Website & Logo. I thought I could design the website and logo. I tried a few logo designs, but the difference in quality when I had a professional design the logo was dramatic. The website cost about $5,000. It was hard to find a website designer. I had to be careful not to use copyrighted pictures (the one to the right is Chris Gaynor Yevtic). Next, I had to figure out how to allow people to make payments on the website. The easiest way to allow people to pay is a PayPal account. Customers can pay with their Mastercharge, Visa or PayPal account. Customer orders come by email from PayPal. You can print out a label that includes a barcode that shows postage has been prepaid. PayPal will deduct the cost of the postage from your PayPal account. I didn’t pay a monthly fee for optimizing search engines, but maybe I should have.
I went to Home Depot and found a Martha Stewart Frosty the Snowman welcome mat that was 18" x 30." Only one cut to get the size I wanted. I used a friend’s band saw to carefully cut the top and bottom off a bunch of used tennis balls. The tennis ball parts were glued to the mat and painted yellow--voila, the first Acebuilder prototype!
The First Prototype. I began thinking about making a new target. If she was aiming at a large whoopee cushion, it would fart or make a noise when she hit it. However, after several attempts, I couldn't get a “noise” prototype to work.I wanted a larger target and after measuring a tennis bag, it occurred to me that a target 18" x 18" could be folded in 1/2 and it would fit into a tennis bag.
Fulfillment is more difficult. Amazon has a storage and fulfillment department as do hundreds of companies on the internet who specialize in this market. These companies charge to have a forklift take the product off of the truck, and put the pallets on shelves. They charge per product that is retrieved, put in a generic cardboard box, print a label, pay for shipping and sent them out. I was not selling enough to justify this cost so my secretary at my day job pulls Acebuilders from a few boxes in my office, puts them in generic cardboard boxes from Uline, prints a label from PayPal which allows postage to be added to the label and the shipping cost be deducted from my PayPal account. She also mails the Acebuilders to customers. So far I have dodged this expense, but not for long if I start selling a lot of units.
ACEBUILDER SERVICE TARGET
The Acebuilder Service Target improves the accuracy of your tennis serve! Practice takes only 20 minutes a day. After a few short weeks, you will be delivering consistent and accurate serves during your matches.
Down the Drain. Turns out that not very many tennis players wanted to practice their serve and fewer wanted my target. When they used it, they couldn't hit it because even though it was the largest target on the market, it is hard to hit. Therefore, I gave away most of the targets and do not sell them anymore.
Storage, Fulfillment and Marketing. After a year of problem solving and over $50,000 in expenditures, 1,000 Acebuilders arrived in Las Vegas. Yet 3 huge problems still loomed. Here they are in order of importance.
Customs Clearance Broker and a Shipper. Although the manufacturer was supposed to handle customs, my 1,000 units got stuck in U.S. customs and I had to find and hire another specialty company--a customs clearance broker. This company requires that you send them your ordering documents and they help get the product through customs. You need a shipper that specializes in overseas shipments. When you order the products you can have the manufacturer hire the shipper to take the product to your storage facility (this is called FOB Las Vegas) or you can hire a shipper and in that case it would be FOB Shanghai and your shipper would pick them up in China and bring them to your storage facility. The storage facility is a specialty company since it needs a fork lift and a loading dock—a mini-warehouse will not work.
The Acebuilder originated when my wife was practicing her serve. She had a basket of balls and was aiming at a 10" red plastic spot in the corner of the service court. I was on the other side of the court focused on returning her serve. She asked "Did I hit it?" I of course said "Yes" but wasn't sure because the ball bounced the same whether her serve hit the target or whether it hit next to the target.
Packaging. When I ordered the Acebuilders from the Chinese manufacturer, I could have them put in packages for retail stores to display. A package would have cost about a dollar more, but it was over $500 to have a package designer create the package and draw it in a way that could be sent to the manufacturer to print and cut from a single cardboard sheet. Package design, like web design is a specialty. I had an expert create some that a consumer could recognize the product and what it does when hanging on a shelf in a store. Another specialty related to packaging is barcodes. I bought a bundle of 5 bar codes and used one for the Acebuilder packaging. ps that is me serving.
Marketing is the most important piece of the puzzle. I spent $3,500 on print advertising in tennis magazines then $1,500 on a radio station that specializes in tennis. Not satisfied with sales, I had a production crew (another specialty company) shoot a 30 second spot at a cost of $5,000. I spent about $40,000 on TV advertising on The Tennis Channel. Of course I needed to hire yet another specialty company—an answering service to answer the phone and record orders on my website. The service I purchased included an “800” number to put in the TV ad. The TV advertising was very expensive and although it has been the only medium which has generated orders (4-6 per 30 second spot), the cost was greater than the revenue that has been generated. [double click on the picture to see the tennis channel ad]
The Patent Issue. I applied for a patent. The first law firm did a nationwide search, but it seemed like a “canned” letter about the search. I went to another firm and looked on Google Patents. After not finding a competing patent, I applied for a patent, a process that cost over $5,000. The next 12 months involved marketing the product in as many ways as I thought possible. I was surprised that not only it did not sell like hotcakes, the U.S. Patent office denied my patent because there was a prior patent. Acebuilder is a tennis target, 18”x18” with bumps on it such that the ball always bounces irregularly—so you know you hit it. Basically, the Patent Office asked me to respond to a 1998 similar patent filed by Murray Charles Snow. He invented the Reaction Pro, a 36" x 36" mat with bumps to help little league baseball players increase their reaction time. I went to meet him to see if I could license his patent. He was a very nice guy who happened to just move to Las Vegas. He said "No. Shut down your website and stop selling Acebuilders." I didn't shut down, but it still didn't sell. Anyway, no patent for me. His patent expired 3/2018. Bummer for him.
Storage. A friend of a friend had a warehouse with a forklift and a loading dock--all the necessities for receiving and storing such products. This expense was zero at first. I dodged a monthly fee.
Finding an Engineer & a Manufacturer. The next step was
to take my prototype to an engineer who could draw it, then
find a manufacturer who could make one.
Where do you look for an engineer whose specialty is these
How do you find a manufacturer that can make this product?
I got lucky. I did not have to pay an engineer. A friend of a friend referred me to a local engineer who, as a favor created a CAD drawing from my prototype. He had a referral of a Chinese injection mold manufacturer. Once the drawing was emailed to China, the manufacturer created prototypes and sent them by Fed Ex (the most expensive method) back to me. I thought I explained it well enough that the first one sent to me from China
would be perfect. That did not happen. The first yellow prototype came back orange.
The second one was yellow, but the plastic was so hard that it moved around the court
when the ball hit it. After a total of six prototypes I got one that worked.
The manufacturer wanted $10,000 for the injection mold and wanted a minimum order
of 5,000. I negotiated a slightly higher unit price ($5 each) for a small order of 1,000
Acebuilders. They came in boxes that were on three pallets.