An inventor interview with Tony Hemmings inventor of the Swan Neck Pen, which is designed especially for left handed people.
Tara: Please could you tell me a little bit about where you are based, your background experience how you first started inventing?
Tony: We are based in Bristol, England. The company has been trading for about 10 years supplying a variety of stationery and Art Materials to the craft and hobby sector and schools. Over the years we have had many ideas, which we believe are interesting and marketable. The ideas take various forms, anf include various sectors such as fishing, garbage disposal, stationery and other items. Generally the inventions are born from necessity or observation of problems in everyday life. Like most other people, I guess we do not set out to invent something specific but the idea forms in the mind, and the solution to the problem or the opportunity follows.
Tara: Please could you tell me a little bit about Swan Neck Pens what they are and how you came up with the idea?
Tony: The development and Swanneck pen was the case of necessity. Our daughter Amy had just started school and was very excited about the prospect of going to school and learning to write. However, since Amy is left-handed , she immediately encountered problems trying to write in the normal manner. Amy became withdrawn and de-motivated. We had another crisis so we looked around for a solution.. Unfortunately, there is not any other help for left-handed children at school so we set about developing something that could help Amy learn to write without tears.
The solution was in fact simple and genius at the same time. One of our colleagues set about modifying the shape of standard pen to give a better writing angle and greater visibility of the written text. The Swan neck pen incorporates a patented form which allows the lefthander to write comfortably yet see the written word as they progress across the page. The secret of the success of this product lies in the Swan neck shape at the front of the pen which provides a very comfortable shape and perfect writing angle for the lefthander.
Tara: What were the first steps you took after having the idea?
Tony: As with many inventions, we first developed some prototypes at home. The initial prototypes were a great success and Amy’s writing, improved dramatically. In fact, she was so delighted with the initial prototypes, her schoolwork improved spectacularly and we had inquiries from her school friends asking to supply Swan neck pens to them also. We quickly sought help to design and manufacture the pen but, at the same time, we needed to protect the invention , so we started design and patent registration. At this stage the legal costs, time and involvement were overwhelming. We knew there was a market for the product and we wanted to start selling as quickly as possible.
The biggest issue was getting a manufacturer to take us seriously. We approached many manufacturers in various countries. Unfortunately, they did not believe in the product and dismissed the idea as having no future. Eventually managed to engage a manufacturer to create the initial trial products. We managed to market this product, but not without problems.
Tara: Did you try and patent or protect your idea straight away or did you develop it first? How did you go about getting protection for your idea?
Tony: We actually worked on patenting the product in parallel with the development. We needed to market the product as quickly as possible and felt that we could do both at the same time. Subsequently, we also registered the design as an added security.
Tara: Did you get presentation drawing sheets produced or make a prototype of The Swan Neck Pen and how did you go about it?
Tony: We initially made some basic drawings of the product and quickly went to prototypes since the proof of this product is most definitely in the practical trial. Everyone who has used the product finds it comfortable and easy-to-use, either from left to right-hand. We even discovered that Swan neck is also an ideal product for people who write in Arabic , since they write from right to left and have similar problems with writing as lefthanders. We have now developed Web presentations, packaging and product variations to present to the market.
Tara: Did you look into licensing it or was it always your intention to manufacture and sell it yourself?
Tony: Our primary intention is to manufacture products and market them ourselves. Certain markets call for special conditions where we will probably use the licensing route due to local market requirements, duties and distribution. Licensing will be confined to secondary markets , where we already have manufacturing partners.
Tara: You are bringing the Swan Neck Pen in a few different Markets, please can you tell me a bit more about that?
Tony: Our principle markets are the US, Europe and the United Kingdom, the Middle East and Scandinavia. These are currently the most lucrative markets in this product, both in terms of distribution opportunities and product usage. Additional markets in the Far East, particularly China are interesting and will probably be managed, on a license basis. We have had great feedback so far from all the key markets, and we are currently preparing distributor sample packs to roll out into the markets.
Tara: What were the most difficult elements of bringing The SwanNeck Pen to market?
Tony: Without doubt the most difficult element in bringing the Swan neck pen to the market has been reliable manufacturing. As mentioned earlier, we have tried with many manufacturers who have not recognize the potential of this product and have therefore not been prepared to cooperate with us.
Our initial manufacturer was unreliable, both in terms of supply and quality and it took a long time to find alternative manufacturers with the resource and experience to create such a special project. We suffered delays, broken promises, further delays and a fair amount of incompetence. We finally found a manufacturer who was capable, although slow, we proceeded to develop a reliable product, albeit at a price far higher than our estimate. Ironically, as soon as we had started to produce our first samples, we suddenly got interest from many more manufacturers who could now see the potential.
Tara: How long has did you take from your initial idea to taking it to market?
This product has taken over two years, the delay is largely been the manufacturing issue, which has severely slowed the process. It is fair to say at this point that the estimated time and development project is always far shorter than reality. It’s almost a case of think of a number and then double it!
Tara: Is there anything you learned developing The SwanNeck Pen that you would now do differently if you had to do it all again?
Tony: Manufacturing is the key. Everyone will tell you that they can produce the product for you but in reality you are likely to have problems, particularly if the technology’s new it is a tricky design. Seek alternative manufacturers to compare technology and pricing.
Tara: What advice would you give any aspiring inventor with an idea?
Tony: Spend time to make sure that there is a market for the product before you invest. Research the market, and focus groups, collector as much feedback as you can about the market, competition and pricing before you even start to invest on the product. Having the data at this stage will help you develop costs and therefore verify feasibility. The research will also help you when you come to sell the product since buyers love data.
Tara: Where can people connect with you and find out more about you and Swan Neck Pens?
Tony: By email at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org but please look at our new website on www.swanneckpen.com we are now ready to launch the new swan neck pen, We should add how the swan neck pen also restores ‘confidence’, especially in a child, and not just with their handwriting, As we know from experience, Amy is now much more confident in everything she does. And let’s not forget the many, many fantastic comments we have received from satisfied parents of children who now use a swan neck pen. They all said how much more confident and ‘happy’ their children are.
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