This installment of the “How To…” series is a little bit different.
Instead of focusing on one specific area of bringing a product to life, we’ve tapped EN member, Elizabeth Crouch, to share her journey of bringing her idea to market starting at the very beginning.
Have you ever seen a cupcake bouquet? The first time I saw a cupcake bouquet, I thought to myself that there is absolutely no way I could ever create anything so beautiful!
I had no cake decorating skills, no patience and absolutely no time, just like most Americans. I wanted to invent an easy and affordable way for anyone, just like me, to be able to easily create a deliciously gorgeous cupcake bouquet.
The idea came about when my daughter, Chelsea, and I were planning a baby shower for my daughter, Shaanon. As a unique twist for the party, we were going to present a beautiful cupcake bouquet instead of a traditional cake. After pricing the bouquet, making one, DIY style, sounded like a better option. But then, after pricing the pieces to create a cupcake bouquet – Styrofoam ball, tissue paper, flower pot, toothpicks, etc. – and understanding that the end result may not end up as lovely as expected, a traditional cake seemed the most appropriate dessert for the shower.
There was no cupcake bouquet at our shower, however, an idea was born!
I always wanted to think of something that could possibly become a product that others would want to buy. Now I had an idea, and it was simple, should be easy to produce, and since it was only August, I figured I could have it on the shelf for the holidays! (Yes, I was the naive one!)
With great excitement, the search was on for an engineer to help design the idea that was pictured in my mind. I figured an engineer would know how to coordinate angles and produce a 3D printout. We met with a local engineer who was more than happy to help us. Unfortunately, after many tears and many dollars, with only a spaceship-looking 3D printout of what he called a cupcake holder, I was at my wit’s end and was not sure how to proceed. Thankfully, my brilliant husband agreed to help me figure out our final design, and our prototype was created. (Thank you Roy!)
With limited knowledge of all the steps to create a product and bring it to life, watching “Shark Tank” brought about some education and a very important step; protection. As patenting is very serious business, I decided to hire professionals. After visiting and consulting with several Oregonian patent attorneys, www.LegalZoom.com ended up being the best choice to file our provisional and utility patent applications. They were affordable, much more so than the attorneys previously consulted, and could get the job done on a timely basis.
Every step of the product development process was new to me. I had no idea what I was doing, or what to do next. I decided to commit 30 minutes a day to my new project and began my research on Google. Soon, 30 minutes was just not enough time! I loved learning the steps of inventing and dreaming about what the future could potentially hold for my family and me with the success of an idea!
Sourcing & Shipping
Sourcing was the next priority on our agenda. Hoping to be a Made in the USA product, I searched high and low to find a manufacturer for my idea. Sadly, there was not a single person I could find in America willing or able to attempt to manufacture The Cupcake Rack. It was time to look overseas.
Recalling a previous conversation about international manufacturing, the website www.Alibaba.com came to mind as reputable for procuring a trustworthy manufacturer abroad.
Perusing the website and using the search filters to find manufacturers of items similar to mine, I came across several companies that looked like they could handle manufacturing The Cupcake Rack. It is customary on Alibaba to send an email requesting a quote or information from the manufacturer of interest. On the site, manufacturing companies are given star ratings by their customers and it shows how many years they have been in business with Alibaba.
After sending out a few emails and receiving responses in return, I decided to choose a company with a very good star rating that had several years in business, the KingKara Group. Shortly thereafter, I was contacted by John Tu, my now beloved son in China!
I began emailing regularly with John Tu. His customer service skills were some of the best I had ever encountered. He was timely, concise, polite, approachable, kind and helpful. We provided him with pictures and details and shipped him our prototype. The quote he returned was low, and he assured us of excellent quality, as well as a timely turnaround for manufacturing The Cupcake Rack. We placed an order for a 20’ container filled with our future!
Remember, I was a newbie at product development, so many of the choices made were based on gut feeling and crossed fingers, hoping the people I was dealing were trustworthy.
