In Part 1 of this series, we talked about the lengthy and very expensive process involved in getting a pharmaceutical or food-related product to market. And, we touched on what it takes to get an unregulated product to market.
As a veterinary industry sales representative, you’re discovering new products all the time. New products being added to distribution catalogs each month.
To help you see how that happens, we caught up with Dr. Julie Buzby, a holistic veterinarian and small-business owner who developed ToeGrips. These non-slip grips fit on dog’s toenails to enable instant traction and improved mobility. They were created after trying initial prototypes designed by Dr. Buzby and a colleague. Here’s what she had to say in this behind-the-scenes look.
How did you get from the idea of ToeGrips to actually putting them to market?
Dr. Buzby: “This was a great challenge, considering I'm a veterinarian and had no experience nor even concept of how this is done.
One piece of advice given to me early on was: Work on the packaging first. So that's what I did. I sat down with a U-line catalog and thought through my options. We also began working on the logo and packaging designs. After 823 revisions (kidding, sort of), we had our V1 packaging ready for market.
Simultaneously, of course, I was working on the problem of mass production of the product, which proved to be much more difficult than one might think, especially when operating on a non-publicly traded company budget! My best asset was tenacity. My boss at the vet hospital, watching all this unfold, said, "Julie, you are a bulldog!" Followed by, "Oh, I'm sorry. I hope that didn't offend you!" It was a great compliment and indeed the process is not for the faint of heart. Additionally, we began the process of applying for a utility patent to clinch protection on the provisional patent we'd initially filed.
After smoothing our production process, we needed a marketing plan. This consisted of 2 phases for us: launching a website and going "door to door" offering lunch-and-learns for local veterinary hospitals since our product is sold retail to pet owners and wholesale to veterinarians. The website immediately benefitted from organic traffic and sales began to trickle in. We set up social media accounts to support our sales. Local vets were supportive of our mission and several practices in our county began carrying ToeGrips. On a tiny scale, we'd successfully taken the idea to the marketplace.”
How did you get ToeGrips picked up by a distributor, and how long did that take from launch?
Dr. Buzby: “Shortly thereafter, our MWI rep, Del Foster, told me he'd seen our product in other practices, thought it was very clever, and said, "You have to go to the NAVC Conference. All great new products launch there and it will give you the opportunity to talk to the MWI big brass. Mind you, this conversation was in December and the meeting was in January. But we pulled off a modern day "barn raising" with the help from numerous friends (and even my clients) and headed to Orlando with a team of 7 volunteers who believed in the product.
We did indeed meet some MWI executives at the event… and through that contact, MWI signed us as a vendor in May of that year. I consider our official launch to have occurred at that conference, so distribution happened quickly. This was a blessing for many reasons. 1. This gave the product credibility. 2. Their opening order provided valuable working capital we needed at that stage in the game for growth. Later that year we were approached by distributors in Asia, England, and Canada, all of whom now carry ToeGrips.”
How's it been going since launch?
Dr. Buzby: “Fantastic! Our company infrastructure is rock solid, sales continue to seriously grow year-over-year, and we have now sold in 55 countries. And finally, we just expanded to add a second product in the e-learning space. The crazy thing is that besides MWI, whom we intentionally set out to connect with, I have not sought any of our distributors. All the international distributors have come to us asking for contracts, which I think speaks to the most important piece of the puzzle--having a great product!”
This is just one story out of thousands that happen year after year as new products enter our market.
But here’s a question you may be wondering about: once a product is picked up by distribution, how do YOU find out about it?
Rick Warter, RVT, National Equipment Sales Manager, MWI Animal Health, explained how it happens in his company.
He said that their marketing department sends out a ‘new product announcement’ on their internal document repository (an iPad app that downloads all the latest info when refreshed). They also publish The Messenger, a monthly magazine with a section on new products. Rick mentioned that this is where 98% of their reps learn about new products and detail from when meeting with clients. This magazine goes out to all their customers (18,000 or 20,000) and sales reps.
When choosing which products to feature during clinic visits, Rick said it varies depending on the sales rep: “Some just use The Messenger to go over all new products. Some just pick a few they think are cool or that are MWI-exclusive and show them to every clinic they visit. Some don’t go over any; they just hope the customer looks at The Messenger. The last, and in my opinion the best approach, is when reps evaluate every clinic individually and look at which new products could be beneficial to those clinics (or beneficial to them through exclusivity) and then focus on those.”
For example, Rick noted, “if there was a new vetwrap that had little penguins on it and it was $1.00 less than the brand name — I might go through my territory purchase history and find everyone that bought the name brand and then buy a roll of the new one. I’d make sure I showed it to every clinic that bought the name brand or any clinic I knew liked the “cutsey” approach that would like the penguins on it.
Alternatively, I’d look for products that one or more of my competitors did not carry. For example, with the above penguin vetwrap, if I knew that HS carried it but Patterson and Victor did not… I’d get a roll and take it into every account that I was secondary distributor (either Patterson or Victor were primary). Most of our customers buy from multiple distributors, but usually have a primary and secondary that they split with and maybe even a third or fourth. The idea is that I’m trying to get more items that only I carry so they call me more often.”
We’re curious about your approach to introducing new products to customers. Please post a comment below, if you’re willing to share.