Part 11 – From Sketch to International Distribution … in 5 Months!

I knew exactly what I had ordered. I even had the quotation from China, but when I finally got round to count the stock I found that despite them telling me that they gave me a few extras… they did but of one colour!

Anyway my contact in China, his name is ‘Zed’ by the way…(‘Don’ left!) … told me he had more stock to send me. Nice to know.

We discussed the issue with the bluey black tops that needed to be remade. He promised me that he would ship them… express .. about 12 days from now..

Then there was the matter of the blocks which arrived dented and damaged… now what really gets me here is that they are sent damaged stock knowing that I would see them. Nevertheless we negotiated as Zed told me he was under terrible pressure .. his boss was very cross with him over this order… (Why oh why I felt guilty I have no idea!)

Anyway I agreed to order more tops at a very reduced price to compensate for damages and this seemed to sort the problem.

Meanwhile I now received my first order from my UK distributor… except that I was short of Gold Tops and the Black ones were being redone!

So I assembled in a large box, what I could of this sizeable order he had just placed and decided to just ring him and tell him the truth that his stock would be delayed.. to which he said he was fine.

I just hope those tops are black!

I then contacted my two contacts in Germany and Netherlands to advise that I was sticking samples in the post and that I would send an invoice across.

The invoice I raised needed to be credited and re raised without VAT as both the agents pointed out that no VAT should be charged as long as their VAT number appeared on the invoice.

Today I also contacted May .. my Chinese contact who made the boxes covered in polystyrene bits!

I have decided to investigate Plan B… to get delivered assembled boxes … no way do I want to assemble the boxes myself.. never again!

In talking to May I was struggling …. How difficult is it for someone to understand that you were not happy about the first order of boxes sent! Despite me telling her that I spent hours cleaning them and many were damaged and unusable… she said “How about when you place your next order we’ll send you an extra 20 boxes … free!”

Find out what happens next in Part 12 – From Sketch to International Distribution .. in 5 Months!

Part 10 – From Sketch to International Distribution … in 5 Months!

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All the stock that I was to need, was pretty much assembled ready for picking by now, so by the Thursday morning, two days after the blocks arrived I was ready to assemble the orders from the Crowd Funding on Kickstarter.

There is nothing worse than telling someone that you have posted something only to find that it has not yet shipped. So I decided that I would ship all the orders first before I would tell anyone.

I had previously ordered postal boxes of varying sizes and had document pouches too for the outsides of the boxes.

I had prepared in advance the mail merge for all the orders too so that the address labels were all printed up with a nice letter. Assembly meant picking each order, checking it and then sealing it.

It took 2 days! Two days to get all the orders to the post office.

On one such occasion faced with a massive queue behind the local two person counter of the post office, I suggested that as I had more boxes to get from my car, perhaps the nice lady behind the counter would like to serve the other customers whilst I got more boxes. She said that was fine.

When I return loaded up with boxes, I started to receive a lot of verbal abuse in particular from a guy broader than a combine harvester and taller than double decker bus covered in tattoos, wearing shorts and waiting to collect his giro!

It was easier to apologise as the assistant behind the counter decided that she would wait until I returned rather than me have to go to the back of the queue! 🙁

Anyway after three visits to the post office over two days all the orders to the backers of Kickstarter were dispatched.

Some of the orders were so heavy that a friend obliged and sent them via his courier account.

Next I contacted the UK distributor … you have to pick up the phone… to build the relationship and ensure that your new marketing channel is as comfortable with you as you are with him. He said he would confirm over the weekend his complete order and transfer money.

Next I needed to address the matter of stock. As I said the boxes all arrived with no indication as to what was in them let alone any quantities. So having packed and shipped a large amount of stock I was able to easily stock take.

Find out how I get on with the count in Part 11 of From Sketch to International Distribution … in 5 Months!

Part 9 – From Sketch to International Distribution … in 5 Months!

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Now let me make it quite clear, I’m not trying to be a hero or superman here, but after working around 12 hours on the day the blocks arrived I was totally aching all over and exhausted.

Building up the box content was challenging and I appreciated the brief periods of help from family to friends.

