A couple of months ago I started following a new, unique dog product that I find very interesting. It’s called the SamSam Sidecar. I wrote a news article about the product back in August, and for the last couple of months I’ve been wondering how an inventor would go about marketing a brand new dog product. How do you take your idea and turn it into a product that is on retail store shelves?
This week I took some time to talk with Aad Berkel, creator of the SamSam Sidecar to see how he went about turning his distinctive idea into a reality. Mr. Berkel lives in Holland, and Holland is very much a bicycle oriented country. Unlike America, where bicycling is seen as a sport, in Holland bikes are predominantly seen as an eco-friendly, cheap form of transportation.
Bike trailers for dogs are a popular product in Holland, and all over the world. They are a great way to bring your dog with you, while keeping him safe and comfortable. Mr. Berkel saw the downside to these trailers. They are attached to the back of the bike, meaning that you can’t see your dog, and he can’t see you either. Owners like to be able to keep an eye on their pets at all times, and some dogs have anxiety when they are unable to see their owners.
If there was a way to mount a canine sidecar onto a bike it would easily solve this problem. But there must be a product like that on the market already, right? Nope. Mr. Berkel had a new idea for a dog product that had never been done before. The concept was great, and he knew that if he could get the product on store shelves dog parents would love it too. So, how exactly do you go about doing that?
How Do You Market a Unique Dog Product?
Mr. Berkel understands that his product is unique, and that it isn’t going to be a must-have for every pet parent. He knew he would need to develop his product and market it for his target audience – dog owners who commute by bicycle and want to take their dog with them. When you create a product, the first thing you’ll need to think about is your target audience.
Creating a product that most pet parents already use is great. You know you’ll have a large market, but the problem with that thinking is that these items usually already exist. For example, say you want to market a dog brush, collar or some type of canine apparel. These items already exist, so you’ll need to find a way to make yours stand out from the crowd.
If you create an all-new product like Mr. Berkel, you’ve got the advantage already because there is nothing similar on the market. This advantage can also work against you, because no one will know or understand the product. You’ll need to market your product in such a way that it educates dog parents about what it is, what it does and, most importantly, why they need it.
Berkel worked in the pet industry for many years before deciding to create his own product. One of the companies that he worked for sold doggy trailers that go behind bicycles. While working for this company, he realized how nice it would be to have a sidecar for your dog instead of a trailer that tows behind the bike.
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After a brief internet search, he stumbled upon bicycle sidecars for children, and it got him thinking about how to create a similar product for pets. Design was the obvious first step. To do this Mr. Berkel worked with a company in Holland. He selected every material himself and worked closely with the company to design the product to his exact specifications.
One thing he mentioned to me that I found very interesting, is that he finances his business venture almost completely by himself for just this reason. He does have a few investors, but he requires them to be silent partners. It is very important to Berkel that he get to make every decision about his product. I think that’s important to note if you’re thinking about creating your own product. You do have options, and if you don’t want other people to have a say in your design you don’t have to make that choice.
For Mr. Berkel it’s about quality, and it’s about what pet parents want. With decades of experience working in the pet industry, he knows what pet parents are looking for, and he knows how important quality is to the success of a product. If investors are telling you how to spend the money they are giving you, they may require that you use a cheaper material or they may cut corners in other ways that will affect the quality of the final product.
Berkel did admit that he has made a lot of mistakes along the way, as anyone would, and spent money with the wrong companies. Through that trial and error he found one of the best designers in Holland to help him create a prototype. After the prototype was made, it was on to production. They found a company in China that would manufacture SamSam Sidecars.
Then another issue popped up – someone needed to be in China regularly to monitor the production. The expenses to travel back and forth or stay in China for long periods of time would not make sense, so Berkel also had to hire a company that would supervise production for him. He still gets to make all decisions himself, but he now has someone in the country that can travel to the factory and keep an eye on the production end of the process.
