Mag-Trans Corporation News

Inventors seek Fair feedback
by Diane L. Cormany, Focus Editor - City Business

Bob Albertson doesn't have the kind of flashy sales pitch you might expect from a State Fair vendor.

In fact, he usually has others do the selling for his Wayzata companies, Posi-Grip Tool and All Terrainer Industries, concentrating instead on inventing new products. But he wouldn't miss the chance to man his own booth for the 12-day Minnesota State Fair.

Local inventors say the Great Minnesota Get Together provides invaluable exposure to potential customers. It's not so much the direct sales they emphasize. Instead, they highlight the chance to interact with potential customers from all walks of life, in what amounts to free market research.

Those in the inventing community say marketing is key to capitalizing on a good idea. Bill Baker, adviser to Minnesota's Inventors Network, a St. Paul-based non-profit, says almost 85 percent of patentable products aren't on the market.

"Inventing itself is about 20 to 25 percent of the ball game. The rest is marketing to find out if there is a market out there and if the product has value," says Baker.

The Inventors Network hosts a booth at the State Fair, where more than a dozen of its 160 members display their inventions. This year, a sprinkler mounted on a NASCAR model and a portable fish and game-cleaning table are among the products on display.

"It's great public exposure; we'll run about 18,000 people through during the course of the fair," said Baker.

Minnesota State Fair attendance totaled nearly 1.7 million in 2000. This year, 1300 vendors paid from $55 per front foot to exhibit to $70 per front foot to sell every-thing from deep-fried candy bars to threshers.

Because the Inventors Network display is set up in the Education Building, no selling is allowed. The group hands out "Peoples' Choice Award" ballots that allow attendees to vote for their favorite invention in the booth. The ballot also asks what the person would pay for the product and whether they would buy one. . . .

Albertson, of All Terrainer and Posi-Grip, has been a vendor at the State Fair for the past eight years. His booth — an unassuming assembly of peg board, plywood and 2-by-4s — is located in the high-traffic area next to the Food Building. This year, he's showing an amphibious vehicle, a charcoal water filŽter for home coffee makers, and the conŽsumer model of his Posi-Grip wrench.

Albertson first designed a professional model of the Posi-Grip — a socket wrench without a ratchet mechanism. He has modified the handle on the consumer model, not to mention its polish and packaging, based on input from past fairgoers.

"A lot of companies send thousands to market-research companies to evaluate their products. Being at the State Fair, we get people from all walks of life," Albertson said.

He is also testing the pricing of the consumer wrench. Albertson, who markets to such big names as Ace Hardware and Home Depot, says it's important to do your home-work before you go to the mass retailers.

"The buyers like the fact that we've gone out and done our research," he said. "The mass merchandisers don't want a product that they sell a few of. They want products in there to move off the shelves."

Inventor, Bob Albertson presents at Minnesota State Fair