I started early the following day. I was expecting the tops to arrive.

Around mid morning they arrived.

There were three boxes. Silver, Gold and Black tops.

I immediately checked the quality of the tops. The silver and gold were no problem… but the black top was a big problem.

The black tops are not black.. they are more like a blue black! That in itself would not be a problem but they don’t match the black blocks.

To be fair when I spoke to my contact in China and showed them photos they accepted responsibility immediately.

Problem here was that they said it would be too much to take them back … rather that they just remake them and asked that i use their account to send back a black block so that they could match the colour.

The black blocks were of two shades, but they clearly didn’t match the tops so this would mean delays. (The right hand swatch is the colour of the top).

So after sending the single block back the day was spent assembling the small top box, adding a small foil dot to the box to indicate the contents colour, wrapping each individual top in black tissue paper and placing in the box.

At this point it was impossible to count the stock delivered as everything was just thrown into boxes.

More on this in my next instalment – Part 10 – From Sketch to International Distribution … in 5 Months!

Part 8 – From Sketch to International Distribution… in 5 months!

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The individual boxes had to be hoovered and assembled.. around 800 of them initially and as I said this was a lot of time and effort more so than I had considered initially … so if there is a next time I will implement plan B!

As promised the following week the blocks arrived, but that is actually only part of the story.

China told me that they were shipped on the Tuesday and gave me a tracking number. On Wednesday the online tracking told me it had still not been picked up, Thursday was the same… so I chased China to ask why?

It would appear that once they had the tracking number, there appeared to be no urgency to call the carrier to collect! Basically they gave me a number to imply everything was shipped. Glad I chased.

On the Friday I could see movement on the tracking, with delivery due on the following Tuesday with me.

Saturday I get a call from the carrier. “Could I have your EORi number please?”

I had absolutely no idea what they were talking about, so they sent me a form that I had to complete and required to provide the EORI number to them. They agreed they would release the goods on this occasion as I willingly paid the VAT on the shipment there and then, but they told me that I had to provide them with this EORI number within 25 days or future shipments would not be allowed in.

On Sunday I get another call to say the goods are now held in customs at Stanstead Airport and would not be released until I provided the EORI number!

After a number of calls they again agreed the goods would be released.

There were 15 parcels shipped from China … 14 arrived mid morning.

Again after a number of calls They traced the 15th package which turned up an hour later at my door from another depot.

So here I am with 15 boxes that weigh around 20Kg each… with nothing to indicate what’s in each box!

The tops were due to arrive the day after and so I again tracked and ensured that I would receive them on time… more on this later.

So the work began opening and unpacking each box. My goal was to check and wrap each block in a sheet of black tissue paper.

Now fortunately I had done a lot of pre thinking and planning with the packaging. I had purchased from the internet 2 large packs of black tissue paper and asked a local printer to chop them into four.

I had purchased gold, silver and black dots for the boxes to indicate on each box what was in each box and I had non slip material that I spent hours cutting into little slips to cover the blocks shelf.

So each gift box was stuffed with a single sheet of black tissue paper … this would give the blocks a cushion and cover the bottom of the box. Then I dropped in the box, a single non slip mat for the blocks shelf, carefully rolled and folded another sheet of black tissue paper around the block and placed this in the box. Finally I placed a small marketing slip which the local printer did for me on top of the box.

Find out what happens next after I pack the stock in Part 9 – From Sketch to International Distribution… in 5 months!

Part 7 – From Sketch to International Distribution … in 5 months!

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Oh yes… the boxes arrived!

Totally covered in static bits of polystyrene!

I was furious! The packing of the boxes was so poor! I would have to hoover 1000 boxes before they could be assembled.

The small boxes however were fine.

I contacted May in China and complained … to be fair when I explained the issue she apologised and admitted it was their fault… and went on to tell me that the person that did the packing had been fired!

Talking of fire… I complained too that bits of the polystyrene was sticking to the glue on the tape that held the boxes together when assembling them…

This is what May suggested…

May : and I have an idea
David: ok?
May: maybe we use a fire, quickly pass by the box edges which has polystyrene bits, then the polystyrene may disapear, you know the polystyrene will melt when the temperature is high

David: Are you serious!