This is something that you’ll need to consider if you’re thinking about creating your own product as well. There may not be a facility in your area that can produce the item, so you may have to travel or include the added expense of hiring a company to monitor your products’ production.
Mr. Berkel explained production to me as if it were an iceberg. Although it seems so easy from the outside, there is a whole world of development that goes on behind the scenes. Like an iceberg, consumers only see a very small piece of the production stage, but underneath there is a huge part that is overlooked.
For example, he talked about the zipper on his product. Something like a zipper seems so simple, but it isn’t. He needed to choose the right size that would function best on the SamSam Sidecar, and he had to research the materials that the zipper was made out of to be sure that he selected something durable that would withstand exposure to the elements.
When creating your own product, there are hundreds of minute details that need to be tended to. It’s not just the major pieces of the product that will be a challenge. You’ll need to make decisions on every small aspect of the product’s design. When you create your own product you cannot just copy a similar design. You’ll need to work with designers who will create molds for each piece, and you’ll have to make choices about each and every material that will be used.
If you want to create a product from scratch, it won’t be easy. It’s going to take a lot of time as well. Mr. Berkel worked for about three years to bring his SamSam Sidecar to life. You’ll need to be patient and understand that there will be many roadblocks in the way. As long as you surround yourself with a good design team and you find the right company to produce your product, you’ll be able to work through all the bumps along the way.
If you think that’s the hard part, you are sadly mistaken. Marketing your product to get it on pet store shelves will also be a challenge, especially if you’ve created a product that no one has ever seen before. That’s the stage that Mr. Berkel is working on now. The SamSam Sidecar is selling well in Holland and many European countries, but now he needs to increase his sales.
At the moment, his goal is to expand to the U.S. He’s working with buyers from large pet retail chains like PetSmart and Petco to get the product in stores over here. The hard part is getting them to see the products’ potential the way that he does. When you’re trying to market a product that people have never seen, it’s difficult to get them to understand its benefits. If the product is so innovative, why hasn’t someone already thought of it?
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Marketing a product that almost everyone will use might be quite simple. However, marketing a product like the SamSam Sidecar, which is only attractive to a niche market, can prove much more difficult. You need to get creative, and it may benefit you to hire a marketing company to help you. If you can’t afford that, you’ll need to come up with a creative pitch on your own.
Berkel is hoping that the SamSam will hit U.S. shelves in the near future. I may even get the opportunity to test one soon, and I’ll be sure to keep you all posted! As I said in the beginning of this article, I find this product really interesting. Without testing it for myself, I can’t recommend it, but it certainly seems like it would be a great product to have if you bike often.
Exercising with a pet is always more fun than going alone, and your dog will love to have the opportunity to explore with you. It’s definitely a much better bonding experience if your pet is sitting beside you rather than behind you. I think our girls would really enjoy it. Our boxer has a lot of anxiety issues, as she is a rescue, and I think it would make her much more comfortable if she was sitting beside me and I could talk to her while we were out for a ride.
A bit about the SamSam Sidecar
The trailer and the bicycle together only have a width of 41 inches, meaning that you can still travel on bike paths and sidewalks. The SamSam is suitable for dogs weighing less than 55 pounds and who are no taller than 22 inches. Unfortunately this means it is only suitable for small and medium breeds.
The SamSam uses the company’s patented B-Connect link to attach the sidecar to the bicycle. More than 80% of bikes are compatible with this device. The SamSam Sidecar is not compatible with E-bikes with a mid-engine, mountain bikes, or bikes with an extra low access. The front and back of the bicycle cannot have any obstacles, like foot pegs, either. Also, the back wheel must be 26 or 28 inches in diameter.
If you work with other companies or have connections in the industry, you may be able to create some really unique marketing material to help pitch your product to retailers. Mr. Berkel was lucky enough to have someone in the videography field reach out to him and offer to make a free video commercial for the SamSam. He didn’t have any say on how the video was made or what information was in it, but as an entrepreneur you learn quickly that you should never pass up free advertising!