Master Plan

Plan B: Licensing

Ridolfi's initial efforts gathered him local publicity, and he was contacted by Vista Pro Inc., the manufacturer of Shaggy Jr., a golf ball dispenser. Vista Pro proposed selling the two products together for $29.95 in a major direct-response TV campaign in the New York area, so Ridolfi signed an exclusive licensing agreement with the company, and the TV campaign launched in December 1999 for the holiday season. The ads ran on stations throughout New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. Sales came in from the ads but not enough to generate enough revenue for either Vista Pro or Ridolfi. Vista Pro started putting together a distribution program in early 2000 to get the products in stores, but it's still too early to determine exactly how successful that program will be.

Small Stuff

Most inventors look to large companies to license their products. But, in fact, large companies rarely license new products. You are much more likely to get a license from a small to midsized company that is trying to build a product line. Watch for other small companies in stores, in trade magazines and at trade shows; you probably won't find them in big directories like the Thomas Register of American Manufacturers. You might also want to consider offering small marketers a private-label agreement, where you supply the product to the marketer to be sold under its name. This kind of agreement requires much less investment for the selling party than a license, and it also allows the inventor to maintain more control over the product.

Plan C: New Golfers

Ridolfi is still hopeful that Vista Pro will work out. He has now realized that his customers are new golfers, who are not likely to visit the big golf stores because they cater to better golfers. If necessary, Ridolfi will tap into the market for new golfers, which includes golf schools at local golf courses, golf leagues for junior golfers and lessons at driving ranges. Ridolfi isn't sure how he will put plan three into action yet, but he sure isn't ready to give up. He has a piece of advice for inventors: "If you think an idea is going to make you rich quick, you can forget about it."

While it's difficult to know Ridolfi's eventual fate, virtually every inventor goes through the same ups and downs that Ridolfi has experienced. Recently, I talked to a local inventors' club with the aim of offering insight into why inventors succeed. I highlighted many of the successful inventors I've talked to over the years, and the two common elements in all the success stories were bulldog determination and an unwillingness to accept defeat. If your first efforts don't succeed, just open the next door-it might be the door to your success. What's important is to follow Ridolfi's example: Learn from each experience, and keep on trying until you find the winning combination for taking your product to market.

Be a Pro

Kevin Ridolfi held down his patent expenses by using a patent agent, but that still cost $3,500, and he will have another bill once the patent is issued. If you want a patent but don't have tons of money, you might want to consider PatentPro software from Kernel Creations. PatentPro asks you questions about your idea and then converts that information into a finished patent. At $329, the software is not cheap, and you'll still need to send about $1,000 to the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO), but the result is still a whole lot cheaper than using a patent agent or attorney.

PatentPro, compatible with Windows 95/98/00, includes forms, checklists and the full text of the Manual of Patent Examining Procedure from the PTO. Go to or call (888) 472-8776 for more information.

Don Debelak is a new-business marketing consultant who has been introducing new products for more than 20 years. He is the author of Bringing Your Product to Market (John Wiley & Sons).

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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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