Anyway the boxes are are coming along slowly… The biggest issue actually is that I had no idea how time consuming it was to assemble 1000 boxes and of course this is before I start packing the orders and shipping out.

The blocks have not yet arrived and I was assured the tops will be with me a week later.

Until next time… Catch up in Part 8 and see how I get on.

Part 6 – From Sketch to International Distribution … in 5 Months!

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So I had an order placed for 1000 Pen Rest and order for just 250.

Clearly there was work to do!

The first part of my plan was to manufacture part of the order in Black. I had previously only promoted silver and gold. My thinking here was that if I had black that I would relaunch it on Kickstarter as “The Pen Rest – back in black”. If I could sell a similar number as before then this would clear half the stock.

I contacted many independant pen shops and sent out price lists too and then one of the shops I called said … you need to contact Michael .. he’s the major distributor and will contact all the shops… So I did!

Michaels company is a major distributor to the trade with reps on the road visiting the independent shops.

On speaking to him.. he advised that the distributor needed a margin and so did the trade… and significant ones at that.

This was all new to me but Michael advised that the retail price must be set to allow for these margins if I wanted anyone to consider taking it.

I had nothing to lose by appointing him and so promptly agreed. In return he placed a first order for 100 Pen Rest. I now had a UK distributor.

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Michael then put me in touch with contacts in Europe.

After a week, I was contacted by Stephan.. he loved the product. He was also a major distributor to 2400 independent shops. He also wanted to place an order, but subject to seeing samples. His first order would be based on a minimum of 100 Pen Rest.

Stephan though had a condition with the deal. The deal must be that he had exclusivity covering Germany, Switzerland and Austria…. after a discussion I agreed. We agreed too that we would review the progress of his orders, but that it would be for a minimum of 12 months.

So I now had backing for 450 Pen Rest.

Talking to a client of mine about the Pen Rest and someone that had backed it, he suddenly said I’ll take 300 with my corporate logo on the blocks!

Incredible! I now had orders for 750 and was yet to promote them on Kickstarter again.

I was contacted by Bart another distributor! He represented the Netherlands. He again wanted samples before placing the order.

Now here lay a new dilemma.

Here I was getting distributors for a product which I new would never sell millions. It was niche and would be a slow mover. I was certainly encouraged by the reactions I was getting, but also new that until it was in the shops it would not move…. and even then there were no guarantees…. but what if the distributors wanted more stock?

So this was my next worry.

I needed to place minimum orders of 1000 units at a time and clearly didn’t want to be sitting on that amount of stock with cash tied up.

I had also had some great news too regarding my costs. I discovered that the packaging and the Pen Rests were not in fact subject to duty… thus saving me 6% on the costs. It was not a lot but allowed me to keep the ratio price as low as I could whilst making a very very small margin on distributor and trade sales, myself.

Now there were other issues that needed to be addressed such as the boxes to ship out the orders, the internal packaging and coloured dots to identify the contents of the boxes. All of this was ordered in readiness for the initial stock.

Things were working out quite well now; I had kept the backers informed of progress which they clearly liked; stock was on schedule and I was assured that the boxes would be with me by the 1st June…. we’ll have to wait and see.

Find out how I get on in Part 7 of From Sketch to International Distribution… in 5 months!

Part 5 – From Sketch to International Distribution … in 5 Months!

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As I explained in my previous chapter I had set a funding goal based on backing for 1000 Pen Rest due to the volume pricing.

Sadly although the project was running for 45 days I could see it would not reach its goal.

I had pledges amounting to almost £4000 but this was way short of my £12,500 target.

So I decided that I would go back to UK engineering works and see if I could reach a deal.

I approached one engineering works in Nelson, Lancashire and arranged to meet the Works Manager.. a guy called Steve.

He held and studied my prototypes and I asked if he would be willing to make at least 150 blocks and tops minimum based on the Chinese manufacturing cost, the shipping and 6% duty.

