Designing a kit, how hard could it be?

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Jeff Lassahn

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Sometimes when I'm scratch building a rocket, I think "this is a cool design I should turn it into a kit and sell it"

Usually, the sensible part of my brain immediately thinks "that's way harder than you think it is, and besides you don't want to run a business" and I forget all about it.

I still don't want to start a business, but I'm really curious about the details. How hard would it really be? What kinds of problems does a kit design need to solve that a scratch build doesn't?

So I'm going to try working out a complete kit design to see what it's like.

Here's the rocket. It's a little mini engine design, with a 24mm main body tube, about 30cm total length. Recovery is glider and streamer.
LeftView.png TopView.png RightView.png BottomView.png

The rough budget would be $15 cost, sell it for $20 plus shipping.

First topic: where the heck does a small kitmaker get nose cones?
This design uses the PNC-14A and PNC-24D plastic noses from Apogee Components. From a cost standpoint these are a pretty good deal, $2.40 each for the PNC-24D and line $0.60 each (!) for the PNC-14A if you get the 100 piece bulk pack.

I have no idea if it's reasonable to use a retail seller like Apogee or eRockets as a quantity component supplier. The whole thing seems tenuous and sketchy, but there isn't really another obvious option.
 

hcmbanjo

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Three fin/nose cone designs are fairly easy to kit.
Your design would require laser cutting, five tubes, four nose cones and decals.
You have to buy in bulk to save any money in parts - but not buy so much you aren't stuck if the kit doesn't sell.
The time-consuming part of kit manufacture is the instruction drawing and decal art.
Don't forget to add in the Business licenses, Copyright and LLC protection.
It's exciting at first - After a few years of bagging up kits, it becomes real work.
 

BABAR

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Three fin/nose cone designs are fairly easy to kit.
Your design would require laser cutting, five tubes, four nose cones and decals.
You have to buy in bulk to save any money in parts - but not buy so much you aren't stuck if the kit doesn't sell.
The time-consuming part of kit manufacture is the instruction drawing and decal art.
Don't forget to add in the Business licenses, Copyright and LLC protection.
It's exciting at first - After a few years of bagging up kits, it becomes real work.
I read somewhere (I think it was @jflis on this forum, but I may be mistaken) that the nose cones were the most expensive parts of most kits.

Chris, I am curious. What is Odd’l Rockets’ best seller?
 

neil_w

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The rough budget would be $15 cost, sell it for $20 plus shipping.
As a low-volume vanity project that's fine, but that's too small a margin to make a real business of it.

In addition to acquiring and preparing (cutting tubes, laser-cutting fins) parts, you need to create instructions, which are the most daunting task for all but very simple kits.
 

GlenP

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With 3D printing you could make your own cones, or find a local printer that could make batches of them on demand. Then you could maybe design a unique cone, like for the orbiter that looks more like the space shuttle nose and canopy?

@neil_w your original designs would make really cool kits, but the advanced construction techniques for all the unique characteristic parts would be a challenge to document in linear step by step instructions, though that was a great write up in that POF article.
 

cerving

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If your cost is $15 and you're selling it for $20, you're going to lose between $5 and $10 on each kit by the time you get everything together. Plus, you only make about half of what you net... the guv'ment want their cut, you know. Side gigs have a way of turning into real businesses... I never expected to do a tenth of what I do now.

The suggestion to become a supplier for an established reseller like Apogee is probably the best way to go, you'll save a ton of work over kitting and shipping out to individual buyers.
 

kenstarr

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If your cost is $15 and you're selling it for $20, you're going to lose between $5 and $10 on each kit by the time you get everything together. Plus, you only make about half of what you net... the guv'ment want their cut, you know. Side gigs have a way of turning into real businesses... I never expected to do a tenth of what I do now.
When the quality is above and beyond, price is low, the challenge is reasonable, satisfaction is high... Well, it just follows!
 

prfesser

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Sometimes when I'm scratch building a rocket, I think "this is a cool design I should turn it into a kit and sell it"

I have no idea if it's reasonable to use a retail seller like Apogee or eRockets as a quantity component supplier. The whole thing seems tenuous and sketchy, but there isn't really another obvious option.
It's partly about turning it into a kit. It's more about "turning it into a kit that people really want."

Your kit must appeal to much of the rocketry community, otherwise it's a losing proposition. Will people buy what you've prepared? I know it appeals to you. What's great about it? Will it appeal to enough others to make it worthwhile? General answer: probably not. :(

Best --Terry
 

Jeff Lassahn

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With 3D printing you could make your own cones, or find a local printer that could make batches of them on demand.
I've been surprised at the per-unit cost for getting things 3d printed. Services generally quote prices above $20 for even relatively simple objects. Perhaps I'm not looking at the right suppliers, for example it seems like Launch Lab's Bullet Bobby must be printing their parts cheaper than what I'm finding.
 

