Jeffrey Rovell & Associates, Inc.
United Surgical Skin-Prep

Jeff says: One lesson I've learned over nearly 30 years is that good enough is never good enough -- optimizing a product to serve customer needs best has to be a part of every development effort. In this case, helping United Surgical refine their limited Skin-Prep product offering created not only a more flexible and user-friendly product, but a whole new business.

Questioning the Status Quo

In 1978, Pfizer's subsidiary United Surgical was marketing Skin-Prep, a liquid skin protectant for patients who use ostomy appliances. Skin-Prep shipped in a bottle, and patients would use a brush to apply it to the skin. The product was a modest success, with under a thousand customers nationwide, and management was largely satisfied with that level of performance.

They might have been satisfied -- but I knew that a non-optimized product always carries an opportunity cost. It was obvious that Skin-Prep was not an optimized product. Its configuration was messy and inconvenient: the brush-and-bottle combo meant that patients had to carry a bulky, breakable, and spillable package, and had to deal with a wet brush afterwards. The use of the brush was more than an inconvenience: because it was used over and over again, and returned to the bottle after each use, it created the potential for cross-contamination.

Reconfiguring the Product

In my role as Director of Corporate Product Development, it was clear to me that there was a better configuration for the product than the bottle-and-brush model. I was determined to re-package Skin-Prep in the style of a 'wet-nap' -- a small, moist towelette, individually packaged, and easy to carry along in a purse or pack. I found Nice-Pak of Westchester, NY, the country's largest manufacturer of wet-naps, and brought the president, Robert Julius, into Pfizer's corporate headquarters for an exploratory session. We quickly produced a prototype, and customers loved it. Over the course of only a few months we created an entirely new Skin-Prep product, coordinating efforts in manufacturing, design, packaging, and marketing. We truly brought Skin-Prep to a new level of usability and convenience -- it was now a product with true staying power and flexibility.

The Results

As it happened, optimizing the product soon paid off, and in early 1979 a company called Stayodynamics contacted us, looking to package the new Skin-Prep with their transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, or TENS, devices. It turned out that the convenience of the wet-nap package had opened up a whole new market for Skin-Prep. Pfizer soon brought Skin-Prep manufacturing in-house to keep up with the ballooning demand; the product is still sold today and has been a solid seller for over two decades.

I can think of nothing more necessary -- or rewarding -- than bringing creativity and energy to a 'good-enough' product and making it better. The story of Skin-Prep shows how often a product development effort can fail to see the true extent of the market for the product. In this case, an umabitious product was developed for what was perceived to be a very small market of under a thousand patients. In fact, it was only the configuration of the product that was limiting the market's size -- once we made the product suitable not only for ostomy patients, but for everyone who needed to prep skin, the market grew. Exploring the possibilities and bringing a wider field of vision to the development process are integral parts of my work.