How To Get Your Idea Onto Store Shelves


Every week as SmallBizLady, I conduct interviews with experts on my Twitter talk show #SmallBizChat. The show takes place every Wednesday on Twitter from 8-9pm ET. This is excerpted from my recent interview with Steve Greenberg.  Steve is a product scout, the author of Gadget Nation and the co-host of Food Network’s Invention Hunters. You can follow Steve on twitter @stevetv, and on his website

SmallBizLady: What’s the first step to get my product into the marketplace?

Steve Greenberg: OK, you’ve come up with an idea–what’s next?  I suggest you do a serious search on the web.  Try to find your idea somewhere– anywhere.  After you have Googled it – next, search Google Patents to see if you can find it there.

SmallBizLady: How do I know if anyone will buy my product?

Steve Greenberg: Talk to some family and friends and see if they truly like the idea. Would they buy it?  How much would they pay?  How can the idea be improved?

SmallBizLady: What are some resources for inventors?

Steve Greenberg: Join Your Local Inventors Association.  There are inventor groups all across the country.  You can get a list by going to the United Inventors Association (UIA) website  These local associations are a great resource.  You’ll meet other inventors from your area and you’ll get first-hand information on the pitfalls of inventing.  These are people who are ahead of you on the journey and can spare you a great deal of time and save you money on your journey.

SmallBizLady:  Filing a patent is time consuming and costly.  Is there an alternative? 

Steve Greenberg: Before you spend the big bucks on a patent–go for the less expensive Provisional Patent.  It costs under $200 and offers “some” protection.  It’s NOT a patent, your product is NOT patent pending–but at least a Provisional Patent draws a line in the sand–and gives you some protection for one year.

SmallBizLady: Even with a provisional patent, how likely is it I’ll actually get my product sold?

Steve Greenberg: Now you have a year to do your homework.  Do you really want to invest thousands of dollars into this idea?  Bringing a product to store shelves is gambling–plain and simple.  The pay-offs can be huge–but so can the losses.
This is the stage where you do market research to see if consumers really want this product.  Price out doing a prototype, manufacturing costs–really evaluate what you’re getting into.

SmallBizLady: How can I protect my idea and my product?

Steve Greenberg: Beware of Scams.  It’s about here in the process that you’ll start to notice late night TV ads for inventors and you’ll start looking for a company to take this project off your hands.  It’s here that I tell all inventors to beware.  There’s a cottage industry of companies that make their living by ripping off first time inventors. They are experts in saying what you want to hear — be careful.  Talk to people in your local inventors group to find out who you can trust.

SmallBizLady: Should I license my product?

Steve Greenberg: To License or Not To License. It’s about here that you might start to think about licensing your idea to a large company.  Keep in mind IF you get a licensing deal (and that’s a BIG IF) you will only get about 3-5% of the product sales.  BUT the upside is that you won’t have the hassle and costs associated with manufacturing, shipping, distribution etc.  You can shop your idea around yourself–or use the services of a product scout –like me :-)

SmallBizLady: Do I need an attorney to file for a patent?

Steve Greenberg:  If you’ve come this far–it sounds like you are very serious about going all the way–so it’s time to approach a patent agent or a patent attorney.  Do your homework.  Ask other inventors who they recommend.  You don’t want to over-pay, but you also don’t want a crappy patent.  Keep in mind, your patent is only as good as the person who wrote it.  So really put some serious thought in this decision

SmallBizLady:  Why should I create a prototype?

Steve Greenberg: I’m a big fan of prototyping.  Sure it costs money, but it’s really the only way to see if your product truly works.  In fact it’s a good idea to do the prototyping before the final patent paperwork is filed so that you can tweak the design based on what you learn from the final prototype.

SmallBizLady:  Where should I have my product manufactured?

Steve Greenberg:  Assuming you want to manufacture the product yourself—you’ll need to decide where you want that to happen.  America is one option–and very patriotic BUT also very costly. If you decide on China or somewhere else in the world, the costs will be lower but you’ll probably need to hire an expert to help you though the jungle of importing, factory selection, shipping, etc.  Luckily there are many professionals who can walk you through this tough process.

SmallBizLady:  Do you have any packaging advice?

Steve Greenberg:  Maybe in the 1950′s and 60′s packaging was just the box that held the product.  Not today. In today’s world there are no sales people.  When you walk into a store, the product’s packaging must sell the product.  I know of so many examples of products that had almost no sales UNTIL they changed the packaging–then the products flew off the shelf.  Here again, there are lots of pros who can help you design powerful packaging.

SmallBizLady:  Any final tips to get my product idea onto store shelves?

Steve Greenberg:  Inventing may seem like a solitary endeavor–and maybe the very early stages are all about you alone.  But to be a successful inventor you need help.  There’s no way you have all of the answers.  That’s the bad news–the good news is that there are lots of talented trustworthy professionals out there who can help you through this bumpy journey.  My advice–use them.

If you found this interview helpful, join us on Wednesdays 8-9pm ET follow @SmallBizChat on Twitter. Here’s how to participate in #SmallBizChat:

For more tips on how start or grow your small business subscribe to Melinda Emerson’s blog 

Melinda F. Emerson, known to many as SmallBizLady is America’s #1 small business expert. As CEO of Quintessence Multimedia, Melinda educates entrepreneurs and Fortune 500 companies on subjects including small business start-up, business development and social media marketing to fulfill her mission to end small business failure. She writes a weekly column on social media for The New York Times. Forbes Magazine named her #1 woman for entrepreneurs to follow on Twitter. She hosts #SmallBizChat Wednesdays on Twitter 8-9pm ET for emerging entrepreneurs. She also publishes a resource blog Melinda is also the bestselling author of Become Your Own Boss in 12 months; A Month-by-Month Guide to a Business That Works and the ebook: How To Become A Social Media Ninja; 101 Ways to Dominate Your Competition Online.


  1. says

    Great post and advice, particularly seeing if there’s demand for the product.

    Love the concept of Kickstarter which is a great validation tool, as are running ads for pre-sale discounts.

    Product or Service Idea may sound great, but until you get paid it isn’t a business.

    Love the advice!


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