Freight-forwarding was also a necessary step at this point. Searching the internet, one company stood out above the rest, www.UniversalCargo.com. Our contact, Angel, was helpful, knowledgeable and informative. He was able to set up the shipment of our container from our manufacturer in China all the way to my doorstep in Oregon.
Living in the country on a tiny bit of acreage, we had the space to keep our inventory on hand. The cost of freight-forwarding amazed me. The price was so low! Angel also took care of all the customs forms and documentation required for receiving international cargo into the US! That was one process I didn’t mind handing over to a pro! (Thank you Angel!)
Things were moving forward with The Cupcake Rack! I couldn’t believe that an idea that had only popped into my head a few months back, was now being manufactured in China. I was expecting to receive a container full within a couple of months! Sure it was a little longer than my original estimate of getting it on store shelves by Christmas, but the journey was so much fun, it was okay that it took a little longer!
An unexpected delay
We are now at the beginning of April, 2013. My grandson, Little Roy, was six months old, my granddaughter, Brooklyn, was a few days old and my container filled with a product that I conceived myself was being manufactured in China! Life was good!
That is, until April 5…
The phone call telling me that Little Roy was being life lifted to Dorenbecher Children’s Hospital came as a great shock! The guy that my daughter was dating said he fell off the couch…
After being told that Little Roy could not survive what turned out to be a brutal assault, we were given a miracle by God. Today, Little Roy is five years old and thriving. He learned how to walk last year and he is an angel from heaven, here on earth! He’s smart, funny, adorable, sweet and special.
When Little Roy was hurt, the manufacturing of The Cupcake Rack was almost done. Within a few days it was to be loaded into the container, but there was no way I could think about business. All I could do was pray at the hospital for God to save my grandson. Somewhere in my brain though, I knew that just because I was dealing with a tragedy, didn’t mean the rest of the world was going to stop what they were doing.
I contacted John Tu and informed him of the events that had taken place. He immediately responded that he and Angel would take care of everything for me. (I actually have a lump in my throat right now, four and a half years later, writing this.) His compassion to me was so great.
John Tu kept his promise. He took care of everything and emailed me every day without expecting a reply. He prayed for us and even sent Little Roy a silver bracelet with the Chinese characters of peace, love, and prosperity. As time moved on, he continued to send words of comfort and support to me regularly. You can now see why I call him my beloved John Tu!
After five weeks and many surgeries, we were able to come home from the hospital with our prayers answered and, even more so, a little baby that survived! As life began to get back to normal, I watched online as my ship sailed the Pacific from China over to Oregon. As it neared the port, I excitedly drove up to Astoria to literally “watch my ship come in!”
The journey began by taking a $20,000 loan from my 401K. They say that one should never use a 401K until retirement, but the risk seemed better to me than working a desk job the rest of my life!
Working full time, the loan was soon paid back in full. From that $20K, The Cupcake Rack secured a utility patent, a 20’ container of inventory (3400 units), a beautiful website (built by the inventor), market research, attendance at trade shows and more.
Today, The Cupcake Rack is sold at www.TheCupcakeRack.com, online at Amazon and Etsy and in a cute little gift shop in McMinnville, Oregon. We sell internationally and have greatly talented customers. We love to share their photos of cupcake bouquets using The Cupcake Rack on our website.
Our next step is to possibly run a commercial to build our brand!
The journey of inventing a product is great fun, but there are many obstacles in the way of seemingly every single step. Unfortunately, rejection is part of the daily life of an inventor.
Keep the faith of your own product, but be sure to keep your mind open to constructive criticism. Try not to be married to your invention. If you came up with a great idea, there is undoubtedly more to follow.
Happy inventing my friends!
Thank you Edison Nation for the opportunity to share our journey!
We’d like to take this opportunity to thank Elizabeth for sharing these personal details with us and the community and wish you ALL the success in the world!
We exist to get product ideas out of your head and onto retail shelves, all at no risk to you.