Cape Byron

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Some really good comments above. We design and sell kits and it's my hobby, not a business. I know it and I keep getting reminded of it. It's a hobby, buddy.

It's also a great hobby. I love it and that's why I do it, but it's a hobby. (I might come back to this a time or three...)

Designing and scratch building is fun. I mean, it's probably the best fun you can have with your pants on when it's too wet to ride motorcycles. It really is the fun part of the process.

Please don't take any of this negatively. It is, to me, a pretty realistic view of how this works in my experience at least.

Kit or plan? - I'm playing around with a plan pack at the moment. It solves a few of the issues discussed bekow and there's a thread here: https://www.rocketryforum.com/threads/brocket-beta-build-thread.169367/

It's an alternative to actually creating a kit, but the hardest parts of the process are still there. It might be a way of dipping your toe in the water without getting scalded.

Market research - You're doing it now. Well done. If there isn't a market for what you want to make then you're wasting your time.

Money - Well, my friend, this venture will cost you money. Don't take it from the family coffers, work out a way to fund your project. I was clearing out over 100 vintage kits three years ago and that is what funded CBR. I have only three kits left out of a collection of nearly 140. That money made CBR.

Sourcing components - Nose cones are expensive, no way around it. If you design a kit that needs a specific cone from a specific manufacturer you are going to pay their retail price unless you buy in bulk. Some suppliers will give you a 40-50% discount on their definition of bulk purchases. Think laterally here: there are more manufacturers than Estes and Apogee who sell good products at good prices for bulk orders. Custom Rocket Company is a great example.

Cutting - Seems simple, but people expect laser cut balsa. Do you have a cutter or will you need another person to do it? That other person will, obviously want to be paid. Similarly with graphics; someone will want to be paid for their vinyl and expertise in doing the job. Also, little jobs like mine go to the back of the work queue.

Cash flow - We make kits in batches of between 6 and 10. Doesn't sound like many, does it? Well, for a kit line up of 6 or 7 kits like ours, based on the last three years tax returns we usually have around $2,000 AUD in inventory of kit parts and launch gear at any time.

Space - Making up multiples of kits takes space: lots of bench space and lots of storage space. We're looking at renovating to include space for CBR to do its business. (More cash).

Instructions - Mentioned by others. It takes me more time to write and illustrate instructions than it did to design, build and test the kit. Really. And I used to be employed as a technical writer and have created illustrations for others in the industry. Do not underestimate how hard this is or how long it takes. You also need proof readers who are rocket builders and another who isn't. That way you know if your technical terms are going to be understood by new builders.

Artwork - I do my own and it's pretty average quality. If I ever become big enough as a business to hire someone this is the first job I'd hand over.

Time - I've brought ten kits to production, (or I will have when I can get quality balsa...) and I work on a minimum 3 month timeframe from simulation to kit in a box. I won't say how many hours a week, 'cause the farm will hear and get jealous. 🤠

Do it. Enjoy it. I don't think there is anyone on this forum who thinks there are enough kit manufacturers or enough interesting LPR kits in the world. Anytime you want to contact me go for it. You can grab me here or email to [email protected]
 

Sandy H.

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Some really good comments above. We design and sell kits and it's my hobby, not a business. I know it and I keep getting reminded of it. It's a hobby, buddy.

It's also a great hobby. I love it and that's why I do it, but it's a hobby. (I might come back to this a time or three...)

Designing and scratch building is fun. I mean, it's probably the best fun you can have with your pants on when it's too wet to ride motorcycles. It really is the fun part of the process.

Please don't take any of this negatively. It is, to me, a pretty realistic view of how this works in my experience at least.

Kit or plan? - I'm playing around with a plan pack at the moment. It solves a few of the issues discussed bekow and there's a thread here: https://www.rocketryforum.com/threads/brocket-beta-build-thread.169367/

It's an alternative to actually creating a kit, but the hardest parts of the process are still there. It might be a way of dipping your toe in the water without getting scalded.

Market research - You're doing it now. Well done. If there isn't a market for what you want to make then you're wasting your time.

Money - Well, my friend, this venture will cost you money. Don't take it from the family coffers, work out a way to fund your project. I was clearing out over 100 vintage kits three years ago and that is what funded CBR. I have only three kits left out of a collection of nearly 140. That money made CBR.

Sourcing components - Nose cones are expensive, no way around it. If you design a kit that needs a specific cone from a specific manufacturer you are going to pay their retail price unless you buy in bulk. Some suppliers will give you a 40-50% discount on their definition of bulk purchases. Think laterally here: there are more manufacturers than Estes and Apogee who sell good products at good prices for bulk orders. Custom Rocket Company is a great example.

