Raiser's Edge

Are your attempts at selling to retail stores going nowhere? Maybe your product needs a good fund-raiser.

If you're hoping to introduce a low-cost product to the marketplace, you're in for quite a challenge. You may have already discovered that regular sales channels are especially hard to break into-products that sell at very low prices just don't generate enough profit to cover all the costs retailers face when adding a single-line product to the mix. Although the experience frustrates many inventors, there is another option you may not have considered: selling through fund-raising.

It's a channel that worked out quite well for Ken Joyner. Back in the early days of his business, Joyner was convinced he had a fabulous idea-he just needed a way to make it succeed.

After noticing customers struggling to carry awkward plastic grocery bags, he decided to develop an inexpensive device that made it easy for people to carry several bags in each hand. What he invented was the Bag Grabber, a plastic holder that can hold up to five bags at once. But while Joyner was ready for the market, the market wasn't ready for him. Says Joyner, 38, "I had very limited success and was only able to get the product into a few 99-cent stores in California."

A Resourceful Solution

Joyner wasn't sure what to do next when someone who saw his product contacted him to see if she could sell it as a fund-raiser for the PTA. "The contact told me about a regional PTA show in San Diego, where fund-raising product suppliers set up tables with product displays," he remembers. "I was able to pick up a few groups [that] agreed to sell the Bag Grabber. More importantly, I learned about the Web sites [that] fund-raising groups [use]."

Joyner found success with two sites in particular: www.fundraisingbazaar.com and www.fundraising-ideas.com. "These sites are really directories where all types of groups come to look for products to sell," he explains. "We [received] orders from all over the country." Typically, groups looking for products to use in fund-raising include sports teams, churches, PTAs and scouting organizations.

Joyner found the fund-raising route a successful one for his business. This year, his Long Beach, California, company, FundraisingWithInventions.com, expects to sell more than 100,000 Bag Grabbers at $1 apiece as well as more than 50,000 Bag Holders, stand-up frames that convert plastic grocery bags into garbage bags. And Joyner expects business to get even better in the future. "[Up until now,] I've been limited by only having a single-cavity mold, [which only produces one product at a time]," he says. "With my success, I've been able to switch to a six-cavity mold, so I'll have six times as many products to sell."

MOTHERS OF INVENTION
Moms frequently come up with one idea after another to make life with kids easier. But those same moms are usually far too busy to learn how to get their product to market. Now enterprising moms can find the tips and assistance they need to launch their products by logging on to www.parentwise.com. Created by Dana Lowey Luttway, the site offers business advice and a variety of low-cost services. Lowey Luttway is also the inventor of two successful products: the ParentSmock, a slip-over smock to keep parents' shirts clean no matter how much food kids pelt their way, and the StrollerStand, an anti-tipping device that prevents strollers from capsizing when bags are hanging on them.
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This article was originally published in the August 2002 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Raiser's Edge.

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