Background — Prior Stages
Historically, one of the most troublesome tasks of preparing food has been the daunting task of opening vacuum-sealed jars. From pickles, to mayonnaise, to sauces of all kinds, a large variety of prepared foods and condiments in today’s supermarkets are packaged in jars. People of all ages and ability levels have struggled with this task. Multiple devices have been conceived to assist with opening jars, yet all these devices still require the consumer to provide resistance and a great deal of force and effort to operate and open a jar. Initial scope of this project included performing a preliminary market assessment including conducting a consumer panel to verify the need for the device; a preliminary business assessment including searching for competing products and technologies; a initial technical assessment accomplished searching the Internet and patent databases for a feasible, low cost fully automated device for opening jars with minimal or no consumer effort; and lastly planning to assist in its commercialization in the general consumer marketplace. Formal research (Stage 3) was not required as suitable inventions had already been developed.
Seek Key Co-development Partners: Located a BF Goodrich Collegiate Inventor Competition winner on the topic of jar opener — found research was funded by and assigned to Black and Decker (B&D). Contacted B&D to inquire about their plans, if any, for the device. B&D reported that they were not satisfied with the current device design. B&D had a hesitant attitude towards acceptance of the product and believed that there was an undefined and “unclear” market for it. From a consumer standpoint and an overall market perspective, questions and concerns arose as to whether there was actually a genuine need for such a product, whom would they sell to, and would people really use it. We conducted a consumer focus group on the concept to verify the need for the device, and assist in defining the market and the price point for the device. With this information, we were able to provide a convincing argument to B&D to take on the project.
Propose Draft Solution: By October 2000, B&D had agreed to take on the Automated Jar Opener project and had assigned company employees to begin working with us on the concept. At that time, B&D made an internal corporate decision to pursue their own prototype device concept instead of using prototypes submitted by others.
Outline Preliminary Business Case: The primary market was for the general population who has difficulty opening jars, and the secondary market included the elderly and/or those individuals with a physical disability, and possibly children. Individuals with arthritis, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, orthopedic impairments, and carpal tunnel syndrome, as well as people who are only able to use one hand, would find this device useful, as it allows the jar opening process to be more automated. In addition to the general population of the United States, it is estimated in the 1992 Disability Statistics Report that 5,840,000 people in the United States need assistance in the instrumental activities of daily living. Using a conservative estimate of potential purchasers in a given year, 1% (58,400) of people who need assistance with activities of daily living and 1% (77,040) of the general population who annually purchase an electric can opener, at a price of $40 per jar opener potential annual sales would be $5,417,600.
Implement IP Strategy in Collaboration with Technology Transfer Office or Patent Attorney: As we were only supplying device concept functions and features, all intellectual property rights would belong to B&D who was designing the device based on input we obtained from consumers.
Assess Regulatory, and Reimbursement Requirements: We were approaching the device as a mainstream product for consumers rather than marketing the device as an ‘assistive technology’; therefore there were no reimbursement issues to address. Regulatory issues, such as UL approval, were to be handled by B&D.
Initiate Key Co-development Practices: A formal agreement was reached with B&D on the level of involvement of our staff in the project plan. We would be responsible for providing a commercialization package detailing potential market size and segments, primary market research in the form of alpha and beta focus groups and would assist in identifying market outlets.
Assess Resource Needs and Availability: Determined that the project would require support from B&D engineering, product design, model making, and marketing staff.
Develop Implementation Plan: Distribution would first be through an Internet product launch as a preliminary ‘testing of the waters’ on consumer purchase intent and price point. Even though our consumer testing had shown a consumer price point of $40, B&D elected to go with a retail price of $49.99 at its Internet product launch. Follow up distribution would be through mainstream retailers (Wal-Mart, Target and others) currently selling B&D products.
Secure Resources for Development: Internal corporate resources from B&D were secured for implementation of this project.
Allocate Adequate Resources: Internal corporate resources form B&D were secured for implementation of the majority of this project. In addition, T2RERC resources including staff time and funding for consumer testing activities were assigned and made available to B&D throughout the product development process.
Gather, Analyze and Prioritize Customer Needs: Three in depth alpha (concept generation) consumer focus groups were run on the jar opener topic, with B&D engineers and product designers remotely watching the groups in real time from their corporate headquarters. 29 key design functions and features were identified by consumers in the groups for incorporation into the final product.
A key fact found in the focus groups was that the target user market would not be the target purchaser market of the product. While the elderly clearly wanted and needed the device, they were not willing to spend any money on purchasing the device. However, they were very willing to receive it as a gift. The true sales target market for the product became the adult children of the elderly, and it was decided that it would be marketed as a gift item during the December holidays and at Mother’s Day.
Identify Device/Service Features and Specifications in Light of Production Capabilities and Component Costs: As B&D had an abundance of prefabricated can opener motors in dormant inventory, the initial product design would have to incorporate the use of these can opener motors. Unfortunately, due to the size and configuration of this motor it had to be placed in the top assembly portion of the jar opener unit. This forced the consumer to lift the motor each time the appliance was used. Once this inventory of can opener motors was exhausted, subsequent designs placed a smaller motor in the base of the unit negating this problem.
Complete Business Case: B&D incorporated 27 of the 29 recommended features into their beta prototype, which they provided to us for further refinement. We ran two beta focus groups on their prototype and from foam models provided by B&D product designers, the beta focus group participants selected the final handle placement and configuration, and the size and placement of the device’s activation button. Resulting design recommendations were paired with market information, price point and purchase intent data in the form of a final report presented to B&D. B&D then used this information to complete their business case and move into full production.
The B&D Lids Off Jar Opener had its formal debut at a marketing/press event called Christmas in June in New York City in June 2003. The device was first sold exclusively through the Internet at a retail price of $49.99. Initial Internet sales were slow. After a month or so, B&D lowered their retail price to $39.99 (price point identified in our consumer focus groups) and sales of the new jar opener took off. Sales were so robust that B&D sold out of initial product run in November 2003 and had to withdraw its December holiday advertisements for the appliance, as it no longer had product to sell. When inventories were replenished in February 2004, sales continued at a very rapid pace. B&D sold over 1 million Lids off Jar Opener in the first year. Later subsequent production variations of the appliance included a professional model (stainless steel appearance), an all in one opener combining the jar opener with a can opener and bottle opener, and some slimmed down designs which had the motor in the base of the unit and enhanced features such as one touch activation anywhere on the top of the unit (elimination of activation button).