THE ONLINE INVENTOR -- February 2001

(c) 2001 Market Launchers, Inc.


Publisher: Paul Niemann



"All worthwhile men have good thoughts, good ideas and good intentions - but precious few of them ever translate those into action," John Hancock Field

"Don't bother about genius. Don't worry about being clever. Place your trust in hard work, perseverance and determination," Sir Frederick Treves

"Remember your skeptics, and let them serve as motivation for proving them wrong," Anonymous


In this issue:

Article # 1: "INVENTOR PROFILE: April Deckert," by Paul Niemann

Article # 2: "Providing Good Service is More Important than Having a Good Product," by Paul Niemann of MarketLaunchers.com

Article # 3: "Life After Rejection," by Ron Docie of Docie Marketing 


Article # 1: "INVENTOR PROFILE: April Deckert," by Paul Niemann

Tell me a little bit about your invention.

The "Baby Sleep Safe" Crib Sheet Anchor is the original 6-point sheet anchor, which means that it attaches to the sheet in 6 different places. Each garter clip acts as a tension lock. If the child grabs the sheet and pulls on it, the tighter the tension lock will hold the sheet. It was created to prevent entrapment and suffocation in crib sheets. The problem is that there are no manufacturing standards on crib sheets. The average crib sheet will come off the mattress with only 3 pounds of pull.

What gave you the idea for Crib Sheet Anchor?

One day I found our 5-month old son unconscious, wrapped in his crib sheet. He's fine, but it gave me the idea. I am a seamstress by trade.

How many units have you sold so far?

1,000 units in just 13 months; sales have increased 133% from December to January. Each month gets better than the last.

You mentioned that you have received some media attention so far. How did you achieve that?

Pregnancy Magazine (Feb./March 2001 issue) did a product bio on the Crib Sheet Anchor, and Baby Years (March/April issue) ran a bio on the crib sheet anchor and another product of ours as well.

I'm currently writing an article for the May/June of Baby Years on the subject of "infant suffocation prevention."

A local TV program and the local ABC affiliate here in Pennsylvania both ran stories about us. My husband and I work on this together; he's a teacher. The NBC affiliate in Orlando also did a story when we were in Florida filming a commercial.

The local FOX affiliate and the FOX affiliate in Johnstown/Altoona also ran stories about us.

The ABC news affiliate in Philadelphia did a story, too.

The Evening Sun in Hanover, PA ran a nice story, and the Gettysburg Times ran a story in January.

Did these media outlets find you, or did you have to contact them? How did you find them?

I found them. Persistence is the key, and we knew that our product is important to parents and their young children. Our message that we always stress, whether they do a story on us or not, is to make sure that your children have a safe sleep environment.

I went online to AskJeeves.com and typed in "TV stations by state," and the first thing that popped up was Gebbie Press. Gebbie Press has all the media listings broken down by state.

What kind of advertising and marketing do you do?

I made an offer to the Gettysburg Wal-Mart to do an instructional week-long baby fair. A lot of people bought the "Baby Sleep Safe" Crib Sheet Anchor right at the baby fair during that week.

We advertise in Pregnancy magazine (bi-monthly) and in the Baby Guide 2001 for new mothers. The Baby Guide is in Pennsylvania only. We also advertise in Baby Years (bi-monthly) magazine.

Parenting magazine has us listed in their "Must See Sites" resource section of the magazine.

We run a 30-second TV commercial that runs locally on the Food Network, MSNBC and Home & Garden Television (HGTV) and during the Learning Channel show, "A Baby Story."

The "Baby Guide 2000" goes out to all new Moms at all of the Pennsylvania hospitals, and our ad for the "Baby Sleep Safe" Crib Sheet Anchor is in that Baby Guide.

We also held a raffle during the Wal-Mart Baby Fair where we gave away a crib and $100 in diapers as the Grand Prize winners. Local businesses paid for the prizes in exchange for recognition.

The purpose of the raffle was to establish a mailing list from all the parents with young children that came through. We got approximately 600 names from the raffle and these are all good prospective customers for us.

We did the same thing at the Chicago Baby Fair.

We also donated 50 of the Crib Sheet Anchors so far to the Women, Infants & Children (W.I.C.) program, here locally, to help lower-income families get these. The NBC affiliate ran a story right before Christmas on the 6:00 p.m. news. The Gettysburg Times ran the story on us as well.

At what stage did you file for a patent?

I filed for a patent before breathing a word about it to anybody. I did a preliminary search on the USPTO.gov web site and didn't find anything like it. A friend referred me to a patent attorney. I did as much of it as I could, and wrote the first draft. I filed for a Provisional Patent first. We started marketing it in January of 2000. After we incorporated we filed for a utility patent.

Oddly enough, he was the one that told you about the Ben Franklin Foundation, so again, networking is so important. It helps if you can feel comfortable talking to just about anyone.

