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Break The Chain

Need an audience for your latest invention? Skip the giant retail chains-mail-order catalogs might do a better job of hitting your target.

By Don Debelak

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Inventors who think they have the next great product have beenasking the same question for years: How can I move my products fromlocal stores to national retailers? Because that jump is almostimpossible to make in a single bound, many inventors opt formail-order catalogs as an intermediate step.

Why catalogs? For a variety of reasons, actually: Catalogs willorder based on a pre-production model and place orders of up to$50,000; they'll provide valuable proof for how well yourproduct sells and let you make all your sales calls right over yourtelephone; additionally, catalogs are generallyprompt with theirpayments.

Chris McKay, 52, co-invented the DoodleTop, which was a big hit inthe toy market in the mid-1990s. The product, which consists of amarker pen point that draws spirals while it spins, is currentlysold in toy stores nationwide. But in 1997, when McKay came up withhis next invention, the Magnawatch (a watch with an extra lens thatcan be used to magnify small print), he decided to launch thegadget through catalogs instead of large chains. With Magnawatchfeatured in about 5 million catalogs this past Christmas, McKaypredicts that this will be yet another banner year for his DirectHit Products, located in Carmel, California. He expects to seesales of up to $5 million this year.

Initially, McKay thought to only market the watch to seniors, butit turns out the product appeals to travelers who use thewatch's magnifying lens for reading maps, and business peopleand lawyers who need to read fine print in contracts and Netaddresses on business cards. McKay has since found the most successin catalogs such as National Geographic, Signal andNorm Thompson, which sell unique products for travelers.Products in those catalogs tend to sell for less than theMagnawatch's $49 street price, but McKay is currentlydeveloping a premium version that will be a better fit inhigher-priced catalogs.

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

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