The Prosumer Path to New Product Ideas

Entrepreneurs looking for products to bring to the market have a variety of ways to come up with product ideas. Some take the path of looking for a problem in search of a product solution. Entrepreneur magazine says to focus on ‘must have not nice to have” products, which is excellent advice. These can be brand new concepts, or taking something that’s already out there and making it even better, easier, smarter, etc. Examples mention Google having made searching better, Amazon simplifying online buying and selling, Netflix solving on-demand streaming media, and Uber making on-demand car service more efficient and accessible. These were BIG ideas that turned into BIG companies.

Another path, and the path I want to address in this article, is to look at existing commercial or professional products and convert them to consumer versions sometimes referred to as “Prosumer”. These are products that have enjoyed a proven track record in their respective spaces but would also open up a major market opportunity to the visionary entrepreneur who seizes the idea and turns it into a desirable consumer product. Two such products were Mister Coffee and their drip coffee makers and Conair with their home hair dry blowers.

Mr. Coffee became the first in-home automatic-drip coffee brewer, a huge advance over pumping percolators,” It was a “home version” of the Bunn-O-Matic restaurant and office brewer. It took that Bunn-O-Matic and re-engineered it to a smaller and more elegant design suitable for home use. By revolutionizing the way coffee was brewed in the home, Mr. Coffee became synonymous with home coffee making not unlike Kleenex did with tissues or Band Aid did with bandages.

When the product was introduced in 1972, it was an instant hit. By April of 1974, they had sold 1 million units and garnered 10% of the American coffee market! At the height of the business – and prior to other small appliance makers like Proctor Silex, GE, Norelco and Sunbeam getting into the business – they were producing 40,000 units a day.
A great success story of taking that professional concept and bringing it to the masses.

Here’s another one of those stores.

Continental Hair Products – more widely known as Conair – started their explosive growth with the first pistol grip hair blower in 1969. These were considered far superior to those bonnet type dryers ( those of you who are old enough, remember seeing those on the floor of every beauty salon). Initially sold just to beauty salons, (or beauty parlors as my mother referred to them) , the interest on the part of the salon customers led to the introduction of the Conair “Pro-Style” blow dryer designed for home use. Just like Mr. Coffee, it was an instant success. From sales in 1968 of $1.1 million the company grew to $12.6 million in under 5 years. Not too shabby. The company was able to parlay that single product and leverage their distribution into a wide assortment of home beauty products, and the rest, as they say, is history

These are but just two examples. There are many others (the camera and camcorder businesses come to mind as ones who have complete lines of “Prosumer” products….in fact that’s what they call them – Prosumer – in their catalogs.) By looking into the marketplace and recognizing how a professional product will bring the attributes of better, simpler, easier, not to mention the perceived value of buying a “professional “ product for home use, an extremely successful business can be built as was illustrated by Mr. Coffee and Conair.


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