Hello, My Name Is. . .

The best way to protect your invention? Brand your name.

Lea Cavender's epiphany, one that would change her life forever, occurred in a ribbon store. Back when the founder of E-Z Bowz LLC was still an employee at Ribbon Outlet, she realized the biggest reason people didn't buy more ribbons was that they simply didn't know how to tie bows. So she recruited the assistance of her father to create E-Z BowMaker, a wooden device that made tying beautiful bows a snap.

Ribbon Outlet immediately placed an order for a whopping 10,000 E-Z BowMakers in 1993, and Cavender, 43, was off and running. She and her 48-year-old husband, Art, quickly built the business to sales of $1.5 million during its first year.

Cavender got another boost during the start-up stage: She attended the 1993 Hobby Industry Association for Crafts Show, where she set up a demonstration table at which people could make their own bows. "We had people lined up the entire show wanting to make a bow," she says. "Our 'make it/take it' strategy created tremendous interest in our product."

As a direct result of that successful show, Cavender got a deal with C.M. Offray and Son Inc., a leading manufacturer of decorative ribbons. Offray agreed to distribute the E-Z BowMaker to all its craft retail store customers with the exception of Michael's, which Cavender kept as a house account. "Offray reaped immediate dividends because everyone who bought an E-Z BowMaker bought lots more ribbon," explains Cavender. "It was a winning situation for both them and us."

By 1999, Cavender had managed to increase sales to more than $5 million. But she realized her start-up advantages wouldn't necessarily result in long-term sales success. She was vulnerable to competitors producing better products or offering knock-off versions of her product at a lower price. She also had the possible threat of a ribbon company offering a free or reduced-priced bow-maker to consumers as an incentive to purchase more of that company's ribbons. Cavender could have been out of business or experienced dramatically reduced sales if any of those events occurred. So she formed a strategy to brand her name. Her goal: to have people interested in crafts recognize and associate her name with quality, easy-to-use craft products.

Cavender has spent the past six years making her name known through heavy TV exposure, new products and product packaging. Branding her name has created a strong market presence for Cavender and helps ensure strong sales even if competitors produce similar products.

Secrets Of The Craft
Cavender believes the most important ingredient for an inventor's success is a "can-do attitude; not ever thinking you can fail." She also believes in "putting all her cards on the table" when approaching manufacturers and distributors and "being very open about the fact that you need help to succeed."

One last tip: "Don't try to manufacture the product yourself until you have success marketing it." Cavender believes inventors need to concentrate on selling their products, and they can't do that if they're trying to overcome dozens of manufacturing-related problems.

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This article was originally published in the December 2000 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Hello, My Name Is. . ..

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