From the December 1998 issue of Startups

Who hasn't dreamed of inventing the next bestselling gadget on the block, then successfully convincing a big-name retailer like Wal-Mart to carry the product? What happens when that dream is dashed and you're forced to move on?

For aerial photographer Tony Weissgarber, a retired Air Force fighter pilot, the better mousetrap was a "greaseless" grease pencil suitable for marking engine gauges while in flight. "The problem with grease pencils is, after you mark your gauges several times, you can't even see the gauge," says Weissgarber. He sought and found an erasable industrial pencil--a product he knew would be a hit with pilots and truck drivers. Then he contacted the marker's manufacturer for permission to market the product and found a packager to package the pencil as the "Gauge Marker." Next came the big step: pitching the product to Wal-Mart. The polite "Thanks, but no thanks" Weissgarber eventually received from the retail giant came along with a suggestion that he invest more time and money in the project to increase its viability.

That sort of response is not unusual, says retail consultant Liz Tahir of New Orleans-based Liz Tahir Consulting. Among other considerations, large retailers "have to know someone's got the [financial and manufacturing] capability to supply the quantity they need," she says.

But there are always alternatives. Tahir offers these tips for finding other avenues to market your product when the big players say no:

*Find a sales agent or distributor whose national infrastructure is large enough to ply your product to small retailers on a large scale.

*Set up exhibits at industry trade shows. This is a great way to network and gain exposure for your product.

*Discover other uses for the product or complementary items you could package it with to increase its marketability.

Contact Sources

Liz Tahir Consulting, (800) 506-1670

Tony Weissgarber, fax: (210) 494-1979