New Product Ideas
There is often some hesitation to submit an idea. Anything you submit will be reviewed by our product development team. They’re a group of woodworkers here at Rockler with a knack for identifying good solutions to common woodworking problems. Once you submit your idea and it gets a positive initial review, one of the members on our team will contact you directly. They’ll help walk you through our process of exploration, negotiating an agreement, and work with you throughout the development process.
Below are some answers to commonly asked questions from inventors who contact Rockler with an idea or product:
Why should I work with Rockler to develop my product?
There are four main reasons to work with Rockler to develop your idea.
- Our philosophy is to support and encourage inventors who bring innovation to the woodworking market. We do not steal ideas, and we are willing pay inventors for partnering with Rockler.
- Marketing Reach. We touch more woodworkers than any other company in the industry. With over 8 million catalogs, 30 stores, and our magazine Woodworkers’ Journal, we can get the message out about new and innovative products faster and deeper in the market than any other company.
- Product Development Experience. We have a team of product development and marketing experts that work on every project. We also have a staff of industrial designers that work with our inventors to refine their ideas into sellable products. You will have direct communication with a woodworker as you develop your idea with Rockler.
- Company History. We are a 55 year old company that is still family owned. We have developed new products for years, and we know how to bring them to market.
Should I use an independent product development firm to submit an idea to Rockler?
No. We can and will work directly with you to develop your product idea. Using a product development firm will cost you up front, and we are very hesitant to work with development firms. One of the issues we have is that the product is partially, if not totally developed by the time we get involved. And often it does not match up well with our market, or our marketing strategies. We always prefer to work directly with the inventor to develop their ideas.
What is the best way to send in a new product or product idea?
The best way to send in a new product idea is to use the Internet New Product Form. Any ideas sent in through the Internet New Product Form are reviewed weekly by our Product Development Team. You can also send new product ideas to: Rockler Woodworking and Hardware, 4365 Willow Drive, Medina, MN 55340 Attn: New Product Development.
Can I send in a digital photos or video showing my product?
If you have a digital camera, you can take pictures or a video of your product and e-mail them to us at the address listed in question #3. If you take videos with a digital camera, keep them to 1-2 minutes in length with average resolution settings (320 x 240). Then save the video files in either avi, wmv, or mpeg format. Send the photos or video file to us as an attachment to an e-mail. Note that our firewall will not accept files larger than 8 MB.
How much do you pay for new product ideas?
We pay for ideas that are developed into marketable products, not just ideas. Our philosophy is that if the product is successful, we both win. Rockler typically will spend tens of thousands of dollars in development costs and marketing cost before an idea even becomes a product. Typically we pay inventors a royalty (which is a percent of the sales) between 3-5%.
How do you determine the amount you pay an inventor?
Factors we include when looking at the royalty percentage are whether or not the product has been patented by the inventor or whether Rockler would need to patent the product. How fully developed is the idea – is it in a very early stage or has it been fully designed? Has it been designed in a 3D solid modeling program? Are there CAD files available? Do you have homemade prototypes or computer generated prototypes?
How long will I receive payments for my ideas?
Every contract between Rockler and an inventor is unique, including the life of the agreement. Some are for as little as 3-5 years, others are for the life of the patent, if there is one. This is something we define with the inventor as we negotiate the terms of the agreement.
Do you buy products from inventors that are already manufactured?
We do, but they would be reviewed by a category manager in our Merchandising division. If you have a product that is already being manufactured and you would like us to carry it, please submit information about the product and how we can get in touch with you and one of our category managers will give you a call.
Do you manufacture your own products?
We do manufacture our own proprietary products.
Are your products manufactured in the US or overseas?
Both. We do significant manufacturing here in the U.S. and overseas. Whenever feasible, we prefer to manufacture our products in the U.S. However, the realities of today’s marketplace require us to also use overseas manufacturing for our more price sensitive products.
How long does it take to develop a product and bring it to market?
Product development is anything but an exact science. Sometimes things go according to plan, sometimes they don’t. That’s not a bad thing. Some of the best products are the result of a very long and erratic process. The point is that every product development project is different. Some take a few weeks to develop, and can be in the marketplace within 3 months. Most take 2-4 months development, and another 3 months to manufacture and bring to market. Others can take much longer. It all depends on the complexity of the project, the completeness of the idea or design, and on how many unknown issues crop up during the development.
Will I be involved with the development process?
We always work closely with inventors during the development process. We have a team of very creative industrial designers and product development specialists at Rockler that are experts at identifying key features and benefits of a project. They are also very experienced in determining what will and will not sell in our market, and at what price point a product will sell at. Working together with an inventor is always our philosophy.
Does my idea have to be patented?
No! Your product or idea does not have to be patented. Whether or not a product should be patented depends on a significant number of factors. Determining whether or not it should be patented is one of the services we provide during our evaluation of the product or idea. However ideas that are patented do have more value to Rockler, since they are less likely to be copied. But some ideas simply cannot justify the significant expense required to patent them. And others do not have the life cycle required to survive in the marketplace even long enough for the patent to be granted, which can take up to 5 years!
How do I protect myself from having my idea stolen before an agreement is signed?
Once we conduct an initial review of your idea, we will sign a Mutual Non-Disclosure Agreement that protects both Rockler and the Inventor before a formal manufacturing and marketing agreement is signed. Using a Mutual Non-Disclosure Agreement allows the inventor to openly share his idea, prototypes, and concepts to Rockler without authorizing any manufacturing or profiteering in any way. Rockler can also identify any projects they are already working on that could be a conflict of interest and disclose this confidentially to the inventor. During this stage, either Rockler or the inventor can step away from the table for any reason, and have legal protection against the other party from using the confidential information, samples, prototypes, etc. in any way.
If I sign an agreement with Rockler to develop and manufacture my idea, can it still be stolen by some other woodworking company?
Unfortunately, there are companies in the woodworking market that thrive on stealing ideas and products from others. Rockler has designed and developed many products that have been copied in the woodworking marketplace by less honorable companies. Patenting products, when it makes sense, is one of the few ways we have to protect products from being stolen. Unfortunately, companies that are willing to steal ideas and product designs are also very good at working around patents. A very common misconception is that patenting your product will prevent it from being copied. It's simply not that simple. Patents are very specific, and as such, can often be avoided by a good patent attorney and industrial designer. But they do give some level of protection, and to be honest, there really isn’t anything else you can do to protect your idea or product – except to work with businesses like Rockler that do not knock off other companies products.
Isn't competition for your product by others a good thing in the long run?
In theory this sounds good, but the problem we run into is that an inventor comes up with a good idea. Then they contact a reputable company like Rockler and come to an agreement for being paid a royalty for the products sold. Then someone decides to take our product and have it knocked off and start selling it. The problem is that both Rocker, the company that spent all the money developing, manufacturing, and marketing the product, and the inventor who came up with the idea in the first place neither get any compensation for the sales of the knockoff. If we truly want to encourage innovation and entrepreneurial spirit in the woodworking market, we need to discourage knock offs by NOT BUYING THEM or supporting those companies that operate in this manner.
Can I take my idea to anyone else?
It depends on how we structure an agreement between you and Rockler. Most of the agreements are for exclusive rights, meaning you cannot offer it to anyone else. But some ideas are not exclusive to Rockler, and they could be offered to others. Obviously ideas and products offered on an exclusive basis have more value to Rockler, and would be paid a higher royalty.
Do I need an attorney?
We try to keep our agreements as simple as possible, and often they can be completed without an attorney. However, we ALWAYS suggest you have an attorney look at the agreement to be sure you know what you’re signing. We also make sure you realize that attorneys have a self interest in changing language in an agreement. That is how they get paid. Just keep it in mind, because sometimes the changes are meaningless, but very expensive!
If I have shown my idea or product to another company, do I need to disclose it to Rockler?
Yes, we would need to know who and when you have shown your idea or product to. This is discussed after we both sign a mutual non-disclosure agreement.