Cutting - Seems simple, but people expect laser cut balsa. Do you have a cutter or will you need another person to do it? That other person will, obviously want to be paid. Similarly with graphics; someone will want to be paid for their vinyl and expertise in doing the job. Also, little jobs like mine go to the back of the work queue.

Cash flow - We make kits in batches of between 6 and 10. Doesn't sound like many, does it? Well, for a kit line up of 6 or 7 kits like ours, based on the last three years tax returns we usually have around $2,000 AUD in inventory of kit parts and launch gear at any time.

Space - Making up multiples of kits takes space: lots of bench space and lots of storage space. We're looking at renovating to include space for CBR to do its business. (More cash).

Instructions - Mentioned by others. It takes me more time to write and illustrate instructions than it did to design, build and test the kit. Really. And I used to be employed as a technical writer and have created illustrations for others in the industry. Do not underestimate how hard this is or how long it takes. You also need proof readers who are rocket builders and another who isn't. That way you know if your technical terms are going to be understood by new builders.

Artwork - I do my own and it's pretty average quality. If I ever become big enough as a business to hire someone this is the first job I'd hand over.

Time - I've brought ten kits to production, (or I will have when I can get quality balsa...) and I work on a minimum 3 month timeframe from simulation to kit in a box. I won't say how many hours a week, 'cause the farm will hear and get jealous. 🤠

Do it. Enjoy it. I don't think there is anyone on this forum who thinks there are enough kit manufacturers or enough interesting LPR kits in the world. Anytime you want to contact me go for it. You can grab me here or email to [email protected]

I think your post is 1000% correct. It matches my experience and that's why I gave up on trying to have a side business in rocketry.

Having said that, I think the plan-pack concept has merit as well as the group-buy concept. I imagine there are 3 or 4 good ideas to get some boutique designs out there for people to actually build, but with quantities in the 20-100 total for life vs. what bigger companies have to do.

On an audio forum I frequent, group-buys are the norm and build threads become the instructions. Basically the cost for someone to build one might be $1000+, but the cost to build 50 is only $5000. They post the schematic, a BOM and the overall goals along with a price. They say they'll do it if they get 50 commitments and once they get that, the parts get ordered, boards made and everything gets sent to the guy running the group buy. At that point, he spends insane amounts of time sorting parts etc., and ships out the kits. Typically the process seems to take around 3-4 months from commit time to receipt of the kit.

Regretfully, I think the rocket community would have 50 people commit on day one and 10 actually pay when the time comes. Of those 10, 5 or 6 would post threads accusing the guy running the group buy as a scammer since they paid and didn't get the parts in a week. I know that Buddy Michaelson has successfully run pre-production/group-buys here, but I don't know of anyone else.

Sandy.
 

Initiator001

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'Designing' kits is easy.

Writing the instructions is hard.

I found that out while working at AeroTech.
I remember being really stumpted while trying to write part of the instructions for the Astobee D kit.
Paul Hans and I worked together on writing the instructions for all the AeroTech kits We had a 'template' we used for creating the instructions.
My solution for the Astrobee D instructions was the best I could come up with at the time but I had hoped some day to improve them.
 

Scott_650

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'Designing' kits is easy.

Writing the instructions is hard.

I found that out while working at AeroTech.
I remember being really stumpted while trying to write part of the instructions for the Astobee D kit.
Paul Hans and I worked together on writing the instructions for all the AeroTech kits We had a 'template' we used for creating the instructions.
My solution for the Astrobee D instructions was the best I could come up with at the time but I had hoped some day to improve them.
Step by step “job guides” AKA instructions are hard to write for any fairly complex process. I wrote many, many operating instructions, job guides, checklist etc during my working days and each of them typically had a tough spot to get through.
 

hcmbanjo

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I read somewhere (I think it was @jflis on this forum, but I may be mistaken) that the nose cones were the most expensive parts of most kits.

Chris, I am curious. What is Odd’l Rockets’ best seller?

Balsa nose cones are the most expensive part of a kit.
Plastic nose cones can be cheaper but having the molds made is very expensive.
3D print cones and parts are seen in more and more short run kits.

The best selling Odd'l kits are the Birdie and the Jet Fighters.
Raise Springs! I've sold thousands of Raise Springs. Those were my "gateway" product.
Somebody could add a Raise Spring to an order because they were cheap.
Hopefully that would make the customer curious about my other kits and accessories.
 
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hcmbanjo

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I should have added -
Standardize your parts! Example: Don't design six different kits with six different lengths of launch lugs.
Be ready - Vendor suppliers come and go. I've had to discontinue products when the suppliers closed up,
or inventory ran out.
 

burkefj

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Write your instructions get enough parts for five or six kits give those to five people and ensure that they can build and fly it successfully and then consider sourcing enough parts to make a kit run. Make a video showing your kit flying successfully so that people have confidence in your product. Calculate your parts and time and shipping cost and then double it and see if that's a compelling price for people.
 

teepot

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I agree about the instructions. Bill at BMS had me build a couple of kits for him so I could tell him what I thought about the instructions. It's all about giving someone something they know nothing about. It could be their first kit. So write the instructions so a 8 year old would understand.
 

manixFan

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If your cost is $15 and you're selling it for $20, you're going to lose between $5 and $10 on each kit by the time you get everything together. Plus, you only make about half of what you net... the guv'ment want their cut, you know. Side gigs have a way of turning into real businesses... I never expected to do a tenth of what I do now.

