New Product Lifecycle

Have you ever wondered about the process of creating a new conditioner? How do we test? What do we look for when we’re testing? How do we choose test centers? How does field testing work? If you’ve ever wondered about the research and development process, or if you’ve ever thought you might like to be a test center for a new product, keep reading.

Creating a new conditioner is a lot like baking a cake without a recipe; you know how you want the cake to look and taste and you know you’ll need some flour and sugar. But, you don’t have an actual recipe so you have to figure out the rest of the necessary ingredients in order to get to the desired result. 

Creating a lane conditioner can follow that same concept. In general, mineral oil is the “base” so we’ll likely use some combination of mineral oils to start. After that, we experiment with different combinations of chemicals to try to achieve the results we want to see. Since we’ve been in the lane conditioner business for quite some time, we have a solid foundation of knowledge of many raw materials. We know that some materials will give us more “slickness” while other materials may help the conditioner be “hookier”. We constantly search for new technologies to help us create the best lane conditioner we can.

Once we have a formula, we start testing. For lane testing, we generally use a house pattern and we’ll use the same house pattern throughout testing so that we have an equal comparison when we make formula adjustments. We are fortunate to not only have our Batch Test bowlers, but some extremely talented bowlers throughout our building. So, we take full advantage and use them when we’re testing a new product. We try to use a variety of bowlers so that we can see how the conditioner performs for bowlers of different styles. And, as much as possible, we try to use the same set of bowlers throughout a product test. While they’re bowling, we’ll track scoring, bowler moves, and we’ll make notes on things like ball reaction, residue on the bowling balls, and carry down.

In the lab, we’ll test physical properties like viscosity, density, and surface tension. These properties give us some general characteristics about the conditioner like how it might flow on a lane. We also do temperature stability testing. We’ll put samples through freeze/thaw cycles to see if the conditioner is impacted by cold and we’ll do heat ramp studies to see if the heat negatively impacts the conditioner. We even do chemical compatibility studies. Belts and other materials from pinsetters, tubing and other parts from lane machines, and other materials that could contact the conditioner are cut into pieces and soaked in the conditioner as well as in some of the raw materials. We measure the parts before we soak them and then measure them again after one month. This helps us determine if the chemicals will create any issues with the parts.

The next phase of testing for a conditioner is field testing. Initially, we’ll test in one or two centers to make sure the product will perform well. We work with the centers to understand what they see from the conditioner using their normal pattern and maintenance routines. They provide feedback and we work together with them to make pattern adjustments, machine adjustments, and such to try to improve the performance. We track all of these changes and use the information to determine if we need to make adjustments to the product. If we make adjustments, we continue testing until we get to the point where we feel confident that we’ve created a viable product.

Next, we continue adding centers to our field test. Ultimately, we like to have at least 15 centers test a product for several months. We try to cover as many different variables as possible by using centers all over the country. By testing on different lane surfaces, pinsetters, ball returns, and so forth, we can determine if the conditioner will be a good fit for different combinations and in different environments.

While the product is in field testing, we continue collecting data in lab testing. We send samples to partner labs for analytical testing like flash point and fire point testing. These tests allow us to determine proper packaging and shipping requirements. We also submit a sample to USBC for approval. In order to gain USBC approval, a lane conditioner must meet the required specifications for viscosity and UV content.

As we continue with field testing, we keep notes on pattern adjustments made by each center. This helps us learn what works; and, more importantly, what doesn’t; with patterns on different surfaces. We use this information once a product is released to the market so that we can give our customers educated adjustments for their patterns when they switch. What that means is you can switch with a little less trial and error and a few less irate bowlers.
Just before we release a product to market, we build all of our marketing and sales materials. We use information we gathered from our field testers and data we collected during our various phases of testing. We conduct in-house training for our Techs, Customer Service, and Sales staff. And, we start making batches in preparation for sample kits. Our goal is to release the conditioner to the market in the summer so that your center has time to try it and fine tune your pattern before your fall leagues start again.

Now, all this may sound glamorous, but many of our test centers would likely tell you that testing isn’t always rainbows and butterflies. It can get ugly and you certainly have to be willing to make your bowlers angry. When we send a center a new product, we request that the center try the product without making any changes to their normal procedures and pattern. So, if a center had been using a conditioner that was characteristically hookier, and we asked them to use a conditioner that is slicker, the bowlers would see something different than what they’re used to seeing. And, if scores go down, it could make for some pretty angry customers. Test centers can’t be reactive to that though. We need centers who can give us quality feedback and that are willing to make the adjustments we suggest based on their feedback. We need centers that will work with us as we work through issues and try to improve the situation. It can take some time to fine tune the adjustments and we need centers that are not going to throw in the towel while we work through the chaos. The rainbows and butterflies come when we get the right adjustments and scores go up and bowlers comment about not moving as much during a league session. Being a test center can be as frustrating as it can be rewarding. 

We do our best to create products that solve a problem or fill a need in the industry. The process takes a lot of time and it involves a lot of people. If we didn’t have customers to give us valuable feedback and we didn’t have test centers we could trust to help us during the development process, we wouldn’t be able to create solid products. We count on our customers to tell us what they think and even what they need as we continue to create products to improve the bowling experience.

If you’ve made it this far and still think being a Kegel test center sounds pretty darn awesome, you can reach out to our Kegel team to see if you qualify. You can also fill out our Test Center Information Form so we can gather all of your center specifics.