Suckers!

Gift of Gab



There once was a man with a knack.

He collected words by the sack.

Now he's king of the hill,

Last year, he made six mil'.

And he's making so much Jack

because he stuck magnets on his back.

Dave Kapell sells poetry kits-magnets with words-the idea being that Longfellows and short fellows can make up their own verse on the front of the fridge. It's a creative, fun product, but as even Kapell admits, the question consumers have to hurdle is, "Why would I pay $20 for a little box of words?"

Kapell was a guitarist in a Minneapolis band when he created the prototype for Magnetic Poetry. The musician clipped out compelling phrases from newspapers, magazines and letters, stuck them in an envelope, and then when he had songwriter's block, he'd dump them out and see if anything ignited his imagination. One day in 1993, the then-311-year-old fatefully sneezed, scattering the words about. But instead of thinking, "Gee, maybe I should get some antihistamine," Kapell promptly concluded, "This would work a lot better if the words would stick in one place."

When Kapell's friends saw the word magnets on his refrigerator, they loved the concept and soon, Kapell was bringing his little creation to social get-togethers. "They were invariably the hit of the party, and that was the point when I realized I was really on to something," says Kapell, who figures his start-up capital to begin Magnetic Poetry was "probably about a hundred bucks." This year, he expects his company, with a staff of 24, to make $6.5 million.

So how did Kapell convince people-lots of people-to plop down $20 for a bag of words? Surely, any poet-wanna-bes could opt for pen and paper, and there's always the computer that probably set them back a couple grand. For starters, as all entrepreneurs should, Kapell passionately believed in his idea. Second, he was lucky that his product has built-in word-of-mouth. "The beauty of our product is we have some prime billboard real estate, which is people's refrigerators," says Kapell. "You go into people's homes and play with it for a while, and all of the sudden, you're hooked. Then you don't care how much you pay for it."

Third, Kapell looked for help from businesses close to home: "I went to the stores where I shopped, and I'd ask the [retailers], 'What would you do if you were me?'" Kapell received recommendations on how to package his product, and even what sales representatives he should contact.

Which echoes Girard's guidance: Don't be afraid to ask the people you're selling to for advice on how to sell. During his automobile era, if Girard didn't sell a car, he'd call the ex-customer back and ask, "Was it something I said? Was there something you didn't like about me? People will tell you, if you ask them," insists Girard.

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Geoff Williams has written for numerous publications, including Entrepreneur, Consumer Reports, LIFE and Entertainment Weekly. He also is the author of Living Well with Bad Credit.

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This article was originally published in the August 1999 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Suckers!.

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