From the August 2000 issue of Entrepreneur

Rob Albert sold $46 million worth of products in 1999 and expects to sell $120 million this year. He's also gotten five products onto the shelves of major retailers.without spending a dime on advertising. How has Albert, 34, accomplished every inventor's dream? By building his San Diego-based company, Evergreen Research and Marketing LLC, on one simple premise: Small manufacturers' products need a little something extra to stand out among the competition.

This premise has proved good as gold since Albert started his first business in 1989, selling horse shampoo with his brothers to feed and tack stores. Albert visited stores throughout Florida and was struggling to get sales when he learned some people were using the horse shampoo on their own tangled hair. When Albert realized that a shampoo that could detangle a horse's mane could certainly detangle even the gnarliest human hair, fireworks went off in his head. Within two years, more than 450 newspaper articles were published on the Horse Shampoo. Albert sold over $30 million of product, mostly in major retail stores, before selling the company in 1994.

Was the product memorable? Well, my wife still remembers her initial double take when she first saw Horse Shampoo on the shelf. An impression that strong means more sales.

A Unique Insect Repellant Product

After selling the business, Albert took a couple of years off and moved to San Diego, where he started reading about the dangerous side effects of many insect repellents. "My friend Joe Panzitta had a similar interest in chemistry, and was working on a new, natural insect repellent," says Albert. "Together, we finalized the product."

Albert sensed that the product's exotic ingredients would spark people's curiosity. "It's made with Indonesian lemon-grass oil, Philippine geranium oil and good old North American citronella oil," he explains.

But he also realized that he faced two obstacles: people didn't want sticky insect-repellent oil on their skin, and any lotion, even one with great ingredients, would have trouble standing out in the marketplace. "I was trying to think of a new way to package the product when I learned some plastics could soak up fragrances." he says. "That's how I came up with the Bug Button, which is a plastic button that people could wear right on their clothes." The Bug Button boasted a few major advantages: It smells nice, doesn't touch the skin and is reusable.

Thanks to a great name and a distinctive delivery system, the product caught people's eyes. Albert sold about 20 million Bug Buttons in this product's first two years at an average retail price of about $1 each. Some of Albert's major retailers have been Canadian Tire, Grand Union, K-Mart, Meyer's, Rite-Aid Drug Stores and Walgreens.

More Inventive Products To Come

Albert's new products just keep on coming. In November 1999, he introduced his Brainwash Shampoo, which contains ginkgo biloba, a herb believed to trigger quicker thinking. Albert got the idea when reading about vaccines being administered through the scalp. According to his research, the vaccines use the hair follicles as a conduit into the blood stream.

Albert's new shampoo was almost immediately stocked by both Mays Drug and Warehouse Drug Store. Needless to say, consumers look twice when they see the name Brainwash. And, once again, Albert had found just the sort of unusual angle the media drool over. Other products Albert plans to introduce this year are Gardener's Secret hand lotion and a line of olive-oil-based cosmetics.

Many first-time inventors think minor changes are all they need to catch the public eye. That's rarely the case. You have to find the unique features of a product and mold them into an interesting story. To be distinctive, you have to be bold and daring and get people to do a double take.

Most important, you should know when to do a double take yourself. Albert saw the marketing possibilities in hearsay that a few people used a horse shampoo on their own hair. Whereas most people would have brushed that incident off as just a funny story to share with friends, Albert envisioned a great marketing program, an eye-catching product and a huge sales success.

Want Some Attention?

Here are some of the more popular tactics for getting prospects to notice you:

1. An unexpected name. Names like Brainwash and HorseShampoo add a little fun to people's lives. Other products or businesses that have used this technique are the Weed Weasel and Hard Rock Cafe.

2. An unusual product configuration. Albert's Bug Button was a completely different way to present bug repellent. The success of Palm Pilot is partly due to people's surprise at its small size.

3. A unique design. Mini-disc players and the iMac colored computers both had surprising designs that caught people's attention. One reason behind the success of the Sony Walkman was that its small headphone design quickly captured the affection of its target teen market.

4. A task made easy. Downloading new music off the Internet with MP3 players is a snap, as compared to taping from radio to a cassette tape. Food processors, snow blowers and closet organizers were also products that made mundane tasks simple.

5. Catchy ad campaigns. Clean Shower was introduced by radio talk show hosts discussing how they kept their bathrooms clean. What made this campaign stand out? The deejays didn't work off a prepared script but instead said whatever they wanted to about the product.

6. Bold, different, dangerous and fun. Snowboards, in-line skates, windsurfing boards and skateboards all proved that big changes in equipment are easier to sell than small improvements to existing products.

7. Status. SUVs, Starbucks coffee, Tommy Hilfiger clothes, cell phones, pagers and Oakley sunglasses all succeeded because people initially identified them as status symbols.

8. An unmet need. Minivans succeeded due to the need for family vehicles. Big Bertha golf clubs sold well because they helped older golfers keep their distance on drives. Single-portion gourmet dinners addressed the market reality that families often don't eat meals together. Gardener's Secret hand lotion has great potential because gardening is very tough on hands, and no one else has a lotion that is specially formulated to compensate for the effects gardening has on hands.


Want More?
Rob Albert of Evergreen Research and Marketing LLC has found that many inexperienced entrepreneurs depend too much on advertising and not enough on free PR and proper product packaging. His Web site, www.pressguru.com, shows entrepreneurs and inventors some tactics for success. It covers two topics inventors should find interesting: how to make a product interesting to the media by writing great press releases, and how to get your product noticed by choosing the right color, shape and size of its package.