Hello, My Name Is. . .

The best way to protect your invention? Brand your name.
Magazine Contributor
8 min read

This story appears in the December 2000 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Lea Cavender's epiphany, one that would change her life forever, occurred in a ribbon store. Back when the founder of E-Z Bowz LLC was still an employee at Ribbon Outlet, she realized the biggest reason people didn't buy more ribbons was that they simply didn't know how to tie bows. So she recruited the assistance of her father to create E-Z BowMaker, a wooden device that made tying beautiful bows a snap.

Ribbon Outlet immediately placed an order for a whopping 10,000 E-Z BowMakers in 1993, and Cavender, 43, was off and running. She and her 48-year-old husband, Art, quickly built the business to sales of $1.5 million during its first year.

Cavender got another boost during the start-up stage: She attended the 1993 Hobby Industry Association for Crafts Show, where she set up a demonstration table at which people could make their own bows. "We had people lined up the entire show wanting to make a bow," she says. "Our 'make it/take it' strategy created tremendous interest in our product."

As a direct result of that successful show, Cavender got a deal with C.M. Offray and Son Inc., a leading manufacturer of decorative ribbons. Offray agreed to distribute the E-Z BowMaker to all its craft retail store customers with the exception of Michael's, which Cavender kept as a house account. "Offray reaped immediate dividends because everyone who bought an E-Z BowMaker bought lots more ribbon," explains Cavender. "It was a winning situation for both them and us."

By 1999, Cavender had managed to increase sales to more than $5 million. But she realized her start-up advantages wouldn't necessarily result in long-term sales success. She was vulnerable to competitors producing better products or offering knock-off versions of her product at a lower price. She also had the possible threat of a ribbon company offering a free or reduced-priced bow-maker to consumers as an incentive to purchase more of that company's ribbons. Cavender could have been out of business or experienced dramatically reduced sales if any of those events occurred. So she formed a strategy to brand her name. Her goal: to have people interested in crafts recognize and associate her name with quality, easy-to-use craft products.

Cavender has spent the past six years making her name known through heavy TV exposure, new products and product packaging. Branding her name has created a strong market presence for Cavender and helps ensure strong sales even if competitors produce similar products.

Secrets Of The Craft
Cavender believes the most important ingredient for an inventor's success is a "can-do attitude; not ever thinking you can fail." She also believes in "putting all her cards on the table" when approaching manufacturers and distributors and "being very open about the fact that you need help to succeed."

One last tip: "Don't try to manufacture the product yourself until you have success marketing it." Cavender believes inventors need to concentrate on selling their products, and they can't do that if they're trying to overcome dozens of manufacturing-related problems.

Make Television Appearances

Cavender has a two-pronged TV strategy: One approach is to appear on home shopping networks, and the second, as she puts it, is "to be on as many related TV shows as possible." Cavender marketed her product on Home Shopping Network every other week from 1994 to 1998, before switching to QVC in 1999. She reaped substantial sales on the network-$150,000 from just her first TV appearance.

Meanwhile, Cavender has appeared as a frequent guest on cable TV shows that target people interested in crafts, including The Carol Duvall Show on HGTV, Aleene's Creative Living on TNN and Handmade by Design on Lifetime. Cavender says she's "always bubbly and animated" on the shows and ends up "getting a lot of fan mail from those appearances."

Has She Got A Deal For You!
Have a great craft idea, but don't know how to get it off the ground? Cavender is always on the lookout for craft products to distribute. If she believes she can sell your product, she'll even help arrange for manufacturing. Cavender started this program to expand her product line . . . and because she remembers how hard it was for her to get started. "I try to help other inventors whenever I can," she says.

The deal Cavender offers inventors varies depending on the level of production support she would have to provide, but she's an ideal outlet for inventors who don't have the capital or time to push their products onto the market.

Visit the E-Z Bowz Web page at www.ezbowz.com for more information.

Put A Picture On A Product

Having established her name on TV, Cavender's next objective was to make sure consumers would link her name with her product in the stores. While Cavender acknowledges "only 20 percent of people purchase products from TV," she also feels those other 80 percent are still affected by TV ads and would remember her picture if she placed it on the product. Consequently, all her new products boast her picture on the box. Putting her picture on the box provides Cavender with two major benefits: First, it helps consumers immediately recognize her products on the shelf and increases their confidence that the products will work. Second, putting her picture on the packaging makes it much easier for Cavender to introduce her new products. Retailers now have an incentive to put E-Z Bowz's products on the shelf: They know the products will be promoted on TV. In the past few years, Cavender has successfully introduced Angel Bowz Kits and the E-Z Rose and FlowerMaker, largely due to her success in branding her name.

Got An Old Patent Hanging Around?/b>
Inventors' Digest magazine has a nationwide database of inventions available for sale or license. Included in the listings are the names and descriptions of the inventions as well as inventors' names, addresses and phone numbers. This database is shared only with manufacturers looking for ideas. The cost to list an invention is just $10. For application forms, send an SASE to Inventors' Digest, P.O. Box 70, Guffey, CO 80820, or call (800) 838-8808.

Create Brand Identity

Inventors sometimes concentrate on branding a company name such as E-Z Bowz, a product name such as E-Z BowMaker or a person's name such as Lea Cavender's. Branding the inventor's name is a better strategy in almost every case for three reasons:

1) People relate better to people than they do products or companies. They're likelier to believe the claims of a strong individual than those of a company.

2) Branding a name gives an inventor more flexibility as to the products he or she can introduce in the future. Cavender, for example, can use the credibility she earned as a television expert to help introduce other items that aren't craft-related.

3) People notice the picture of a person on a package if it's someone they recognize. They will also remember a brand name, but not as well as they remember a person.

Like Cavender, most successful inventors concentrate on one target customer group and work on introducing one product after another to that group. With that in mind, you should give serious consideration to branding your name when you introduce your first invention. Not only will this help you sell your first product, as it shows you truly stand behind it, but it makes selling future products much easier as well. Branding is one tactic that gives you a major advantage over the conglomerates, which can only brand the names of their companies and product lines. Inventors need every edge they can get to succeed, so start putting your smiling face in front of your target customers today.

Go By The Book

How to transform that crude sketch into a bona fide patent drawing

One way underfinanced inventors can cut patent costs is to learn to do their own patent drawings. The best book on the topic is the second edition of How to Make Patent Drawings Yourself: Prepare Formal Drawings Required by the U.S. Patent Office (Nolo Press) by patent agent Jack Lo and patent attorney David Pressman, available for $20.97 at www.nolo.com.

The book covers how to do illustrations with a pen and ruler, a computer or a camera. The last two techniques are ones even artistically challenged inventors can manage. You can also read rather extensive explanations of patent drawings to help you understand prior art patents that your patent might potentially infringe on. The book explains all the details required on drawings for the Patent Office. Even if you hire a patent attorney, this book is worth reading, as it can help minimize the $200-per-hour consulting time you'll need with your attorney.

The book also offers recommendations for both 2-D and 3-D drawing software. One such 2-D program is AutoSketch, which I've personally found useful for doing layout drawings for ads, packages and brochures. It's available from Autodesk for $99 (street); visit www.autodesk.com for more information.

Don Debelak is a new-business marketing consultant and the author of Bringing Your Product to Market(John Wiley & Sons). Send him your invention questions at dondebelak@uswest.net.

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