The suggestion to become a supplier for an established reseller like Apogee is probably the best way to go, you'll save a ton of work over kitting and shipping out to individual buyers.
With all due respect to Chris as a great vendor to the hobby, I think he is underestimating the cost/selling price relationship. As a business owner of 30 years, I feel his numbers only work if you are selling direct, and small items like electronics. I think you'll find that for most businesses, the cost of the item is at most 25% of the final selling price. Once you add in distributor costs, warranty claims, spoilage, advertising, carrying costs, etc., the actual cost to put the kit together almost becomes secondary. As he and others have pointed out, a kit that costs $15 to make will lose money if you try and sell it at $20, even if you want to work for free. A good example is the cost of packaging and shipping. Everyone complains about shipping prices until they start a company and have to ship items to customers. You need a heat sealer, rolls of bag material, boxes, a tape dispenser and tape, a label printer or label stock, a good postage scale, boxes, cushioning, and the time it takes to create the labels and package the items. All of a sudden you understand there is no such thing as free shipping. And when a customer says their product arrived damaged and wants a replacement, how do you pay for that if you are only making $5 per kit?

And none of this includes what has been brought up by others, the time and cost associated with instructions and packaging artwork. None of that is free, even if you do it all yourself, unless your time is worth nothing.

I don't want to discourage anyone from starting a business but the naïveté among folks who have never run a business and then decide to start one is worrisome. You did the right thing by asking others what your options are, but your best bet is to find a local small business owner that sells over the internet and get their input. After 30 years of owning a company, I honestly would not touch a hobby business with a ten foot pole. I personally know several vendors to the rocket community. From them I've learned it's such a small community that unless you have a very thick skin and can turn the other cheek, it's a very challenging business. The stories I've heard from them dealing with customers made me decide I'd have to be crazy to want to have a business that sells to such a small hobby. But that's true of any business in a hobby as small as ours.

My employees used to always say "but it's only $## to provide that item/feature/service. Then I'd have them write down everything it took to get whatever it was they were talking about and by the time they were done, they realized that the cost of the item was only a small fraction of the overall price to the company. Too many non-business owners don't understand that equation.


Tony
 
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Alan R

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I "kitted" my Tiki rocket for a secret santa gift. Thought it would be a lot of fun for somebody. But that somebody had to have some serious experience and skills.
No laser cut fins, they'll have to make them old-style and cut the balsa from paper patterns. Nose cone is unique shape, 3D printed with a shroud on top of it.
I spent a couple months writing and tweaking and re-writing instructions with no illustrations. Ended up being pretty dense copy about 2 pages long, and even then there was a few places where it basically said "just use your best judgement."
Spent some money on motor kit and body tube and paying shipping. No idea what the total cost of this was.
It was something I wanted to do as a one-off gift.
I'm like you, I think it would make a great unique kit, but it has some custom parts (graphic wrap, nosecone) that would make it pretty expensive for someone to even gather the parts.
Was thinking I might give a half-kit to some friends. Just nosecone, graphic and patterns. You supply the rest.
Having done it once I can understand the problems other people have.

TikiII-page001.png
 

Jeff Lassahn

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Thanks everyone for all the responses.

I should probably give a little more background...
I'm definitely not under the delusion that I'm going to get rich making this a full-time job. In fact I'm not at all sure I'm going to actually do anything at all. I think it might be amusing to do a few short runs of kits, but I know if I don't do way more detailed research it's likely to turn into a disaster.

Also, even if I don't actually do anything myself, I feel like by working through the issues I'm going to learn a lot of interesting things about why the hobby/business of model rocketry is the way it is.

I didn't put a huge amount of thought into the $15/$20 numbers, although I know shipping is a whole additional thing and am inclined to price it separately.

Mostly the price and rocket design are a starting point to focus the discussion. i.e. this is a low power kit comparable with things you might get from the Estes catalog. It's not an HPR monster, it's not a $100+ scale kit with lots of bespoke resin cast parts, it's just a little toy rocket with a few quirky and interesting features.
 

Bill S

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I've had several people say that I ought to make my Space-X inspired rocket available as a kit, but I can't see myself going to that much effort. Even if I removed the Space-X from it to get rid of having to deal with Space-X, whew, far too much work I think, for too little return. Then there are Estes decals plus my own. This rocket...
 

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