your chances without it.

So now we see where the problem is – and as an inventor I have to fix it. In this case the answer was to create a disposable Twist Cap version that fixes the retail equation by making sure the cap and the can end their use cycle at the same time. 

As a disposable piece costing about 20 cents, the Twist Cap has no moving parts (simply rotate to close) and accomplishes the closing mechanism by taking advantage of the natural geometry of the can itself. Simply twist the hole to one side or the other of the can opening and it’s closed. This allows us to take advantage of a much cheaper manufacturing process called vacuum forming.

In the end it wasn’t about the product as a concept being bad, but rather a case of fixing the retail equation by understanding the use cycle, an applying the fixes needed to tip the benefit/detriment scales in favor of the consumer.

Thursday, December 18

A Market Audit...What's that?

We hear the word “Audit” and we instantly think about the IRS. But in the inventing industry the word audit means something good – it means information and that information means better decision making.

One of the first steps in developing a retail product, or getting a product idea ready for licensing is to perform what we call a “Market Audit” we use this tool to understand the current state of the market in which our new product is going to have to live.

In the early stages this is a far more important step than running to the patent attorney or hiring people to work on development. The Audit not only tells you important information about the market, but it lets you know the competitive factors that help you decide to more forward or not.

In conducting a Market Audit you need to first reduce the “product” down to its core function. This is important because audits are done based on function not just on like products. (see blog post )

Armed with your function – look for every item currently being sold that is a functional equivalent of what you want to market. List the information in a matrix so you can quickly see the 30,000 foot view of the entire market.

Information like – the store you found it in, the size, packaging type, price, color, benefits, distributor….anything you can think of that gives you a better feel for how this product stacks up to yours.

It’s not complicated, but it is important, so don’t skip this step, in fact make it one of your first steps and you will find it saves you a lot of money and time.

Tuesday, December 16

Free money for inventors....

Sorry - Just kidding, but now that I have your attention, I have something very important to tell you. This is not some sermon about how to license a product, or warning about taking things to market without knowing what you're doing.

No, this is much simpler, much more primal to the process of inventing.
This bit of wisdom you should put in your wallet and carry with you everywhere you go for the rest of your natural life. It's the ultimate fortune cookie advice that every inventor should have at the forefront of their thought process.

This very simple reality guides everything you will ever do in the world of inventing retail products. So here it is:

"A retail product is simply a wrapper for a solution to a consumer problem" 

WOW! That's really cool! This one simple statement sums up the entire process you have tried so hard to wrap your mind around.

But what does it mean? 

Let me explain - We are all consumers, and as our daily lives unfold we experience problems we need solved. If you strip away the fancy logo and catchy jingle you will see that retailers are just the place we (as people with problems) go to find ready-made solutions.

Retailers are the repositories of the solutions to everyday problems such as: I'm hungry, I have no way to get home, my clothes stink, my room is a mess, and so on. 

When we have those problems, but the retailer doesn't have the solution, we use our natural tendencies as inventors to find a new solution. When we find that solution, we take it to the manufacturers who will place it in their repository so the next time someone has the problem they can buy the solution. 

We as retail product inventors are simply the ones that keep the repository full of new solutions that apply to the broadest group of people experiencing those problems.

The larger the group of people having the problems the more value the solution has - simple as that.

So, spend some time thinking about this statement "A retail product is simply a wrapper for a solution to a consumer problem" don't over analyze it. Just take it for what it is, and apply it to the consumer invention you are working on. Figure out what the problem is your invention solves, and be honest about how many people it really helps.

You will be amazed at how well these simple words can guide you closer to success.

Now get back out to the shed and find me a solution!

Mark Reyland