He said there was no problem at all. He showed me samples of other work and declared that he could produce the exact same blocks and tops with no problems at the cost.

He dropped me a line and confirmed the price verbally agreed in writing and on this basis I contacted all the backers in Kickstarter to advise that I was terminating the project and relaunching it with a new funding goal.

For the record I did not receive a single backer on Indiego. Not because there is an issue with Indiego, but because all my marketing efforts were focused on driving traffic to Kickstarter.

Almost all of the backers came back on board immediately… this gave it a real boost and encouraged others to jump on board too due to its perceived popularity.

The project was over funded within 48 hours. The funding goal was just £3,500.

By Day 12 I had reached pledges just short of £5,000 … but this dropped back and funding ended up 127% of the goal.

I could see The Pen Rest would be a reality and so kept in touch with the engineering factory, in particular Steve.

On one call to Steve I asked if he could tell me how the blocks would be wrapped after anodising as I was having a box made for The Pen Rest based on discussions with the retail trade.

Steve told me to call the anodising people that would be completing the job local to my home. When I called them … they said they had no idea who Steve was or the engineering company! “Warning Bells!” so I called Steve … who said don’t worry and said that there was just a misunderstanding and no problems.

I arranged to see the anodisers so that they could demonstrate the wrapping. After they had shown me the wrapping method and they had seen the prototypes I left.

Whilst there they said they had no idea how they could have quoted Steve for anodising as they had not seen the blocks or tops.

They then contacted Steve at the engineering company by email and informed him that they could do the job, but advised he should use a certain grade of aluminium. More on this later…

Try as I may it was difficult to increase significantly the backers further, however the end result was a resounding success.

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I managed to raise £4,451 from 76 backers… Almost 250 Pen Rest orders.

So with this knowledge I contacted the Steve to place the order for 300 Pen Rests.

To cut a long story very short, his boss got involved and said that it would cost 7 times more than quoted. That the process was not as simple as they thought, and they could not guarantee the quality.

On this basis I went back to China. I tried to negotiate the same volume price for a lower production but they wouldn’t budge.

Meanwhile I had a meeting arranged with the buyer from a major retail chain. She had been very encouraging the entire time during the development.

I now had retail packaging to show her and The complete Pen Rest … she loved it!

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Sadly her managing Director didn’t!

So let’s recap…

I had orders for a minium of 250 Pen Rest .. paid for.

I needed to order 1000 as a minimum to get the original unit cost, the one retail chain that I was sure would take it … haven’t yet.

So my options were to give everyone back their money, lose the commission paid to Kickstarter and the costs of marketing, prototype, packaging etc… or take a chance, order 1000 Pen Rest and find ways to retail them.

So I ordered 1000 blocks and 700 tops from China.

The following day I hit another problem!

China came back to me to say that the prototypes were made using 5 axis CNC machine. The quote for 1000 volume was based on casting the Pen Rest. However, they then proceeded to explain that they could not guarantee the finish using this process and even showed me images to prove the point!

It would cost more to manufacture using 5 axis CNC machining.

In for a penny in for a pound! So I agreed the new order.

Find out what happens in Part 6 now that I have committed to such a large order.

Part 4 – From Sketch to International Distribution … in 5 Months!

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Everything was now in place to launch The Pen Rest on the crowd funding sites.

I decided though in order to maximise the exposure of one over the other I would only use links to Kickstarter. This way I could monitor exactly what response I got without marketing specifically on Indiego. If this community were able to support The Pen Rest on its own I would know.

Because the volume price was based on 1000 Pen Rest I needed a funding goal of £12,500 which would cover everything including costs, marketing, manufacturing and shipping.

Every day without fail I posted to Twitter, Facebook and sent emails to other creators in the Kickstarter community for cross promotions.

In addition to these obvious things I also engaged a PR company to send out a press release to thousands of major journals, newspapers, media and other journalist sites.

I was looking for traffic … I suspected that if I got enough people to see my Kickstarter project I might just get enough funding to make The Pen Rest a reality.

This was a marketing exercise at the start to see how to drive ordinary people to find something so desirable as back it.

