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QVC@The Mall provides launching pad for local inventors
Minneapolis / St. Paul Business Journal - August 16, 2002 by Benno Groeneveld


Inventors are often faced with a conundrum: No matter how good or revolutionary their invention may be, they need the support of big orders in order to be able to mass produce their new item and make money. But an inventor needs to sell a lot of his or her product before being able to land the credit needed to finance production facilities for the product.

Selling a product to TV shopping channel QVC Inc. is one way for an inventor to break through this cycle. The 15-year-old West Chester, Pa.-based company, which has a potential viewership of 84 million through cable and satellite outlets, needs a constant flow of new products to keep its shoppers interested. The company is always looking for the next slicer-and-dicer to be included in the 240 products it shows every day, 365 days of the year. QVC has become one of the most coveted venues for inventors to sell their products and catch the attention of larger retail venues, such as Home Depot and the like.

Last year QVC opened its first, and so far only, physical store: QVC@The Mall located in the Mall of America, Bloomington. The store advances the reach of the TV channel, offering viewers a chance to touch and feel the products — or smell the perfume and fragrances — offered on TV, said Marlene Robinson, its general manager.

QVC@The Mall is divided into various parts of a house. There is a "kitchen," a "bedroom" and a "shed," set up to show products that the channel sells in their natural environment. The store also doubles as a TV studio, allowing QVC to show shoppers' reaction to the various products shown on television.

The Mall of America store also provides QVC with a chance to connect with inventors. In April, the company held a national product search at the mall store. The open house gave inventors a chance to show their products to QVC buyers and, hopefully, persuade them to feature the inventor's product in a future broadcast. More than 600 inventors from all over the country heeded the call, including about 160 from Minnesota, said company sources.

A lot of inventors left disappointed, said Marilyn Montross, director of vendor relations at QVC's headquarters. The company is very specific about what it wants from an inventor. "We are not looking for ideas," she said, "but we are looking for products" that can be quickly put on the air and immediately shipped to customers.

Only 21 inventors, or those trying to sell inventions made by others, were contacted by QVC for a follow-up. Out of that group only three have received purchase orders so far; six are still going through the quality evaluation process, and QVC is talking to another 11.

One of the few inventors who managed to jump through all the hoops is Bob Albertson, who lives in Wayzata. Albertson, a veteran inventor with more than 200 patents to his name, will soon have his latest product on the air: a water filter for use in coffee makers.

Albertson is different from most struggling inventors. He broke through the inventors' conundrum awhile ago and can now afford to finance his products until they take off. The brain behind the Water Pic shower massage and the plastic-cord mechanism used in the Weed Eater and similar products, Albertson could tell QVC that he already had an arrangement with a Minnesota plastic injection molding company to produce his water filter. He declined to say how many filters QVC will buy, describing the order only as "sizable."

An inventor is either a small business or a large business; there is no middle ground these days, said Albertson. In order to go from small to large, inventors need an organization like QVC to break through and make money on their inventions.

Years ago, a mom-and-pop store would put up a display for your product or tell their customers about it. Now nobody pushes your product at a Wal-Mart or a big superstore," he said. An inventor has to do all the work him or herself in order to convince stores to feature a new product.

Albertson's exposure on QVC and in the mall store will make it easier to sell his invention. "If you can prove through QVC that your product sells, you draw the attention of larger companies," he said, adding that both Procter & Gamble Co., owners of Maxwell House coffee, and General Foods International Coffees, a Kraft Foods Inc. subsidiary that owns Folgers, already have expressed interest in his coffee filter.







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Bob Albertson's invention was one of the few to make it through QVC's stringent selection process.

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