What kind of industry research did you do? Or did you rely on your own experiences since you knew a lot about this field? 

I pretty much was able to go from my own experience as a Mom. The Good Housekeeping Institute has done two investigations on sheet safety. I also checked with the National Institute of Health, and the National Network for Child Care to gather statistical information. NEISS (National Electronic Surveillance System) was a good source for injury statistics as well. Plus we put a survey on our web site: http://www.BabySleepSafe.com. We found that 52% did not even know what the safety standards were.

The infant sheet industry has no minimum manufacturing standards on crib sheets, yet a child spends more time on a crib sheet than anywhere else, more than 11,000 hours in the first two years.

Every 9.7 hours another baby suffocates in a crib or bed in America. One out of every three SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) deaths is suffocation-related. And one out of every five SIDS deaths occurs in a daycare setting.

It's not a feel-good topic, but all parents and all caregivers need to be aware that this happens.

What obstacles did you encounter along the way?

The retailers say that they don't have many customers request this, so we have to educate them on why there's a need for the Crib Sheet Anchor. We also did not know how much money it was going to take.

Speaking of money, how did you finance the whole process?

We raised more than $100,000 in 4 months. I wrote the business plan and pitched it to 2 different investors. The first one passed, but the second investor came in with a commitment of $100,000. He was investing in me and in my belief more so than in the product. My goal was to build a successful company so that we can put a Baby Sleep Safe in every home, not to just try to get rich like all the other people who approach investors. We found him through a friend who approached him earlier (again, networking helps). He never invests more than $100,000 in any new venture.

Then we turned to the Ben Franklin Foundation, which helps Pennsylvania-based companies that are in the start-up and early stage. They also helped finance the business. Their main focus is to support economic development and growth in Pennsylvania. They're also a good resource for information.

They could see the greater mission of our company when we went from self-production to mass-production. At this point, we decided to pass the manufacturing cost savings along to our customers, so that more people could protect their children with the Baby Sleep Safe Crib Sheet Anchor. They can see that our goal is to protect children. We dropped the price from $19.95 to $9.95. The number of orders has doubled since then.

Did you ever feel like giving up along the way?

Yes, a million times! But I am a very spiritual person and I prayed a lot. Since I don't have a business background to draw on, I rely on my conscience, morals, and core belief system to guide me. Being an 'Entrepreneur' is like standing in the middle of a river, against the current.

What are you doing to get the Crib Sheet Anchor into retail stores? What kind of response have you received?

I am always looking for more stores to approach, I send them information and them call to get a feel for whether or not they might be interested. I only send out samples to those that I feel truly express an interest in not just the product, but our overall mission. A couple of small boutique stores carry our products, and I am in talks with the Infant department buyer for K-Mart now, so
we're hoping that will lead to something big.

Do you have any other products that you've created and are currently working on?

Yes, the "Bundler", the "Slipster" and the "Slipster Twin." Details can be found on our site.

Anything that you wish you would have done differently?

Yes, I bought into a TV production company's plan to help us do a national direct-marketing media campaign. That campaign did not produce a single order, even though they aired the 60-second commercial 2,000 times over a 60-day period. They ran the ads on low-powered, non-cable, automated TV stations. Their references all checked out beforehand, but their methods did not work. In retrospect, we didn't know the right questions to ask.

What have your customers said about the Crib Sheet Anchor?

Most of their comments come when they realize the importance of protecting their children from suffocating. They are grateful that we are out there doing what we do. They always offer words of encouragement.

Any final words of advice or suggestions for other inventors?

You have to know what your mission -- your purpose -- is because that will be called into question repeatedly. Our mission is very one-dimensional: To protect children from suffocating. My desire goes much further than just protecting my own child, and parents can see that.

Any other comments about the inventing process that you can share with our readers?

Yes, if you recognize a need out there, you can do it. It takes persistence, and you have to feel passionate about it in order to succeed at it.

There are resources out there to help, and there are people out there to help. It's like a network. I used the resources that were available to me to make it work.

# # # #

April Deckert's product is available for retail sale at http://www.BabySleepSafe.com. If you know of a retailer or distributor who is looking for new baby products, you can reach April at 717-677-7154.


Article # 2: "Providing Good Service is More Important than Having a Good Product," by Paul Niemann of MarketLaunchers.com

"Providing Good Service is More Important than Having a Good Product" -- this is something that my Dad told me about 5 years ago, when I was still working in sales at the age of 30. I had never really thought about it until then, as the 2 companies that I had worked for since my freshman year in college both sold products that were tops in their respective industries. My Dad also told me that some day he would explain why it's true that providing good service is more important than having a good product, but there's no need for him to explain it now, because I found out the hard way 2 weeks ago. 

