You finally have nailed the perfect design for a POP display. You and your colleagues have signed off on themeasurements and specifications, and the render is exactly what you had in mind. The quote you received is in line with your budget, and the timing appears to be acceptable given your in-store roll-out dates. So now what?
The next step is generally to create a prototype. The prototyping process is an essential step in any point-of-purchase display program. It’s necessary for your protection as well as the protection of your display manufacturer. Managing the prototyping process carefully and knowing what to expect is important to keeping your retail display project on track and ensuring you get the results you want. Here are 5 tips that can help ensure your prototyping process is effective:
- Set Realistic ExpectationsThe most important thing to keep in mind is prototypes are usually hand-made. The reason is that in most cases production runs require tooling, which can be expensive. To avoid the expense, manufacturers generally make samples without the benefit of tooling. It’s less expensive and also faster since tooling takes time to make. You can ask for a production quality sample, and in many cases you can get very close, but keep in mind that the quality can almost always be improved in production if you are working with an experienced manufacturer. Most factories in China view samples as rough prototypes that are used to test the fit and functionality for products that will be used with the display. Rarely do they produce production-quality prototypes without close management.
- Proactively Manage the Timing of the PrototypeMost of the prototypes we make take about 2 weeks. More complicated POP displays or larger, more involved store fixtures can take 3 weeks or so. There are a few ways to manage the process to shave off time and ensure that you are not disappointed with your display sample. First, we recommend that you request photos of the prototype through various production stages. By carefully reviewing photos of the parts, you may be able to pick out things that are wrong or things you want changed. Asking for photos prior to the powder coating process or finishing process is one way to avoid delays and rework. We also like to review videos of the prototype. If a floor display needs to spin, for example, it is easy to see in a video if the unit spins smoothly. Pictures can also help to test the load bearing capacity of the display. We often ask our prototyping team to load up shelves and take pictures so we can see in advance if the shelves are bowing. In some cases when our customers are pressed for time they can use photos of finished prototypes for approval rather than seeing a physical prototype
- Consider Materials before Deciding on a PrototypeKeep in mind that some types of displays are more difficult to prototype than others. Not only does this relate to the complexity of the display, but the materials also play an important role. Most prototypes made out of wire, sheet metal, acrylic and wood are usually not a problem. But, if you have a display that requires an injection molded piece or even a vacuum formed part it can be more problematic. Vacuum formed parts require tooling, but it is typically quite a bit less expensive than injection molded tooling so in many cases tooling can be created for the prototype (although this may require extra time). For injection molded parts, sometimes these parts can be laser cut out of a solid material or possibly 3-D printed. However, in many cases you will need to invest in the tooling for injection molds prior to starting the sample. Since injection molds are generally expensive, you really need to be ready to commit to the project at that point. One final example is silk screened logos. Since silk screens require a screen to be burned with your custom art work, it often makes sense to go with a vinyl sticker during the prototyping process to avoid unnecessary spending and to preserve your flexibility for making changes to the art work.
- Be Prepared to Make CompromisesTo ensure an efficient prototyping process you may need to make compromises. For example, if your design requires any kind of specialized materials that are only available in certain sizes or thicknesses, you may need to live with a material that is a close substitute. Similarly, if your design calls for a custom PMS color, you may need to settle for a color that is a close match that the powder coater keeps in stock. In this case, it is wise to request a color chip of the desired powder coating prior to production. Generally, the tighter your time frame, the more compromises you will need to make, particularly since some materials are difficult to procure in small quantities.
- Don’t Overlook the Importance of Good PackingPacking can often be an afterthought in the prototyping process as well as the production process. However, it is a critical step and should be a formal part of the prototyping process. There is nothing more disheartening than investing time and money in developing a great prototype, only to have it arrive damaged and unusable. This can also result in significant time delays as you may have to start over in making a new prototype. If you are sending your sample from overseas by air freight, it is even more important since air freighting is expensive. Depending on the display, you might want to have the prototype crated to ensure it arrives safely. If you are sending your sample by FEDEX or UPS, make sure your display manufacturer takes extra care to ensure your prototype is well packed. Don’t just assume that the packing will be adequate. Make it a habit to ask about the packing approach with each prototype you make. This also applies to packing of production units.
Prototyping is a highly necessary and important step in developing a successful POP display program. Be sure to give it the attention it deserves on your next project.