Surrounded by spotlights and looking as if he's about to broadcast breaking news, A.J. Khubani prepares to listen and respond to multiple solutions for common problems.
The most pressing being cold feet — literally.
At least that was the argument being made on a big video screen by product designer Veronica Villavicencio, who used her time on Virtual Inventor's Day to pitch The Wozzy.
Khubani, the president and CEO of Telebrands in Fairfield, was interested.
“The Snuggie was one of the biggest successes in direct response history … so this product has the best shot of success,” he said. “(The Wozzy is) something that could do well in a direct response television commercial … and sell very well to retail stores.”
Khubani would know.
TeleBrands is a multimillion-dollar direct response company that licenses and markets products through infomercials and retail networks. But before it can sell new products, it needs to see them.
That was what days such as these are all about.
Villavicencio, of Santa Clara, Calif., had sold 1,000 Wozzys via her website within seven hours of being featured on a 10-second “Secret Sales” television spot for Channel 7 Eyewitness News. But she wanted more.
Then she heard about this event, created by the Women Inventorz Network, a community of female inventors across the U.S. and Canada co-founded by businesswomen Dhana Cohen and Melinda Knight.
TeleBrands hosted a virtual pitch session for six finalists selected from hundreds of submissions — the winner would get a 30-minute consultation with Khubani with the hope of securing a contract with TeleBrands.
In the end, Vallavicencio was selected the winner.
“It's very clever,” Khubani said. “Instead of a blanket with sleeves, it's a blanket (with slippers) for your feet.”
Khubani, a Lincoln Park native, is almost singlehandedly responsible for creating the direct response industry hub in New Jersey. After starting TeleBrands 30 years ago, he has inspired others to open three more successful direct response companies in the state. His brother Chuck started Ontel Products; his brother Andy founded Ideavillage Products Corp.; and Khubani's former employee, Keith Mirchandani, launched Tristar Products Inc.
TeleBrands now markets products in 120 countries worldwide. Its most successful include AmberVision sunglasses, the PedEgg foot file, the PediPaws pet nail trimmer, Orgreenic Cookware and the Pocket Hose.
And for the last five years, Khubani has held nationwide “Inventor's Days” in search of TeleBrands' next wildly successful sale. This year, he decided to do one virtually with candidates around the country, using videoconferencing technology.
The other five inventors this year did not turn off their webcams empty-handed — in addition to being told they'd receive a package of products from TeleBrands for participating, Khubani gave each finalist priceless business advice to further the success of their products.
Ellen Ulrich from Dayton, Ohio — already a winner of QVC's Sprouts Contest for Budding Entrepreneurs — invented the “Coiffie,” a removable, travel-friendly hood that protects hairstyles from the elements.
Though Khubani couldn't quite see it as a fashion statement, he admitted that if it sold well on QVC television — and not just on QVC.com — “that would be a great indication that it would sell at national retailers as a result of a direct response commercial, but it'd need to be at the right price point.”
Susan Bee Walker from Decatur, Ga. — inventor of the “Peepsnake,” a seasonal scarf with touch-sensitive see-through sleeves for smartphones and zippered pockets for travel items — sold about $75,000 worth of scarves over eight months on Amazon.com. But Khubani thought Walker might benefit from testing a lower price point than its current retail price of $45.
“Sometimes it's worth taking a loss just to get information; (TeleBrands) does it all the time,” Khubani said. “Many times when we first advertise a product on TV for $20, our manufacturing costs are $20. We don't make any money — we're paying for the advertising. We just want to find out if people respond at that price point.”
Catherine Seifert from Cincinatti, Ohio has sold the “Car Cache” — an adjustable, washable nylon mesh pocket that keeps purses in place and 100 percent accessible while driving — exclusively through Facebook for $19.95.
Although Khubani believed it solved a common problem with mass appeal — considering most women have handbags and a car — he was wary of how wide the market would be for cars with compatible center consoles.
Denise Bauer, a young entrepreneur from Dayton, Ohio, created a 100 percent-silicone washable product that reduces pressure on the neck when tying halter garments, and can also be used to keep scarves, belts, drawstrings and hair ties in place. Khubani suggested Bauer sell “Ezties” in an accessory store as an up-sell item for certain garments, such as bathing suits. He did not believe it would sell as well as a direct response television item.
And Angelica Cox from Chicago, found a way to reinvent scissors by creating “The Wizor” — an item reminiscent of a plastic clothing hook that cuts fishing line, yarn, ribbon, clothing tags and more by attaching to flat surfaces. Manufactured and shipped through The Grommet, a popular product-launch platform, Cox sold 1,000 units over six months, with 25 reviews giving the product an average of five stars.
Khubani loved The Wizor but wanted to find a way to expand its uses: “It could be sold in multiples — one for the laundry room, one for the tackle box, one for the kitchen … it's a handy little product.”
When the pitch session concluded, Khubani declared the economic and cost-friendly Virtual Inventor's Day a great success.
“If we can have a national Inventor's Day with a laptop and some lights, we should do this everyday,” he said.
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The Women Inventorz Network
Dhana Cohen, founder and president of The Next Big Zing — the only independent, professional-based review board searching for innovative products — resides in Chicago.
Melinda Knight, owner of Intuitive Safety Solutions, Inc. — a premier safety staffing, recruiting and consulting company — runs her business in Seattle.
And despite the distance between them, together they’ve created the virtually based Women Inventorz Network, which, according to Cohen, is “the only organization exclusively supporting women inventors via education, networking … and a 24/7 online platform for inventors’ trade show booths.”
Inventors can purchase membership to WIN for $25 a month, gaining access to industry experts, an educational resource center and a social connection lounge — all of which help connect inventors with interested companies.
“We currently have a list of 5,500 national retail buyers who are invited to join the network for free … to purchase products from inventors,” Cohen said.
And Women Inventorz Network continues to grow.
“When we first started two years ago, we had 5,000 members — now, we’re at 15,000 members,” Cohen said.
According to Karin Kamp at HuffingtonPost.com, “women held 18 percent of all patents granted in 2010, compared to 14 percent in 2000 and 9 percent in 1990.”
So while it’s refreshing to see a steady increase, now is as good a time as any for women to dramatically shake up a traditionally male-dominated industry by using resources such as Women Inventorz Networks to mold their ideas into lucrative realities.
Is your product “As Seen On TV” worthy?
Here is a list of the top 10 questions A.J. Khubani asks when considering new products for TeleBrands: