Singular Sensation

Good Reputation

Part of Carter's success came from staying loyal to his reps. He's given them full rights to all Home Depot stores and allows them to sell to anyone in the country.

Carter knew that trying to keep Home Depot as a house account would have been a mistake. "The reps have been the ones who built the customer base that landed Home Depot," he says. "I want to give them a chance to make big money on the product, because that's what motivates them to keep selling."

Carter also realized that although advertising is important to big retailers, it's not essential. What impresses them most is that customers come in and ask for the product. So if you can't afford to advertise, concentrate on one market and get into every store you can. The big retailers will come around-even for a "one-SKU wonder"-if enough people want to buy your product.

Typically, inventors do best by concentrating on their local markets. That way, they can easily give demos, provide units on consignment, send friends in to buy the products and check in on each store to ensure products are being displayed correctly. Most inventors don't have the time to lock up a local market if they're simultaneously attempting to sell on a national level. Rather than spread yourself too thin, take Carter's advice and thoroughly sell out one market. That's usually good enough to get you into the local stores of a large retailer. Then, if you sell well in your local region, you'll have a great chance of being picked up by the chain across the country.

But will it sell?
For a realistic evaluation of your big idea, check out the Wisconsin Innovation Service Center at the University of Wisconsin in Whitewater. Since 1980, the service has assessed more than 6,000 ideas. A big advantage of this program over others: Marketing students at the university conduct a fairly thorough market evaluation, researching both competition and market benefits. Plus, the program is completed under a director's supervision. Evaluations cost $495, and most reports number 100 to 200 pages in length. For submission information, contact Milissa Rick at (262) 472-1365.

Don Debelak is a new-business marketing consultant and author of Think Big: Make Millions From Your Ideas. Send him your questions at

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This article was originally published in the November 2001 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Singular Sensation.

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