Lights, Camera, Action

Airtime on home shopping networks gives your product a big boost.

The Entrepreneur: Jeff Pettit, 47, founder of Floppy Sprinkler USA LLC in Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Product Description: Rain on Demand is a water sprinkler with a silicone tube that can rise and rotate 360 degrees, distributing water in a 40-foot circle. The primary advantage of Rain on Demand is that its softer tube produces large water droplets without mist-so more than 90 percent of the water falls in the intended area. Traditional sprinklers, which use a piece of metal to disperse the water, create a substantial amount of mist that floats away, with only 65 percent of the water falling in the target area.
Start-Up: $150,000 in 2000
Sales: $250,000 in 2002
The Challenge: Getting your product sold over a home shopping network and maximizing those sales to get your product into normal channels

It takes a lot of time and work to get a new product featured on a home shopping channel. Here's how Pettit recommends handling the challenge:

Steps to Success
1. Make sure your product has the right features for the consumer market, and market the product so it appeals to as broad an audience as possible. Rain on Demand actually started out as an agricultural product for farmers. Pettit redesigned the product and packaging for the consumer market and dubbed it Rain on Demand. To make the product appeal to even more people, QVC, the cable channel home shopping network that first featured Rain on Demand, also came up with the idea of pitching the product as "a sprinkler for kids to run through," says Pettit.

2. Evaluate the networks. The various home shopping networks don't like to sell the same products as each other, so it's best to approach them one at a time. Says Pettit, "I watched all the shopping networks and decided that QVC had a no-hype, straightforward style that I felt most comfortable with and would be most effective with Rain on Demand."

3. Submit your idea. "I went to the QVC Web site (www.qvc.com) and downloaded the forms for submitting an idea," says Pettit. After filling them out, he waited for a response. If you're interested in selling via a home shopping network, you should check their Web sites monthly. The networks frequently go from city to city looking for new products, so you just might have the chance to present your product in person. The networks also set aside certain days for inventors who want to go to the network and present their products to buyers.

4. Answer any questions and document your claims. "After about three months, QVC contacted me for more information," says Pettit. QVC wanted a video of the product in action as well as substantiation of the claims made on the packaging. Any time you plan on selling a product, it's a good idea to start documenting your claims from the moment you begin developing the prototype.

5. Attend a class for first-time presenters. Preparation is essential for a successful TV appearance. QVC, for one, offers a free full-day seminar on all the dos and don'ts of appearing on a home shopping channel. "The class dealt with how to create one sentence that could sell your product, how to sell the features of the product, and what to expect when I went on the air," Pettit says. "The class was a big help in preparing my script."

6. Ship your product as soon as possible. QVC ordered 4,500 units from Pettit but wouldn't air the Rain on Demand spot until the product was in hand.

7. Trust the host. When the big day finally arrived in July 2002, "I had a script prepared, but I only got to talk to the host, Jill Bauer, for a few minutes before I was on the air," says Pettit. "The host did a great job and said the right things to sell the product."

8. Follow up with the buyer afterward. Because the buyer at QVC was pleased with Rain on Demand's sales, the station scheduled another airing.

9. Capitalize on your success with home-shopping in your regular markets. Getting your product featured on a TV shopping network is a big endorsement for most retailers. After all, TV shopping networks only feature products they know consumers want. Promote this in your marketing materials.

"Currently, we have the product in about 200 Gulf Coast garden centers and hardware stores," Pettit says. "I include information about QVC in my sales package and have attracted the interest of two distributors and a catalog retailer. With the combination of distributors and QVC, we are expecting sales [to quadruple] in 2003."

PATENT PENDING
Protect your idea with an "inventor's notebook" to document all your work. Drawings, written concepts and meetings should be recorded in the notebook.

Every two to four weeks, have witnesses sign the last page of your notes with a statement to the effect that: "The information on pages XX-XX [pages from the last witness signing] is confidential, and I have read and understand these pages." Since your notebook is a record that verifies when you had your idea, it is a key piece of evidence in any potential patent dispute. This kind of notebook is also valuable to potential investors and partners because it documents the work you've done to create and develop your idea. You can generally find permanently bound record books with numbered pages at office supply stores or on the Web, at sites such as CleanSweepSupply.com and Eureka Lab Book Inc. (www.eurekalabbook.com). Prices start at approximately $20.

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This article was originally published in the April 2003 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Lights, Camera, Action.

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