At the end of the last blog, I had just returned from two incredible trips around the world. I came back with a collection of stories, some lifelong friends and, to my surprise, a business idea. Though I had a very clear image of what I wanted the product to be, I had the minor obstacle of having absolutely no idea how I might make it.
It was time to make that dream into a reality. Turns out, turning an idea into a tangible product isn’t easy! With absolutely zero experience in product manufacture, I was in for a steep learning curve and a spend larger than I could have ever imagined.
The first step on my to-do list was to select the specific products that I wanted to include in my travel pack. Though I had an exhaustive list of essentials, I had to nail down the exact make and model of each item so I could build a pack around them.
What ensued was far more purchases than I’d like to admit. I would source each item online, and when I received it, I would put it through its paces. It was incredibly important that each item fulfilled its purpose, was durable enough to survive the stresses of international travel, and importantly, was TSA compliant so it could be taken on planes.
My first port of call was always brands that I’d personally had success with on my own travels. These products would be the easiest to include because I knew, from first-hand experience, that they were up to the job. I’d purchase them, double check that they were the same standard and then add them to my list of approved products. The rest, I would thoroughly test myself to make sure they were up to the task.
I ordered plenty of duds along the way, and soon my bedroom was a graveyard of subpar travel items. Everytime anyone came over, they’d burst out laughing at the random collection of products I had in every nook and cranny. It took a lot of explaining to make them realise that I wasn’t some deranged hoarder. A lot of them thought I was mad, but I knew that if I could stay the course, I might just be able to help thousands of travellers just like me.
Boxes and boxes of items for the Savvy Travel Pack taking over my bedroom
Soon, I had finalised a collection of products that I knew were high quality and would withstand the rigours of backpacking across the globe. It was time to create a pack to store them all in. I had already established that it had to be small enough to be practical, have a way to attach it to the outside of a daypack, durable enough to survive backpacking and waterproof to withstand all weather conditions. With this specification in mind, I set about designing the ideal storage solution.
I’d love to say that I possessed amazing sewing skills and was able to knock up the perfect pack with minimal effort. But I didn’t. Instead, armed with a Pritt-Stick, I got all arts and craft with what I had to hand. Exercising the expert skills I had established in primary school, I made a 1:1 pack out of the world’s most durable and practical material: paper.
After more hours than I’d care to admit, numerous erroneous attempts and about 50 paper cuts, I had finally fashioned something that looked like a travel pack. As I admired my own handiwork, it was a struggle to contain the laughter. In my head, my paper creation was set to be an exceptional example of clever design and ingenuity. In reality, it looked like a 9-year-old’s school project.
Though it was a slight dent to my optimism, if I used my imagination, I was beginning to see how the pack might actually work. My paper model did actually hold all of the items I wanted it to and would roll up into a size small enough to be carried at all times. I was starting to get somewhere.
However, it was clear that it was time for me to get some assistance if I was to turn my origami masterpiece into a feasible product. Too embarrassed to show my creation to anybody, I got slightly more serious and created a technical drawing of my flimsy prototype. The drawing showed exactly where each item would be stored and how I imagined it might all come together.
Now I had to find someone with the experience and skills to make a sample ready for manufacture. After a few exchanges with various freelancers online, I found a lovely lady who assured me she could turn my technical drawings into the real thing. All I had to do was supply the materials. I had no clue which would be best, so I sheepishly asked for her recommendations and sourced them online for an extortionate price.
Very pleased with myself, and dreaming of how my product would soon be on some high-tech production line, I waited for the delivery of my first ever sample. Eventually, it arrived at my door and I excitedly tore open the package. Unfortunately, that’s exactly where the excitement ended. Perhaps my expectations were a little high, but dear lord, if I thought my paper pack was bad, this was something else...
As I sat there, head in my hands and already four figures deep, I started to wonder if I was ever going to make this idea of mine work. In my head it had all seemed so simple, but the reality was proving itself to be very different. I had two choices: give up now or go back to the drawing board.
The former was certainly the easier option, but my mind kept wandering back to the travellers who had offered so much help in the initial stages of Savvy Travels. I knew this product could help them, just like my makeshift pack had helped me. So with slight trepidation, I forged ahead.
