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The long road to commercialisation

INVENTORS love their creations. They see their inventions as solving an obvious problem, filling a yawning gap in the market or supplying a product indispensable to life as the rest of us previously knew it. But it is a long, often expensive road from concept to commercial reality governed by differing marketing, sales and development perceptions. The major limiting factor is usually development capital. This is particularly so for the back-shed inventors, such as security guard Paul Dixon, who has spent more than three years developing a stand-alone security device to protect trailers, boats and caravans from theft. Mr Dixon has spent about $30,000 developing the Silent Sentinel from an idea to secure his trailer at home. Existing security systems he looked at were all-too-simple for a professional thief to overcome. Most existing anti-theft devices focused on securing the trailer’s hitch, the ball socket that attaches the trailer/caravan to the vehicle. However, these trailer hitches are no longer required to be welded to the chassis. Instead, bolts are used, which can easily be removed. The Silent Sentinel secures the safety chain, by running it down inside a high-grade steel column, the base of which is set in concrete. The chain is then secured by a multi-combination locking rod through the bottom link. Steel sleeves and plates prevent thieves from removing either the lock or the chain without sophisticated, extremely loud and time consuming equipment. The unique design makes the Silent Sentinel easily portable without compromising its security. Mr Dixon told WA Business News his target market was tradespeople, the marine, trailer and insurance industry, with the 60-centimetre version costing about $200 and the 40cm model about $175. He is also looking to expand the Silent Sentinel’s applicability to protecting motorbikes, and provisional international patents have been secured. Veteran marketer Jim Murphy, head of JMG Marketing (Australia) Pty Ltd for more than 20 years after coming to WA in 1976 as state manager of Ampol, has seen great ideas come and go. Mr Murphy said the major problem for inventors was getting their models and prototypes to a sophisticated, proven stage for presentation to potential investors and/or distributors. “They can be enormous,” he said. The developer needed to know the costs involved – engineering and construction break downs, component costs and availability, small production runs building to larger ones, production location and distribution. It was also necessary to have this in place before embarking on any other marketing or publicity. “Not being able to deliver or having costs suddenly blow can kill you in the market,” Mr Murphy said. For these reasons, among others, he not surprisingly recommended developers seek an independent view from a professional marketer to make sure the idea is compatible with the public or perceived need. Not an advertising agency. “Engineers and inventors naturally fall in love with their products, often dismissing others in the same market, so they need a dispassionate view from someone who knows the marketplace,” he said. “If the product does not look like being successful, a reputable advisor will say so. Depending on the product, such an initial assessment can take a couple of hours.” The flipside is that, if the potential is there, the marketing company can access any of a number of investment sources known to it. These sources can include those in an industry related to the invention and willing to invest at an early stage to fund the sophisticated prototype development, to others requiring more detailed analysis. The ultimate deal could range from taking equity in an existing or new company, or some form of ultimate product exclusivity, Mr Murphy said. And a final word: “Proper packaging will ultimately be critical because most items sit on a shelf among other similar products and have to stand out, and sell themselves.”

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