Editor's Note: We're rolling out 10 Days of Indie Merchant Gifts, in our annual celebration of the artists, craftspeople, designers and other independent merchants who make one-of-a-kind products. See gifts in the categories of pets, jewelry, kids, food, quirky, eco-friendly and beauty.
It’s usually an aunt. Maybe an uncle. You know, the one who insists on only receiving the most practical gifts. Whether he or she is being frugal or just overly responsible, there are only so many times you can give somebody another navy blue tie or some new khaki-colored socks.
Check out our Holiday Gift Guide slideshow for seven clever ideas for gifts that are practical (no bath bubbles or collectors’ edition lightsabers here, folks) and cool. All of these products solve a problem in a creative and fun way.
To be selected, the item has to be less than $50 and made by a craftsperson who lives in the U.S. or by a company that is headquartered here. Plus, we need to like the story behind the gift.
Product: HandAble Mobile Device Holder
It’s the worst feeling: You see your iPhone slipping out of your hand and before you can reach down fast enough to grab it, it hits the ground and the screen shatters. That’s what motivated David Block of Irvine, Calif., to create HandAble. “So many folks use smartphones for everything these days,” says Block. “And, many will experience the horror of dropping, or nearly dropping, their iPhone.” The HandAble accessory attaches to the back of your device -- be it Android, Amazon Kindle, Kindle Fire, Apple IPad or Samsung tablets -- and fits through your fingers to prevent you from dropping the mobile device.
Editors’ comments: The HandAble makes a perfect stocking stuffer for the clumsey techie in the family. While we have seen other mobile-device attachments that stick to your hand or give you a better grip, this one is cooler, we think, because it gives you versatility to switch your device from horizontal to vertical seamlessly. And while we probably wouldn’t use it that much for a phone, it does make sense for a tablet. Also, the little widget isn’t too cumbersome, which is nice for tucking away in a purse or jacket pocket, and this is the type of gadget that we would use every single day.
Product: Rock-It 3.0
This little thingiemagigie will turn anything into a speaker. We know. Sounds trip-y. It’s true though! Created by Jason Lucash and Mike Szymczak, the co-founders of OrigAudio, an Orange County, Calif.-based startup, the ultra-portable device takes music from your smartphone or tablet and turns it into a series of vibrations. Those vibrations get transmitted through the Rock-It Pod to whatever you stick it to -- an empty cardboard box, a lampshade, a cereal box, a window, you name it. The little thing impressed more than just us: Lucash and Szymczak won an investment on "Shark Tank," the ABC reality show about startups getting funded by investors.
Editors’ comments: We think this is especially super-duper neato-innovative. . . even if it doesn’t seem like something all that practical for daily use. We can see this being useful if you are traveling, sitting by the pool, or throwing a spontaneous picnic party in the park.
Product: Foldable dry erase noteboard
This is one of those “necessity is the mother of invention” stories of entrepreneurship. Robert Thomas dropped out of Stanford and was waiting to be discharged from the Marine Corps when he had the idea to hitchhike to Ohio. He needed to create a sign to display to passing cars where he was headed. It occurred to him that a dry-erase board would be great, but it would be too cumbersome to be convenient. He discovered that taping index cards together with packing tape served as a dry-erase board that he could fold up and put into his pocket. In his new office job, Thomas used his portable Noteboard and it turned enough heads to make him borrow a couple grand from his parents to try to make 1,000 Noteboards and sell them over the next year. “I tossed together a little website, put a link on Reddit, and watched in amazement as all thousand Noteboards sold in one week,” says Thomas. Now, he adds, he's working full-time on Noteboards and other gadgets "that are too simple to NOT exist.”
Editors’ comments: We think this little foldable dry-erase board is super clever and a great idea for traveling business folks who give lectures, pitch to clients on the fly or need a workspace to plan a meeting over a coffee.
My Hikes, LLC
Product: My Hikes Pant Cuff Fasteners
Price: $20 for a pair
Kids grow like weeds. The problem is that their pants don’t. Keeping the pants on pace with the kid can get expensive. And it’s a tad embarrassing for your little tot to always be wearing pants that are just a bit too short. Dani Schlesinger of Austin, Texas, tried to save money by purchasing pants for her kids with some room to grow into. She would roll the cuffs of the pants up when the pants were a bit too big, but “those darn pant cuffs just NEVER stay rolled up,” she found. She created these clips to hold the pant cuffs in place on her kids pants in a fun and stylish way. So far, there are seven different styles for the clips.
Editors’ comments: Kids, if you have them, are going to grow out of their pants. We think these are definitely practical and there is a sizeable market for them.
SaireyG. Designs, Inc.
There is a solution to every problem you didn’t even know you had. The patent-pending TowelTopper is a band that wraps around you and around your towel, holding it in place. Sairey Gernes of St. Paul, Minn., was trying to finish her hair and makeup in the hotel before a friend’s wedding when she came up with the idea. She didn’t want to put her dress on yet but there were so many people coming in and out of the hotel room that she had to hold up her towel, tying up the hands she needed to do her hair and apply her makeup. “I thought there had to be a solution to this problem…and whoola! The TowelTopper was born,” says Gernes.
Editors’ comments: The lady editors here at Entrepreneur.com were perhaps more enthusiastic than the male editors were about this one. One of our office “dudes," while intrigued by the TowelTopper’s ingenuity, was also puzzled by its potential usefulness: “I assume this solves a problem, but would you use it?” Perhaps this is a stocking stuffer best suited to the women on your list.
Product: Inspiring Quotes for Startups
At Entrepreneur.com, we are startup cheerleaders. We get excited about entrepreneurs and all things small business. And we know running a startup -- or dreaming of running a startup one day -- can be grueling. These posters, created by serial entrepreneur Davis Siksnans, have quotes on them from famous and notable entrepreneurs, like Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs. “The process of starting a business is a roller-coaster ride, complete with emotional ups and especially downs,” says Siksnans of Santa Monica, Calif. “That's why I noticed the need for having motivational reminders around, to keep people positive and on the right track.” And if you are a startup junkie, these posters feel good to give, too, since a portion of proceeds from the posters go towards launching new businesses, by supporting Startup Weekend in the U.s. and Garage48 in Europe.
Editors’ comments: This is what we are all about here at Entrepreneur.com. How could we not love these?
Product: T3 Tactical Auto Rescue Tool
Avi Goldstein designed and tested this tool when he was working as a volunteer New York City paramedic. It's designed to be stowed in your car in the case of an unexpected event. It includes a stainless steel serrated knife, a stainless steel seat belt cutter, a spring-loaded steel tip window punch and an LED light. “This product is heavy duty and has been tested in the emergency field setting where it has stood up to the rigorous demands that a paramedic encounters on a regular basis,” Goldstein says.
Editors’ comments: Calling all gadget geeks. We think this not only makes us feel a bit more like James Bond, but also could be really helpful in an unfortunate roadside pinch.