Monday, April 18, 2011

Everyday need develops into new business for entrepreneur-inventor

Showcasing early entrepreneurs has a twofold purpose. One is to offer an added marketing communications or social media element to help promote their businesses. The second is to provide a forum through which they can guide other aspiring business owners around avoidable obstacles and toward a path of attainable goals. Sharing insights starts with hearing their stories firsthand as through this conversation with

Grace Amante, owner
3J Group, Inc.

Like many businesses, 3J Group, Inc., was formed out of necessity – the need to develop a product that did not exist. While I was working during the day and taking college courses in the evening, I found myself balancing a quick meal on my lap in the car before class. I tried using magazines or newspapers to stabilize my dinner, but nothing was working. Yet, I couldn’t find anything of substance in the marketplace that would work as an in-car lap table. So, I decided to build a prototype of what is now known as the AutoTray. It’s a compact, portable, lightweight food tray with a non-skid surface that rests comfortably on the lap. It measures only 8” x 15.5” and less than an inch high which makes it easy to stow away in any vehicle. Plus, it has a crumb compartment and an indentation to rest a cup.

Similar type products to the AutoTray are heavy, more bulky, expensive tables designed not for food, but for reading and other tasks. Consequently, they are not easily stored in the car, especially if you’re stowing one per person for a normal-size family. My product is thin, yet durable, and fits under the seat, in the door’s side pockets and, of course, in the trunk where it takes minimal space. In addition, I made it a point to make the AutoTray affordable so that the everyday family can easily afford them.

Several consumer groups would fall into my ideal client category – People who spend a lot of time in their vehicles and on the road either for work, school, running errands, or taking road trips. Naturally, these would include families, salespeople, truck drivers and students.

For the most part, I’ve been promoting the AutoTray by taking it on the road so to speak - attending networking events, conducting focus groups and by word of mouth. Right now, my immediate goal is to direct prospects to my website. To do this, I’m getting ready to advertise on Facebook™ and Google™, and am considering a YouTube™ promotional video.

What surprised me the most about developing this product was learning about consumer habits through my focus groups – what they buy and what drives them to buy. For example, how parents' tastes greatly differ from their children's when it comes to colors. The main thing that I would have done differently would have been to do more upfront consumer research to see exactly if this type of product would appeal to the masses and if so, what they would like to see in such a product. I could have avoided many expensive rookie mistakes had I conducted the focus groups first. But, at least, I know I will never make these same types of mistakes again. My advice to aspiring entrepreneurs would be to do your research up front so you don’t find yourself putting the cart before the horse.

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