Master Plan

If you want to see your product get on store shelves, you'd better have more than one plan in place.

Kevin Ridolfi figured he had a million-dollar idea: a product called the T Mate that would help new and high-handicap golfers with their errant golf shots. Unfortunately, success didn't come quite as easily as he had hoped. What Ridolfi learned during Plan A-selling the idea himself-was a lesson that speaks to all inventors, high handicap or not: "No one will hear about a great idea if isn't marketed with the right promotion," cautions the 29-year-old Centereach, New York, resident.

Still, the slow start didn't faze Ridolfi, who quickly moved on to Plan B: licensing his product to another marketer of golf products. Well, Ridolfi isn't counting his money just yet, but he still believes in his idea, and he's prepared to move on to Plan C-distributing the product through instructional activities for young golfers-if his current licensing agreement doesn't work out. In a nutshell, he's not stuck on just one option for his product. And that could be the key to getting it on the shelves.

The Initial Stages of Development

One reason Ridolfi decided to move ahead with the T Mate was the minimal cost involved: He was able to make the prototypes and do the packaging himself. His first models, for instance, were simply tongue depressors. And it was easy to test the product: He had several friends try out his model-as well as his fiancée, who had never played golf and yet was able to crack some big drives down the fairway.

Convinced the product would succeed, Ridolfi decided a patent was in order before he could sell the product. He sought the help of a patent agent (vs. a higher-cost patent attorney). Including the time for the patent search, it was a year before Ridolfi's patent application was accepted by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. That acceptance was what he needed to declare his product patent-pending and begin sales.

That year wasn't wasted: Ridolfi spent the time looking for products that he could use as a model for packaging and pricing his product. Using a device called Skycopter (a plastic X-shaped tool used in convenience stores), he put together a model, took it in to a local Golf USA store and piqued the interest of the manager, who told Ridolfi to come back when the product was ready. From there, he experimented with the best way to gain attention for his product.

Plan A: Selling on His Own

Once Ridolfi had patent-pending status for his product and he was ready to sell, he placed a display in the Golf USA store. He also got four or five other stores on Long Island to carry his product. "When I could, I'd go out and visit the stores and see how the product was doing," he says. The product was selling, but not as fast as he'd hoped. "I was doing everything myself and holding a full-time job; I didn't have time to get the product off the ground."

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This article was originally published in the December 2000 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Master Plan.

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