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Put a Lid on It!

An infomercial for this inventor's snappy new food containers helped her seal the deal with a large retailer.
December 1, 2005
URL: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/81080

The Entrepreneur: Kate Adams, 46, founder of Snap-Saver LLCin San Diego

Product Description: Snap-Saver food- storage containers, which come in five sizes, keep kitchen cupboards organized by offering a unique feature--each lid snaps to the bottom of the container, so users never have to search for matching lids. Snap-Saver lids also snap to each other. Early customers included East Coast chains Boscov's, Organized Living and Wegman's. In March 2005, the company had its first run on QVC, and sales to Sears stores nationwide started in September 2005.

Startup: $12,000, which Adams spent to obtain a patent and develop a computer simulation video of her product

Sales: Projected to hit $6 million in 2006

The Challenge: Getting retailers to take on a product that's difficult for consumers to understand at first glance

When Kate Adams initially set out to launch her innovative food-storage product in 2001, she ran into myriad challenges and was unsuccessful in an attempt to license the Snap-Saver idea. So she took on two business partners: Annie M. Fonte, 46, who had prior success licensing a product, and Roy Gayhart, 55, who had the management savvy necessary to raise enough money to launch Snap-Saver with an infomercial. To prepare for launch, they attended the 2004 International Home & Housewares Show in Chicago, where they won a rave review from The Wall Street Journal, in addition to a mention as one of "The Top 10 New Products" from The Toronto Star. Thanks to the infomercial and positive reviews in the media, the company was able to jump-start retail sales nationwide.

Steps to Success
1. Realize the market has changed. At one time, QVC, infomercials and brick-and-mortar retailers thought of themselves as competitors, but times have changed. "When we introduced the product at the Chicago housewares show in 2004, we had our infomercial playing in our booth," says Adams. "Retailers didn't mind our infomercials, and they weren't upset that we were on QVC in 2005. Everyone in the market seems to realize that customers buy from the medium they prefer, and that exposure in other mediums, whether TV infomercials, retail stores or QVC, helps everyone because it creates brand awareness and consumer demand."

2. Use mentors to find the right course. Introducing a new product can be a challenge, especially when the product is hard to grasp without a demonstration. A mentor not only gives advice, but also moral support. Adams' first mentor, Fonte, actually inspired Adams to create her product. "When I [began] having children, I started a medical billing business, and one of my clients was a physical therapy practice where Annie was a partner," says Adams. "When I watched her successfully license an idea to a medical company, I was inspired to come up with my own idea. I've known Annie since 1993, and she has helped guide me along the entire time with valuable advice."

3. Align yourself with the financial and management power you need. When Adams decided to produce an infomercial, she knew she needed money for tooling and production, as well as the media campaign. Inventors typically won't find that money unless they're highly experienced or they get help from an expert. "Annie had met an infomercial producer working on a video for an exercise product," says Adams. "She showed [him] the Snap-Saver video, and he was very excited. He told Annie and me that we should meet Roy Gayhart if we wanted to move ahead. Roy saw the product, loved it, and became a partner and CEO for Snap-Saver. Roy has written our business plan, and he and Annie raised the money"--nearly $500,000.

4. Support your retail efforts with an infomercial. Infomercials not only encourage people to buy products when they see them in stores, but also help drive demand to the stores. Coordinating the programs produces a win-win scenario for every sales channel. "When we were confident that Sears would begin carrying the Snap-Saver in the fall, we decided to run an infomercial campaign through the summer in key markets," says Adams. "We wanted to build brand awareness before the product was in stores."

5. Never forget what inspired you to start. Adams' success came in part because she understood the problems everyday moms have with containers. She and her partners didn't want the company to lose that connection. "My role in the company now is creative, finding new products that have to work for me," says Adams. "I am our customer--I am a mom, a woman, a cook and a housekeeper. My focus is making sure that using Snap-Savers is a simple, quality experience."

Lessons Learned
1. Target multiple sales channels. Thanks to the internet, cable TV, cell phones and more, today's consumers are constantly exposed to advertising messages. As a result, marketers often have trouble connecting with customers in a busy world. So while retailers and TV shopping networks didn't want to carry the same products in the past, today, both realize that products sell better when consumers see them in multiple places.

2. Networking is an inventor's best friend. When projects get expensive, most inventors move ahead through contacts they meet by networking. When you need help, ask everyone you know if they know someone who can help you.

3. The best ideas are often inspired by your own experiences. If you want to invent your own hot product, keep a list for one month documenting everything you do or use that has some aspect that annoys you. You just might have some product ideas that could become market successes.

Easy Does It
Don't let the complexities and costs of filing for a patent frustrate you. PatentEasesimplifies the process, letting you prepare your own patent application and file it with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office--all without having to hire a patent attorney. The program guides you through the entire process, from writing the description to managing your drawings. Created by a patent attorney, this $349 (street) software program costs less than 10 percent of the typical $5,000-plus patent charge you could expect to pay otherwise. (To run the program, you'll need Windows 98 or above, and 64MB RAM.)

Don Debelak is author of Entrepreneur magazine's Startup Guide #1813, Bringing Your Product to Market, and host of inventor-help website www.dondebelak.com.