Bringing product ideas to fruition
Cogent Products of Hampton
by Colleen Lent
Hampton Union, December 9, 2003[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]
Staff photo by Jackie Ricciardi
Owner: David Allen
Address: 4 Merrill Industrial Drive, Hampton
Web Address: www.cogentproducts.com
In November 2002, the entrepreneur launched Cogent Products, a virtual development, production, and fulfillment service firm, after using some aluminum tent poles to develop the Helper’s Handle Push Bar for his son Jackson’s bicycle.
During Exeter downtown strolls with Jackson, a graduate from a tricycle to a bicycle with training wheels, Allen and his wife Teryn found themselves hunched over pushing or holding their son’s bicycle. Sometimes, Jackson was tuckered and needed an engine boost from Mom and Dad. Other times, he was approaching busy intersections and needed a personal traffic safety officer or two by his side.
"It was rather scary," Allen said. Yet, the adjustable and attachable Helper’s Handle solved the safety issue without giving Jackson’s parents a backache.
"The parents in the neighborhood were quite impressed," Allen said. Within 14 months, Allen found himself researching manufacturing options and the market potential for his patent-pending invention. It eventually led to the production of 5,000 units distributed through traditional brick and mortar, online, and mail order retailers. The opening of Cogent Products, offering a host of services to fellow inventors, soon followed.
Currently, Allen is working with four inventors to research and potentially launch their own products. A non-disclosure agreement prevents him from discussing the details of the relationships. Instead, Allen talked about the consultation process and shared advice for fellow entrepreneurs.
During the first conversation with a prospective client, Allen is candid, citing studies revealing the tiny percentage of ideas graduating to the product patenting and licensing stages. He was quick to mention that many Internet and television invention promotion firms sketch a rosier picture with one hand while reaching for money with the other. "Unscrupulous promoters take advantage of an inventor’s enthusiasm for a new product or service," reads an excerpt from the Federal Trade Commission’s Web site. "They not only urge inventors to patent their ideas, but they also make false and exaggerated claims about the market potential of the invention."
Conversely, Allen said he’s much like a prosecutor trying a case. "I try to poke as many holes in the product as possible," he said. "I’ll sit and chew on it for a day." Allen said there are a host of questions the inventor needs to answer before thinking about production, distribution, and patenting. How well thought out is the plan? Can objections be addressed? Does the product have a broad appeal? Is there a willingness to modify the invention if necessary? Are there similar items on the market? "Basically, it’s linear logic," Allen said. "You can’t go to point B if you haven’t gone past A." Allen said it’s critical to scrutinize an idea from every angle before investing any money on attempting to bring it to fruition.
If a product idea passes the initial screening phase, Allen then discusses his services, which range from researching market feasibility, to finding raw materials sources, to designing packaging, to establishing fulfillment and distribution channels, to providing warehouse space. "It’s very much of a menu, a la carte system," Allen said. He said an hourly fee structure allows the client to maintain control of their invention and finances.
As Allen reflected on the recent transition from owning Sweet Flours, a bakery in Hampton, to launching a research and development facility, he said there are common denominators in the two diverse businesses. He said both require careful planning and use of local business counseling resources. Allen recommended consulting with non-profit organizations, such as SCORE and the Seacoast Business Alliance, and drafting a formal business plan. "You don’t want to blindly throw out darts and hope they hit," Allen said.