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How I went from redundancy to showcasing a successful invention on ITV’s Give It A Year

Barry Freeder, creator of Hit Products and CouchCoaster, tells us how being made redundant from a 10-year career led to business success - and working with Baroness Karren Brady

Name: Barry Freeder
Company: Hit Products Ltd
Started in: February 2015

Company description: Having released successful drink coaster inventions, including the CouchCoaster, Hit Products is developing a range of other innovative products which re-invent solutions to some of life’s everyday problems.

Describe your start-up barrier:

Having worked in the property industry for 10 years, I was made redundant in February 2015.

I had to consider whether I wanted to continue working in property or set up my own business in an entirely different field.

What were the practical steps you took to overcome it?

As the prospect of my redundancy grew closer, I arranged several interviews at firms offering similar asset management roles to that which I had been performing in the property investment and development firm I worked for.

Whilst my own workload was winding down, I also explored options for self-employment outside of my industry, centred on the development of a product idea for a drink holder which I had prototyped over the last five years.

Risking it: Making the decision to commit to my product

I was fortunate on two counts:

  • I was able to leverage my employer’s business network in carrying out some market research on my product idea, with a company specialised in developing retail marketing programmes.
  • I was due to receive a redundancy payment from my employer, which would provide me with some finance to kick-start the funding of my idea.

Left with the choice of which path to pursue – and in the knowledge that I had no financial commitments other than a mortgage – I decided that it was the right time, and maybe the only chance I would ever have, to re-invent myself and my career and bring my first consumer product to market.

It was a huge decision to take because I had worked tirelessly; completing a post-graduate course to enter the property industry, as well as passing a rigorous assessment to gain Chartered status with the RICS.

But, whilst it felt like a huge risk to take at the time, it felt overwhelmingly like the right course of action.

Getting the CouchCoaster made

Following the end of my employment, I set up meetings with five UK product design companies to work with in developing my idea. After selecting my preferred consultants, we spent the best part of 12 months finessing the design of my drink holder, which later became known as CouchCoaster.

Around the same time as their appointment, I began liaising with factories in China via Alibaba and Made-In-China – two well-known sourcing websites.

Starting with a list of around 15 factories who manufactured products in silicone, I whittled that number down to three – after hundreds of emails and Skype calls – by benchmarking them against a set of criteria I'd created for appointing a contract-manufacturer in China.

Many fell at the first (and most important) hurdle on my list: communication!

I visited the three shortlisted factories in October 2015, and decided to appoint a mid-sized factory who scored the highest across the benchmarks I had set.

What was the outcome?

After manufacturing a small first production run, I launched CouchCoaster in February 2016 at the UK’s best-known home and gift trade show, Spring Fair in Birmingham. This was my first foray into selling CouchCoaster to retailers.

I also secured a booth at the Ideal Home Show in London (from March to April 2016) where I made my first B2C sales.

These exhibitions validated CouchCoaster as a commercially viable product, and in the two and a half years that have followed, I have sold close to 100,000 units of the CouchCoaster, and launched a second coaster invention.

A few months after CouchCoaster’s launch, I was contacted by producers for a new TV show called Give It A Year, fronted by Baroness Karren Brady. They asked me to participate in their new series, which would chart the journey of various UK firms during their first year in business. My company will be featured in the series on Monday 13th August at 8pm on ITV.

What three key questions should other companies ask themselves before dealing with the issue?

If faced with the prospect of redundancy, use this time to take stock of why you entered your chosen profession, where you are now and where you would like to be in five years’ time.

Consider whether there are any opportunities to re-invent what you do. This could be through study, a change in life circumstances, a redundancy payment or simply utilising your own transferable skills.

Ask yourself what you enjoy doing or what you're interested in when thinking about your career choices. Thinking only about financial factors may not lead to a happy work-life balance in the long run.

What one piece of advice do you think they should take on board?

If you are thinking of starting your own business, bear in mind you will end up living and breathing your business (and finding time to eat and sleep around it).

So, choose an area of business that you naturally gravitate towards spending your spare time doing, or that covers a subject matter you've always been interested in.

Is there anything you would do differently?

I would advise building a network of mentors as early on as possible if you're thinking of setting up your own business or entering a new profession.

I began this process a little too late and it would have been helpful to have had some nurturing advice from the outset.