With my confidence slightly deflated and the bill I was footing growing ever-larger, I started over. This time around, I was determined to do everything properly. I learned that standard practice in manufacturing is to create what is known as a ‘tech pack’. In a nutshell, a tech pack is a blueprint that contains all the materials, components and instructions a manufacturer needs to take an idea and make into a real life product. It would also help me nail down all of the final details and fill any gaps in my design.
I found a young designer who had the knowledge and chops required to help me out. Her input (and patience!) would prove to be absolutely invaluable. Over countless meetings and conversations, we drew up a document that held the keys to making my dream a reality.
Along the way, we altered and improved my original design, coming up with various additional features we wanted to include:
- Add a plastic buckle to make the pack quick and easy to open and close.
- Make the final product out of waxed canvas so it was durable and waterproof.
- Add side flaps to make more room for items and improve the waterproofing.
- Make sure the pack attached to a daypack with a screw-lock carabiner to make it easy to access whilst also deterring thieves and being secure.
Finally, I had to settle on a colour scheme for the pack. So I did what any young man with little experience in aesthetics would do: I called in my mother. After many hours of discussion with her, alongside feedback from anyone who would lend their opinion, we came up with the navy and orange that you see on our packs to this day. The decision was not purely based on looks; the navy stops the pack from becoming too grubby, whilst orange makes it easy to spot, even in low light.
Now armed with my tech pack, I was actually starting to feel like a real manufacturer. After months of product development, it was finally time to find someone to make the very first production run of Savvy Travel Packs. Although at this point it wasn’t actually called a Savvy Travel Pack. I had played around with a few different ideas, from the frankly riveting ‘Clip-On Travel Kit’ to the abstract and enigmatic ‘Chris’. But as I stood ready to commit to producing 50 of them, I started to have my doubts.
I needed something more interesting than a cardboard box, but also more informative and easy to understand than ‘Chris’. After pulling my hair out for a few days, the word ‘Savvy’ came to mind. I felt like it neatly encapsulated the spirit of the product whilst being catchy enough to be memorable. And so, Savvy Travels was born.
After a few non-starters with manufacturers that were well outside of my dwindling budget, I found a small company to produce the pack. By some strange coincidence, it turned out that their premises were just across the road from my dayjob. It seemed like a match made in heaven. The only problem was, I had to source all the materials myself.
Wildly out of place dressed in my work suit, I started visiting every haberdashery in London to secure what I needed. If I’m honest, I had no clue what I was doing, but doing it I was. I tried my best to come across as professional and well-informed, but I’m pretty sure the suppliers saw through my ruse. However, after some hiccups (including the fact that they would only deal with someone with a business account) I sourced everything I needed.
We were all systems go.
Soon I was collecting packs in dribs and drabs in my lunch-break and after work. I began trying to peddle them to any friends and family members who could be guilt-tripped into buying one. Though I’m sure a lot of those early sales were out of pity, after all I had spent inordinate amounts of time and money, the feedback was actually good!
People were impressed with what I had managed to pull off. Even the sceptics were returning from trips with stories about how their Savvy Travel Pack had turned out to be a lifesaver. I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming.
With a lot of help, I had actually done it. I had a product that I had taken all the way from conception to existence. And it was actually useful! I was absolutely chuffed. For about three days.
The first delivery of completed Savvy Travel Packs
After my brief stint on cloud nine, I realised that I had exhausted the list of family members who actually wanted to buy one. I still had plenty of packs left and nobody to sell them to. The manufacture of my first batch of Savvy Travel Packs had been so all-consuming that I’d somehow forgotten that I needed to find a way to get them out there.
There were probably about thirty people who knew that my product existed. So I threw together a basic website, and rushed to put them on there. I remember clicking publish on the site and sitting back, waiting for the sales to roll in. I waited, and then I waited some more. I would love to have seen my poor, crestfallen face as the optimism began to drain from it. I can laugh about it now, but at the time, it felt like the world was ending.
I had to think of a better approach to actually get the Savvy Travel Pack into people’s hands. To find out exactly how I managed to do that, tune in to the fourth and final installment of ‘Savvy Travels: The Journey so Far’.