When You Reupholster a Sofa, Start With the Couch...


We’re in discussions with an early stage consumer products company. They want to “re-skin” an existing small electric appliance. Re-skinning involves creating a new “skin” or plastic enclosure or shell for an off-the-shelf device.

We’ve done this many times and it represents a product development model at the intersection of the ODM/OEM universe. The buyer isn’t simply re-branding (by changing the imprinted logo or packaging) a current product made for the mass market, but rather they’re leveraging the “bones” (sometimes referred to the “chassis” or “guts”) of a product that’s in production.

This is a useful strategy to introduce a somewhat new product with a customized appearance, without going through a complete ground-up redesign.

All good: the process starts with searching for products that have the required attributes or properties. Physical dimensions, power level, feature location and usability, etc. Once we’ve purchased samples, performed the tear down, recorded the chassis dimensions and variables, the next step is for the industrial designers and mechanical engineering team to create a new skin to cover the bones.

Not all good: start with creating renderings and sketches of the desired skin, throwing them over the wall to us and asking that we find a device that “fits”.

Sorry, but this is bassackwards… We can’t shoehorn an existing chassis into a new shell with any expectation that it will fit or work. And we really can’t gauge how much it will cost. With zero confidence in the process, we can’t even SWAG a cost for the tooling.

This is not a good approach. When trying to explain why, we came upon the upholstery example. We can talk endlessly about fabric, stitches per inch, ruffles, wooden feet, etc. We certainly can’t even guess at how much fabric to buy, how we’ll attach it to the frame, how long it will take and if it will meet flammability standards.

So – if you’re planning on re-skinning a small electric device, please start with the device.


Jack Daniels

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