April 5, 2014 by Amanda Bradford, NMSU News Center
Las Cruces small-business owner Jeri Remley knew she had a good product when she founded Enchanted Woodworks four years ago. Her wholesale company makes wooden craft and puzzle kits that children can paint and assemble – inspired by a former educator, they had the potential to sell well at places like museum gift shops.
The opportunity for improvement, Remley said, was in the packaging.
“The old packaging was a poly bag that had several failure points,” she said. “It didn’t have a professional appearance – it just didn’t grab.”
Remley turned for help to Arrowhead Center at New Mexico State University, which was able to offer support through the New Mexico Small Business Assistance Program. NMSBA allows New Mexico small businesses facing a technical challenge to access the unique expertise and capabilities of New Mexico State University, channeled through Arrowhead Center. Arrowhead Center is one of four subcontractors for the NMSBA state program from Los Alamos and Sandia national laboratories.
A cross-disciplinary group at NMSU worked with Remley to recommend design packaging options based on customer development. The recommendations for the craft kits included design features and components that better connected the kits with potential customers. As a result, Remley came away with numerous recommendations for package redesigns and ideas for product development.
With production suggestions in hand, Remley created new prototypes implementing the recommendations, resulting in a new reusable tray for the puzzle kits, a user-friendly and attractive new package, a fully illustrated instruction guide, 40 different themes for the kits, and more interactive features.
Griselda Martinez, program manager for NMSBA at Arrowhead Center, served as principal investigator on the project, which included NMSU mechanical engineering technology assistant professor Luke Nogales and Anthony Hyde, director of the NMSU College of Engineering’s Manufacturing Technology and Engineering Center. Remley’s son, Chase Remley, a student intern in the engineering department, was also part of the team, along with two Arrowhead Center graduate students, Oscar Torres and Harish Nammi.
The team conducted local market research every step of the way, on everything from the functionality of the design to the colors of the packaging. “It was a very interesting combination of engineering and business modeling,” Martinez said. “It’s been a very insightful process.”
The team was also able to help Remley find manufacturing contacts to produce the quality and volume that she needs, Martinez said. Remley was able to maintain her Made in the USA designation and her assembly is done by a non-for-profit organization in Louisiana that employs people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, helping them live independently.
“I’m so excited,” Remley said of the improved packaging. “It’s helped move my company forward. My sales went up 30 percent at a recent trade show. The presentation is so much more professional. It’s positioned me so that I can compete.”
Enchanted Woodworks was recently honored as one of 10 NMSBA 2013 Success Stories. In addition to being recognized at the 2014 Technology Ventures Corporation Innovation Summit in Albuquerque in April, Remley’s business will be featured in NMSBA’s annual report, highlighting the impact that the program has had on helping it grow.
NMSBA was created by the New Mexico Legislature in 2000. Los Alamos National Laboratory joined the program in 2007. The assistance offered is of no cost to the small business; services provided to small companies are not to be available in the private sector at a reasonable cost.
Last year, 354 small businesses in 29 counties received assistance through the NMSBA program. Since its inception, the NMSBA has provided 2,195 New Mexico small businesses with more than $39 million in technical assistance. The program helped create and retain nearly 3,510 jobs at a mean salary of $38,735.
For Remley, the new packaging recommendations developed by the NMSU team have helped her fit in with the high-end gift market.
“It’s a whole new look that’s taken the product to a whole new level,” Remley said.