I had encountered a problem with the web host company that Market Launchers had been using since we first opened our humble little site 2 years ago. After calling their tech support number repeatedly and with no luck getting through and spending what seemed like hours on hold at various times, I finally gave up on them and decided to switch to a new web host. I saw no point in being held back by a company that seems to no longer care about their customers. As a result of having to switch web hosts, I ended up spending 18 -- 20 hours uploading the entire site, because the site now has over 300 pages and more than 500 pictures on it. It had become too large to publish all at once like I did in the past. 

You hear so much about the benefits of doing business on the Internet, but one complaint that many Internet users have is the lack of service that Internet companies provide. As evidence of this, I've had people tell me that they were SURPRISED when I returned their call within a day and give them good service. It's sad that people have come to expect bad service from Internet companies, just like I experienced from my previous web host. Why should people be surprised when they receive GOOD service? 

As inventors, you probably feel that product is king, and that may very well be true. In some cases, though, having a good product might be just as important or even more important than providing good service. My point, as it implies to you as an inventor, is that when you're dealing with a potential licensee, distributor, retailer or any other type of customer, you must provide at least adequate service or else you will probably lose their business. The service that I received from our previous web host had deteriorated ever since they got bought out last summer, and I had no choice but to switch. That's probably no big deal to them, since it's only one web site, but there are other web sites that I have built for clients that I will also be switching away from that web host. They will certainly lose other clients as a result of the lack of service they provide. And who will I use to host sites for future clients? I will be setting up their accounts with my new web host (Bizland.com), not the old one that provided such lousy service. 

The companies that offer good service are the ones that will survive and prosper, regardless of whether they have a superior product. If you have a superior product AND provide superior service, then the sky's the limit. Good luck to you. 


Article # 3: "Life After Rejection," by Ron Docie of Docie Marketing

When you know that your rejected invention would make a significant contribution to mankind, there still may be hope. There are organizations such as Battelle Development Corporation in Columbus, OH, and other foundations that help in the development of new technologies when other seed money is not available. Additionally, the federal government and some state governments have programs available to help people further develop their inventions. Many of these programs are under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of Energy. 

One such program is the Energy Related Inventions Program (ERIP). Inventors can receive up to $250,000 to pursue the technical development of their inventions. "Energy related" is used broadly. Let's say that you have invented a folding chair that enables banquet waiters to complete their jobs fifteen minutes sooner each day. This would enable the banquet facility to turn their lights off fifteen minutes earlier each evening. Because of the resulting energy savings, the program may consider your folding chair technology. 

The Department of Energy uses such broad standards when considering inventions because they realize they are one of the only branches of government that has a program for assisting inventors. So they assist as many people as possible even when the specific energy savings is minimal. When the Department of Energy makes their final grant selections, however, they do recognize the invention's overall contribution to society, as well as its potential market feasibility.

Consider taking your invention outside the U.S. Since we are now operating in a global marketplace, your invention may be accepted in other countries before it is accepted in the United States. Foreign patents can help you take advantage of this. Or you might find a foreign company that is willing to do the initial manufacturing and marketing in their country without any patent, but saving the U.S. rights for you should you obtain a U.S. patent. Although you may be giving up any royalties that you would receive in a foreign country, the results of the marketing in that country may encourage a U.S. company to take on your invention once it has been proven overseas. 

Another avenue that many inventors take is to pursue the manufacturing and marketing of the invention on their own. This requires personal commitment, entrepreneurial effort, intestinal fortitude and financial resources. You may be able to start out small with a cottage industry and pursue alternative marketing avenues such as mail-order, multi-level marketing or the up-and-coming television, Internet and video markets. There are ways to go directly to the consumer while bypassing the status quo corporations. After you have established yourself in the marketplace and proven to the corporations that your invention does indeed have value that they did not see, you may be in a position to sell out to the major corporations who at one time misread the marketplace. 

The bottom line here is that there is more than one way to skin a cat. Inventors who have succeeded with these alternative methods of getting to market are those who did not take an unqualified "no" for an answer. Remember, though, that for each inventor who has succeeded there are at least a hundred others who have failed. As we said earlier, 3-M corporation, with all of their resources, succeeds in marketing only three out of every ten products they introduce. Think of where that puts your odds. This is not to discourage you, but rather to forewarn you of the risks before considering the journey. 

# # # #

Ron Docie is the author of "Royalties in Your Future: How to Find Manufacturers, Negotiate, Market and License, Inventions, Patents and Technology." Five years in the making, this 200 + page book is an authoritative step-by-step guide to help inventors through that complicated maze from idea to commercialization. Particular attention is paid to how to identify and qualify appropriate manufacturers and potential licensees. Docie Marketing provides comprehensive services for inventors. One of their specialties is their ability to locate manufacturers who can produce your invention, market it, and pay you royalties. Their web site address is: http://www.docie.com.


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All Rights Reserved


Click here to read the January 2001 issue.