Seaching for the Next Pocket Fisherman
Roger Yanagita had five minutes to make a pitch that could land him millions. "I hate dust," he said before a panel of three men. "I can't stand dust."
He pointed out that feather dusters merely spread dust around, which still makes him sneeze. What to do? "May I present the first ever Duster Vac!"
With that, the Los Angeles inventor fired up a vacuum cleaner with a feather duster attached. "Dust down the hose and out your nose!"
Yanagita was making his pitch at the Response Expo in San Diego, where inventors hoping to sell the next OxyClean or Pocket Fisherman meet with the infomercial marketers who can make that happen.
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Listening to some of the pitches was A.J. Khubani, CEO of TeleBrands, the company behind "As Seen on TV."
"The biggest challenge is coming up with new items," he said during a break between pitch sessions. Khubani said the industry has matured, and while retailers are still dedicating more shelf space to his products—sales were up 20 percent in 2012—it's not like the old days, "when we used to double."
On display at the expo were products like the WaxVac for ear wax, the Wraptastic which makes using plastic wrap easy, and the Perfect Pancake Maker.
What makes a hit product? Khubani said it needs to have three things: be novel, have mass appeal, and demonstrate well on TV.
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TeleBrand's biggest hit so far has been the Ped Egg pedicure product—45 million have sold so far. However, "we fail 90 percent of the time," Khubani said. One failure has been the Comfort Wipe, which makes the bathroom experience easier for people who are, well, large. "Got a million hits on YouTube," with the video Khubani said. "Nobody bought it."
The industry is also trying to evolve as people watch less television. Can "As Seen on TV" move beyond TV? "The challenge here is to figure out how do we produce videos, and how do we get the videos, to the people who are watching videos where they are watching them?" That means new money spent on YouTube and other online initiatives.
But none of it matters unless you have products people want. Khubani has high hopes for the new Pocket Hose—a hose which extends to 50 feet. The product meets all three criteria—it's novel, it is very visual for TV, and it has mass appeal. "Everyone has a hose," he said.
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As for the new products being pitched, Khubani seemed most interested in a backpack insert which redistributes weight in a backpack to reduce strain.
As for the Roger Yanagita's Duster Vac? "It's a unique solution which seems stupid at first," Khubani said. But it's not stupid at all, though the prototype looks a little silly. "It's a really good concept...(but) the design needs a lot of work."
—By CNBC's Jane Wells; Follow her on Twitter: @janewells