As I studied Kickstarter I began to realise that the algorithms they used to display projects in a category were directly proportional to the response. My thesis that if people saw the project they might back it, was more likely if I could keep the project high in the rankings.

So I invested in a variety of services dotted around the internet that offered to increase social awareness, more followers, and to increase the popularity ranking on Kickstarter.

I also placed adverts using Adwords on Google, Facebook, paid advertising on certain high traffic websites and joined a website specifically for people who backed projects on crowd funding sites.

In addition to this I contacted every blog owner that I could find that was in any way connected to pens, ink, stationery and the like.

When contacting other individuals like blog owners and co creators I asked for links back to the Kickstarter project and a testimonial on what they saw in the project.

(Everything that I did by the way pointed to my Kickstarter project. I decided to let the Indiego project market itself to see if it could generate anything on its own. It would prove if my efforts or that of Indiego brought the backing.)

The results of where the traffic came from were fascinating and perhaps not quite what you might expect.

Find out in Part 5 where the traffic came from and how I got on funding the crowd funding projects.

Part 3 – From Sketch to International Distribution .. in 5 months!

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Manufacturing prototypes sounds such a simple process and to me … it is… but then I’m not making them! I had no idea what exactly was involved in making The Pen Rest and frankly that was really not my worry as long as I could get my hands on the actual prototypes I would be able to get photographs and launch my crowd funding project on Kickstarter and Indiego.

The cost of prototypes is way more expensive per unit than the volume manufacturing price I previously received from the manufacturer… so here was another added expense.

I was certain that I wanted an Apple like finish and wanted the Pen Rest prototypes manufacturing quickly, so I agreed to the prototype order, parted with my money and waited with bated breath!

Two weeks later I received the prototypes. Amazingly they looked exactly like the photorealistic images… and the finish.. actually superb!

One of the items I bought off Kickstarter not so long ago was a product called a Foldio. This is a portable fold up photo booth with lights and backdrop.

I spent the next few days taking images… but something was missing.

If you have read my book on “How to Create Royalties” then you will know that sometimes you need to contact the obvious people to get help.

I contacted a well know established retail chains head office that sold pens. I called and established who the buyer was and contacted Louise.

I received an email back from Louise very interested in the product. I called her and after a chat we agreed that I could go into the local Manchester store, set up my folio and camera and take loads of photos of different types of pens on The Pen Rest.

The results were superb!

So now that I had loads of great photos it was time to upload them to the crowd funding platforms and await approval.

And approval was swift, so I launched the project on both Indiego and Kickstarter ensuring that I began spreading the word through many many channels.

Find out what happened when I launched the social media and PR in Part 4.

Part 2 – From Sketch to International Distribution… in 5 months!

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So the concept, designs and costs were all in, but the next stage was to conduct the market research that would indicate if this could sell or not.

Over many years I have learnt that one persons view on style, design or concept is not proof alone, on the failure or success of a concept.

If my wife listened only to my views she might never buy animal print clothing!

When I asked friends and family about The Pen Rest …. well … frankly they laughed!

So there had to be a better way to establish the following;

  • if people wanted the product without manufacturing it
  • I needed to reach a mass audience on a low budget
  • I would need to use every conceivable free bit of marketing in my test
  • my budget was limited so testing had to be exceptionally sharp

The answer had to be crowd funding.

If you’re not familiar with crowd funding then you’ve been living under a rock! This is the latest new wave of marketing and developing a concept to reality.

Here you set a funding goal, work out what you are asking people to back and then promote like crazy to reach the target for your project.

So I set about writing up all the project details on two crowd funding sites. I chose two of the biggest… Indiego and Kickstarter.

My funding goal had to be based on manufacturing 1000 Pen Rests, covering costs incurred, packaging, carrier and postal charges, etc.

I needed £12,500 for my funding goal… All or nothing… that’s how it works.

Both campaigns ready… I submitted them for approval.

Sadly they were not granted 🙁 There was problem with the images… No photorealistic images were allowed!

I needed prototypes making, if this was to get approval and get it off the ground.

See how I get on in Part 3.. Getting Prototypes.