approaching big box retailers with designs

hello all,

i am a furniture designer in canada and am in the process of approaching big box retailers (palliser, urban barn…) with several of my designs. i have tried to manufacture my designs locally and nationally and simply don’t have the capital to produce such large quantities. although this isn’t an original idea, i am interested to know if anyone else has used this method in realizing their designs, and if so, what advice you can give. thanks.

investors & start-up company or License agreement & low percentage royalty (since you are only giving idea). Seen furniture designer (actually architecture majors) friends be able to negotiate .5% max when they only lisence design and not manufacturing to Ney York, Chicago, and LA based high-end retailers. As you see, the idea/design is the easiest part of the pussle…manufacturing and getting on the shelf if the tricky and expensive part.

Good Luck!

thanks for the reply, designer.

one thing i forgot to mention is the intellectual property issue: once i show someone my designs, do they become open to the public? what can be done to protect my concepts short of patenting them?

this question always asked. do a search. long thread on protecting ip few months ago.

first you should get to know more about the companies you are aproching. For instance palliser is not a “big box retailer” they are a manufacturer! secondly, most of these companies have inhouse design teams.

Try places like Umbra, known to promote local design talent, though they too have their own design team and likely get dozens of unsollicited product proposal each month. Problem is, once you disclose, you’re “ripe for the ripoff”, if only because your prototype can easily serve as innocent inspiration to some. Such is the world of product ideas.

I vote you only team up with a small, reliable manufacturer and do a 50-50 investment deal with them. Get involved in the manufacturing, packaging, distribution, selling and all. You’ll find out design is maybe 5% of the whole, that’s why you’re unlikely to get much when only peddling paper ideas, or even working prototypes. There are many mfrs themselves in search of product ideas and a partner who can especially oversee the maturation process of the ideas well. Also, many mfrs already have distribution channels open up, a major plus for you as a startup.

So, don’t sell yourself to your own competition. Become theirs.

I agree with Addy. Most of what is said is what I have observed. Do not go to a retailer unless you have good information that they will not outright take your idea.

If some one has had a positive experience, lets hear from them. Make contacts and check them out as if you were going to hire them. Ask around and see what type of reference others in your particular industry will give you about the retailer.

I worked with a product manager who presented prototypes to a group and one member of the retail group began to trace the handheld product on a piece of paper in front of everybody. Needless to say they did not buy from us and quickly had the product knocked off overseas. Most buyers have close contacts with offshore manufacturing and are increasingly being asked to come up with new ideas, This is one way that they do it.

Exactly, I have head rummers of a soon to be filed class action suit being brought up against a leading big box retailer. It claimes that the buyers would actually sit in meatings as you said, but also that they would send namebrand products over seas to be reverse engineered. It also claimes a specific buyer went overseas to have a namebrand line of cosmetics knocked off and labled as the namebrand cosmetic. (only discovered after the makup was returned to the namebrand cosmetic company due to skin reactions. When evaluated the formula and base components were wrong!..oops)

seen knock-offs inprogress in Chinese tooling plants. one even a knock-off of product my old employer manufactured. asked about it. was a custom project for big W. nothing most companies can or will do. risk making them angry and lose business and sales. its why so few have online sales. retailers punish them.

other trend is companies/retailers forcing OEMs to compete for business. not with just bid cost and capability anymore but with design. company gets 4 or 5 OEMs competing. they pay designers for work. show it to company/retailer. if OEM doesnt get the project then who does? maybe no one. OEMs eat the cost. companies develop concepts without concern for rights.

At the very least, you want to get them to sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement. Potentially, they will tell you they do not want to because they may already have your idea in some stage of development. Although you may be overwhelmed by the idea of a patent, I would suggest you consider doing a Provisional Patent. A provisional patent is kind of like a “starter patent”. You must describe your invention in detail, but you are not required to write claims, do a search (although you should!), or refer to prior art (past inventions that have similarities to your design). It is also very inexpensive, $80 if you file as a small entity. The draw back to provisional patents is that fact that you must follow them up with a regular patent within a year from your filing date, or you will lose the right to ever patent your design. However, for someone just hoping to market an idea and see if it will sell or not, a provisional patent is perfect.

I took that route and I am currently hoping to have a contract signed with a company that is purchasing my chair design. I submited my provisional patent application the day before my Senior Show (first public display for it) and now that I am working with the company, it is likely that they will cover the additional expense of the utility patent, as I will be assigning it to them.

Good luck.

All this idea protection stuff only works betwen rivals of equal size. The moment you’re a little guy with something new to make and all the big bad wolves are staring you down, you’re practically toast, it’s a reality of both human nature in general and the world of competitive industries in particular. Where there is serious money to be made the elephants will trample the flies.

The patent system in most of the world today is a sham, useless to the vast majority of protection buyers who’ll never get their money’s worth off that type of “insurance”. The state and the attorneys are the only parties sure to profit. If you’re lucky enough to produce patentable and profitable ideas for a heavy-duty employer with deep pockets you are in the best position to successfully take on any eventual copycats - and even then the outcome is uncertain and the costs tremendous. If you’re a little Sunday tinkerer trying to sell IKEA on the next best thing since sliced bread you’re in for an uphill ride. And NDAs are notoriously useless.

It is unfortunate most people with good product ideas cannot also produce and sell them by themselves, they keep hanging on to the myth the millions are easily just around the corner because the benefits of their ideas are just so obvious. Well, guess what, most of the time they are not. Only when they become so do the knock-off specialists come out of the woods. And they are legion out there.

By comparison then, fine artists, writers and musicians have it relatively easy in that what they thought up they also produced and sold themselves with not as many intermediaries required.

Someone out there will surely eventually find better ways to profit from their good ideas without resorting to the obsolete and bloated current patent system. Perhaps too many designers consider themselves the next Edison and don’t realize today’s product markets are vastly more segmented and volatile than 150 years ago.

Try Registering your design. It is not a patent, but can be done up to a year after you first show your design to someone. It is basically like registering a trademark, so if it’s not something overly technical, and mainly just a shape that you want protecting, consider it.

Registering a Design