Guide to Product and Range Development
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Most Small and Medium Enterprises find the work of developing new products daunting; however this need not be the situation. The process of product and range development can be structured and incorporated into the operations of the business as a continuous business activity. Product development is not a static activity because markets are continuously changing

Product development is the process of creating, adapting or changing an individual product or a range of products. Successful product development for export ensures that the right product is available to the right market at the right time and at the right price. Benefits of new product development include; to increase sales; to offer existing customers new products; to attract new customers; to offer choice and variety of product; to replace slow-selling products; to build on the success of good-selling products; to differentiate the range from competition; to be in line with seasonal trends; to utilize new raw materials, new technology or new techniques among other benefits.
Largely having a focused product development process reduces the amount of work and money spent of product development.

The following are the recommended steps towards a successful product development, however it is important to note that product development is not an exact science, creativity and flexibility in the process should be applied.

1.Business Review
Products are developed in line with the following elements of business;
  • Corporate objectives and mission ;
  • Corporate identity as depicted by the values and style;
  • Business financial position;
  • Current market position;
  • Potential market position

2.Market Research
In market research one needs to know the market for which the product range is being developed and which products are needed in that market, both the current and potential markets. Therefore one must;
  • Profile the existing markets to understand the dislikes and likes of the customer, their purchasing cycles, the distribution channels (retail, wholesale, agents etc) and the profile of the end consumer
  • Segment the market in terms of pricing levels, product ranges and other behaviours of the market.
  • Identify various promotional possibilities;
  • Identify trends in product growth areas as determined by consumer habits and economy;
  • Understand the competition;
  • Know the market or trade requirements in relation to the products;
  • Know the current and future market trends as determined by social, cultural and economic factors in the market;
  • Develop a storyboard based in the market research to depict the themes and concept that have been developed after studying the market.
  • Define the market opportunities that come to mind as a result of the information gathered during the market research.

3.Creating a Critical Path
This is a management plan for communicating and coordinating the process of product development. It includes details of actions required by whom; by when; and an allocation of budget

4.Range Strategy
A range strategy provides the business with a clear direction for practical product development. A range strategy includes;
  • commercial objectives i.e. the forecasted turnover for the range;
  • Planned promotions;
  • Target market segments;
  • Guidelines for pricing strategy;
  • Overall style and important distinctive elements;
  • Themes and concepts;
  • Social and environmental considerations.

5.Range Structure
This stage entails;
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  • Managing the range in product groups e.g. ceramics, interior textiles, basketry, wood carving, stone carving, metal ware, etc;
  • Analyzing what products to retain, adapt or develop by evaluating their sales by product group and by customer
  • Defining the total size of the range size by considering that there must be a sufficient number of products to satisfy the needs of the selected market and to provide a broad opportunity for choice; there must be a sufficient number and balance of products to achieve the required total turnover and profit; there must be a sufficient number of products to create a balanced concept and to create impact;
  • Defining the role of products within the range, some roles may be commercial while others are not. Examples of product roles include;
-Core or basic products – their role is to achieve the required turnover and required profit margin, they make the bulk of the product range;
-The Star sales products or Star margin products – their role is to achieve more volume sales or higher margin;
-Range setters – their role is create the mood of the themes or concepts within the range or collection. Their depict the trend;
-The Eye Catchers – Their role is to attract the attention of the customer through a new technique or an innovation
  • Developing product collections – these are families or groups of products with common elements of design linking them together. The common elements may be in decoration, colour, shape or finish;
  • Developing a Pricing Strategy – this establishes the minimum and the ceiling price including the overall margin required per product. At this stage it will be clear whether the products are priced correctly for the target market. Price points are also established at this stage, this is a point where a number of different products are marketed at one price though the cost per product may vary slightly though the value is considered to be the same. The price points have two benefits; they make management easier and performance clearer at the same time the range is easier to communicate to customers.

6.Product review
This stage entails identifying the most successful products within the existing range and reviewing why the products have succeeded or failed. This information helps one to know the products to keep and those to replace as the process of range building begins. The information is build from feedback from customers, market research and sales analysis.

7.    Range building
Range building entails the following;
  • Confirming which products could be retained. These are usually successful, meet the business objectives, and the needs of the market in terms of style, price, quality, function and trend;
  • Confirming which existing products can be adapted. This includes giving existing products a fresher look so as to retain them longer.
  • Reviewing new samples, new innovations and new suppliers.
  • Calculating how many new products will need to be developed to achieve the desired turnover and profits.

8.Range planning
Range planning is about creating an action plan for design development in relation to planned promotional activity in order to achieve desired revenue. Range planning leads to focused and managed product development; it includes collating products into new concepts and identifying starting points for collection.

9.Developing the Design Brief  
A design brief gives clarity on the requirements of the product range development plan so that the thoughts and analysis that has gone into the process so far are fully communicated to the design team or the designer. Design briefs can be developed for individual products or for product collections, a brief includes all the relevant details of a product such as theme, colour palette, finish, price, dimensions, technical requirements, legislation and deadlines as developed in the critical path.

10.Design and Sample Development
The first phase of design and sample development focuses on adapting existing products, adaptation can be done in a number of ways; these include; changing the colour, size, form or shape of the existing products; using different raw materials; improving quality; adding decoration; changing the pattern, the finish and the texture; and adding extra parts.

The second phase of the design and sample development involves export costing and pricing. The third phase is testing the samples; this involves washing to test for colour fastness; testing for lead and nickel content.

The fourth phase of design and sample development involves evaluation of the samples to determine whether;
  • They meet the company’s objectives and expectations,
  • They are fit for the purpose they were developed for;
  • They fit the look of the product range;
  • They are durable;
  • All production costs are taken care of;
  • They meet the legislation requirements

The final phase of design and sample development involves developing appropriate packaging. Packaging can be developed solely for transit purposes or as a component of the product for display purposes. The display packaging can be branded. Evaluate the suitability of the packaging against the rigours of transportation. Ensure that the cost of packaging is added on the cost of the product.

11.Product Selection
This stage entails making the final product selection as per the range plan, getting the final whole sale price and the final product descriptions, coding and price lists. Product descriptions and code names will enhance communication to customers and provide clarity.

12.Range Presentation
Range presentation addresses the promotional strategy which may include product sheets, catalogues, CD catalogues, a website, attendance at a trade fair or a marketing tour. Range presentation ensures that the right products have been selected for each promotion and ensures products are clearly displayed or photographed in their themes and within the collection. The display must reflect the mood and feel of the range and convey the company identity with clarity.

The product display needs to be complimented with supporting promotional materials which can be in the form of company brochure. The brochures can carry background information on the company and the product including techniques used in production. Other promotional materials include large photographic images illustrating how the products are made or how they can be used. A description of each range and the mood being conveyed and a price list should accompany the display.

Finally the range presentation must target and approach new customers by standing out from the crowd, displaying products that are distinctive, priced appropriately, produced in a consistent good quality and delivered on time is the most important and will catch the eye of the market. Once discussions start with buyers, ask for feedback on the new range (what worked for them and what didn’t work), all these information will form the basis for the next product range development when the cycle begins again.

Finally the step by step approach ensures that a comprehensive, creative and informed product range is developed, a range that reflects the company mission and style while at the same time satisfying the customer needs and keeping with the market requirements and trends. The process gives a business a chance to take advantage of opportunities and safe guard itself against threats in the market place. So go ahead and try the twelve (12) stage process of product range development!
Source: CBI Publication: Guide to product range development
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