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New Designs for Vintage Products: WordLock Defies Modern Day Houdinis
(Marketing Memo, October, 2005)

Staples has introduced WordLock, a combination padlock that people open by dialing their choice of four- or five-letter words and not a forgettable combination of pre-set numbers. WordLock has five chambers, each with ten letters, for a total of 100,000 possible combinations.

Stymied by three locks that kept his son out of the swimming pool, inventor Todd Basche designed WordLock in 1998. Basche built a prototype, and by 2003 he had received a patent. But, lock companies were not interested in the lock. Fortunately, Basche learned about Staples' 2004 Invention Quest contest, which attracted over 8,000 inventors. The winner had to last until the finals and receive the most email "votes." Basche won with 147,000 votes. A Northeastern University graduate, Basche recently became General Manager of Trymedia Systems, Inc. (www.trymedia.com).

"Ideation" or the creation of new ideas is about the consumer's [or user's] experience. You can "improve anything," but you must first "get out of your headset," Basche advised by phone:

  • "Look beyond high tech." Consider markets that have stagnated for 50-100 years because of lack of innovation, and envision user-centered product improvements.
  • Know the market. Basche researched user interest, market size/segments, and competition.
  • Create a design that requires little retooling. WordLock and conventional locks both use ten-position tumblers. Basche's patented software selects the letters and order for each tumbler.
  • Present the product in a professional way. Compose an elevator pitch to answer, "What does the product do?" "For Whom?" "How is it different?" "What will manufacturing cost?" "Who owns the intellectual property?" Basche also developed a "sell sheet" and a web site (www.wordlock.com).
  • Form partnerships. Licensing WordLock to Staples gave Basche access to Staples' considerable manufacturing and marketing resources, plus its distribution channel.

Staples marketed WordLock creatively. Lessons learned from the Staples approach are to:

  • Price products realistically. At $5.98, WordLock costs 6% more than a Master Lock unit.
  • Market the "new" product creatively. Staples exploited word of mouth or viral marketing. Contest entrants had to solicit votes. Staples forged a link with contestants, customers, and prospects that had an interest in the contest. The contest and the publicity it generated also sparked interest in the winning products.
  • Add channels. Staples is selling WordLock and other consumer products in Stop and Shop.
  • Explore new target markets. WordLock has potential beyond school and health club lockers.
  • Basche is working on three new products and helping Staples find new WordLock segments.

Winett Associates provides market research and writing services.

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