Code Name: Inventors

Go from golden idea to agent of invention

While Cato says she was happy her product was finally able to hit markets, having five parties in on the deal significantly cut in on her earnings. She received 25% of royalties for three years, which she says amounted to $50,000 to $70,000 per year. “The bra was sold at Macy’s, JC Penney, Kohl’s, Belks, and it was sold in Canada,” says Cato. Prices range from $29 to $34. Cato’s three-year deal with Maidenform recently came to an end; if she were to sign a new deal for the Breakthrough Backless Bra she’d be able to receive full royalties. The inventor is now seeking investors for the patent-pending practical shapewear she’s since developed.

While some decide to sell off their product to the highest (or most interested) bidder, other inventors choose a more time consuming process. However, it’s one that can yield more control over how and where the product is sold.

Profits Galore
Woolery, now a Stanford Business School M.B.A. graduate, enjoyed the business side of bringing his product to market. Traveling to China to speak to potential manufacturers for his magnetic wristband, he began with 5,000 pieces and continued his tried-and-true method of reaching out to retailers directly. Overall, from concept to production, Woolery says it took $45,000 in startup capital. He secured most of the cash infusion from friends and family and invested $5,000 of his personal savings.

Once ready to start manufacturing, Woolery says the money from the consignment deals he made with local retailers helped foot the bill for larger production.

He began advertising in trade magazines, attending trade shows, and building a solid business team around him, eventually catching the eye of one of the nation’s largest hardware stores.

“In my negotiations with Home Depot, we brought on board an account manager, who was experienced in doing business with Home Depot to assist us,” says Woolery. “It’s less about having an attorney involved and more about having business people involved who understand what we’re looking for and what Home Depot is looking for.”

Currently, Woolery’s MagnoGrip products are running in a pilot test in 135 Home Depot stores in select markets across the country.

Flowers—an inventor himself who created a telephone locking device for parents to cut their children’s telephone use—uses his personal experience to work with others through the Chicago’s 1st Black Inventors Entrepreneurs Organization. He stresses the amount of time and energy commercialization can take.

“If you plan on selling to a major retailer, you have to think about packaging, you have to get somebody to help you come up with a design, you have to find a manufacturer,” says Flowers, who adds a product can be the solution to everyone’s problem but if it doesn’t look the part, consumers won’t be impressed to buy. “Having packaging really helps get your product on shelves because it’s a credibility issue. Retailers want to know ‘Can you really do this? Do you have the resources to put your product on my shelf?’”

While Woolery and Cato took different paths to bring their products to market, both agree inventors need to possess patience as well as the ability to manage their own expectations and those of others in order to withstand the process and—for those lucky enough to reach it—the marketplace.

“I think a lot of the no’s we were hearing initially was more people not being fully convinced we were serious,” says Woolery. “We just needed to keep plowing away and eventually we’d be able to prove to them the product makes sense and is something they should have in their stores.”

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