Here are some tips for inventors on getting your new product ideas to market.
1. Firstly, read "How can I protect my invention?" below, then read on.
2. Talk with people who are inventors like yourself that have been through the process of commercializing their products. These people will be able to tell you what they went through, what concerns they had and how they dealt with them. They can also suggest to you others who may be able to help you commercialize your product.
3 Do more thorough market search yourself or have an experienced person or company do it for you. This should not cost you more than about $300 to $900. If it costs more, I would check other companies who do similar work. Your market search includes determining where the product will be sold (hardware stores for hardware items, sports outlets for sports item, etc.). Talk with the department manager or buyer in the store and ask if they have a product that solves the problem (do this yourself rather than hirig a person or company... it is invaluable learning for you). Also, go to the library and check every magazine/trade journal in which similar products would advertised.
4 Get feedback from potential customers. Make or have made (such as at a prototype company you find locally) a small quantity of prototype products (e.g 5-10). Find several local stores where would people look for such an item and get the store owner's permission to solicit customer comments (feedback) about your products. Let the potential customers feel and operate your product, then fill out a short questionnaire (or you ask them the questions and record their answers). Take good notes as memory is no way to run a business. You can offer them an incentive to give their feedback such as a keychain or other inexpensive novelty if you feel it necessary. Get feedback from at least 50 to 100 potential customers, preferably more especially if patterns of responses do not appear yet. Be sure to ask how much they think your product is worth to them (or how much would they be willing to pay for your product). You might also consider attending a trade show for your target market.
5. If 4 above proves positive, do a test market study. Have a small quantity (20-100 or more) of saleable products manufactured, package them nicely, and have the same local stores sell them on a consignment basis (i.e. the sore does not pay for the products unless and until sold). Be sure to have your product "engineered" (i.e. designed by an experienced engineer or product designer who understands product strength, safety, durability, and failure modes). This includes engineering drawings (or computer models) of your product for reproducibility.
But don't spend a lot of money manufacturing them (particularly on tooling you will likely end up changing any tooling you buy at this point in time based on further customer feedback). You may include a survey with an incentive to return it (such as cash back) packaged with each product sold. This gives your actual customers time to use the product more thoroughly and also tests product durability (hopefully you will not have any product failures since you had it engineered as described above).
Keep in mind that your prototypes must be of a quality and construction suitable for use by the public. There may be government regulatory requirements applicable to your particular type of products (e.g. Food and Drug Administration or relating to small parts that are a choking hazard to infants). Be sure to research this thoroughly or possibly face stiff consequences such as fines or imprisonment! Worse yet you do not want to have your product hurt someone and be sued. Investigate products liability insurance coverage too for added security and peace of mind.
As far as product marketing, inventors have basically two choices, 1) licensing and, 2) venturing. To license your product means you grant the right to a manufacturer to make, market and sell your product in exchange for a royalty. The royalty is paid as a percentage of sales, or a per unit dollar amount, or some other arrangement. The benefit to licensing for the inventor is it is far less risky than venturing and there is no capital outlay (other than what has been invested in development). The right manufacturer already has the channels of distribution in place and hopefully the funds to properly market product. The disadvantage is the loss of control over the sales and marketing.
In venturing the inventor makes and markets the product himself. This is a highly risky, but possible, prospect. The more business experience the management team (notice team, not necessarily inventor) has, the greater the possibility of success. What prevents most inventors from going the venture route is the large amount of up-front capital required for manufacturing, building inventory and marketing the product. It is easy for an inventor to think that because his product is inexpensive to make that he could easily operate his own venture. They forget that an inventory must be built and maintained. Additionally, proper marketing must be done to make the target market aware of the product and to create the demand. This is usually not cheap. I should also add that if the product is one that is best sold through retail outlets, mass merchandisers for example, there will be the hurdle of convincing a buyer to take a chance on your new product and new company. It will be all the more difficult if your company is a single-item manufacturer.