My wife and I ventured to Bed Bath & Beyond this weekend to purchase new bedding for my teenage daughter. As I wandered the aisles, as I tend to like to do, my expression wavered from surprised, to dumbfounded, and finally, to one of disgust. Standing in front of an aisle that shelved coat hangers, I could barely believe how many were before me. Some were made out of plastic and some were made out of wood. There were a few different colors on display. But the design of the coat hanger never changed! How many coat hangers did we need to choose from? And why weren’t they any different from one another? Was this truly the most superior shape for hanging my clothes?
After we returned home, I Google product searched “coat hangers.” There were over 100,000 different items for sale. “Wood coat hangers”? There were over 20,000. I learned that the shape most of us use today was inspired by a design invented in 1869. This item was screaming for an update. And as I researched even further, I learned that one had been designed. Although it isn’t in stores yet, the “Z-hanger” should be soon. The new design makes it possible to slip the hanger into a narrow opening, such as a turtleneck, without stretching the garment. And one article put it, using the product “makes you wonder why hangers weren’t always this way.”
When I write about the power of making small changes to existing ideas, this is what I mean. Do you know how many coat hangers are sold each year? Two to three billion. That’s an enormous market. The Z-hanger isn’t a technical gadget. It isn’t a complicated design. It’s a creative, simple improvement on a product you and I use everyday.
Does making an improvement to an existing product guarantee that a company is going to license it from you? No. I can never promise that. But if the product is already being sold, and your alteration legitimately improves the user’s experience, doesn’t that sound like a product that’s likely to generate interest?
Stephen Key is a successful award-winning inventor who has licensed
over 20 products in the past 30 years. Along with business partner
Andrew Krauss, Stephen runs inventRight,
a company dedicated to educating inventors about selling their ideas
and the skills needed to succeed. You can listen to the weekly radio show on inventing. Get In The News, list your invention to have media outlets find you for news stories.