March 2005 - Growing an Invention

A 70-year-old retired businessman invents a garden-trimming tool from his U.K. home, but finds success on the airwaves of American television.

By Vitisia Paynich

Overnight successes are a rarity in any business, especially when it comes to a product invention. Henry Bessinger, had waited nearly his entire life to see one of his creations make it big. This 70-year-old inventor spent much of his career operating a business in his native South Africa, where he manufactured locomotives for the mines; however, inventing products has remained his passion since childhood.

Living in South Africa, Bessinger was accustomed to having gardeners maintain the grounds of his home. “When I came to England 14 years ago, I suddenly had to do my own gardening,” he explains. Although he enjoyed tending to his garden, he says that when it came time to weed the area, he couldn’t stand it when his conventional garden-trimming tool would become faulty due to poor construction.

This prompted him to think of ways to solve this gardening problem. He recalls, “It must have taken two years to work out exactly what I had to do.” In 1997, Bessinger finally came up with a prototype he was satisfied with and called his new invention the Weed Thrasherâ„¢. “It’s a garden-trimming machine that cuts the weeds and long grass in your garden,” he says. “Normally, you have a nylon line in the head of these different machines, and they tend to jam up. So, I came up with the idea of a product [designed from] all metal construction. They are loose pieces of nylon that tip into a head within a matter of seconds.”

Thus, according to Bessinger, downtime caused by jamming of the thrasher head was virtually eliminated.

Once this long-time inventor decided to go full force with the Weed Thrasher invention, the next process was manufacturing the device.
“I knew an engineering shop in England that was not far from where I lived,” Bessinger notes. “He was the type of person who could make the type of tooling that I required.” In the beginning, Bessinger handled the tooling all on his own and manufactured the first heads himself as well as the first batch of nylon cutters by having molds made.

However, the inventor quickly realized he had bitten off more than he could chew. What’s more, the European market demanded more than what he could handle. Bessinger soon outsourced the manufacturing of the Weed Thrasher to a Chinese company.

“Henry has more business and manufacturing experience than most inventors,” contends Richard Resnick, managing director of Intromark Inc., an invention licensing company and sister company of Invention Submission Corp. (ISC), an inventor services firm based in Pittsburgh, Pa. “However, he thought the strategy was going to be that he would handle the sourcing himself, be the manufacturer, supply the marketing company, and ultimately, supply the retail all himself.” Resnick adds that Bessinger soon discovered that as he went forward, the inventor realized he didn’t have: 1) established sources; and 2) he couldn’t handle the quantities that were going to be necessary. “And, he particularly wasn’t able to source the product in Asia at good enough pricing to make it happen,” says Resnick.

Bessinger admits that he was manufacturing the product but wasn’t making any money because he wasn’t selling enough volume. As a last-ditch effort, the inventor sought assistance from companies that traditionally worked with inventors. “I was very reluctant to approach any of them, because I didn’t feel that I would get a fair deal,” says Bessinger. “I know that was being a bit skeptical but I really felt that way.”

During that time, he believed he had run out of options. And if he didn’t take the chance, Bessinger confesses, “I would have been in serious trouble because I had put a tremendous amount of money into the product.”

The inventor met with Ian McAllister, who was a representative for ISC’s London office. Bessinger recalls his meeting went well and felt comfortable with McAllister after showing him the Weed Thrasher. Bessinger notes that after a couple of weeks, he decided to have Intromark/ISC run with it.

Resnick says, “The Weed Thrasher is a very elegant and simple patent to start with. The patent on how the cutters are attached to the head and spin is very unique and useful, because it solves an existing problem.” Thus, the inventor took a chance with Intromark/ISC and hired the company to promote the Weed Thrasher, which meant showcasing the device at various trade shows throughout Europe and the United States.

One of the main trade shows that Bessinger attended was the INPEX show, an annual international inventors’ show in Monroeville, Pa.

“We were fortunate the first year [that we attended] to win a gold medal in our [product] division, which helped enormously with advertising,” he recalls. The next year, Bessinger’s product took second place honors and a $5,000 cash prize. The added exposure allowed the Weed Thrasher to move toward direct response television (DRTV).

About eight years ago, inventor Henry Bessinger created the Weed Thrasher, a garden-trimming tool designed with durable nylon cutters.

“They say the proof of the pudding is in the eating,” says Bessinger. Whatever reservations the inventor once had with working with an outside company were now non-existent. Bessinger contends that Intromark/ISC had done more than what it had told him it would do. Besides exhibiting the Weed Thrasher at trade shows, the company sought DRTV representation as well. Yet, finding the right direct marketing firm to represent the Weed Thrasher product wasn’t without some obstacles.

The first company to represent Bessinger was a DR firm based in Canada. However, the relationship proved short lived. But Intromark’s Ronnie Smith soon connected the inventor with CRTProducts Inc., a direct response marketer located in Burlington, Wis., which agreed to license the product.

Bessinger was quite impressed with the DR company. He says, “They put their money where their mouth was, because I think the advertising bill as such for the first year was around $2 million. And for a direct response company to [agree] to put up that kind of money, they had to be pretty sure that they had a product that stood a chance of making it.”

“What CRTProducts brought to the table was, obviously, investment but also the ability to source the product and, of course, the ability to bring all of the various skill sets, such as retail, packaging, production and everything else necessary to make it work,” explains Resnick.

He recalls that when the first Weed Thrasher show aired, it didn’t do very well. However, after reworking the campaign and launching the show a second time, the product became successful. Eventually, CRTProducts took over manufacturing the product.

According to Bessinger, “Perhaps over the last three years, they must have spent [millions] on advertising for the Weed Thrasher. But, obviously, they’ve fully recovered all of that, so I hope it’s been a very good product for them as well.”

In fact, the product has been so successful that it is available at Wal-Mart, and customers can also purchase the Weed Thrasher on the Web.

“I thought I knew a lot about business but with this direct response television, I can tell you it’s an absolute minefield,” warns Bessinger. He adds that partnering with the right direct response company from the beginning is absolutely critical.

Although CRTProducts has taken full charge of the product’s DRTV efforts, the company keeps Bessinger abreast of any developments. He even makes a trip to the U.S. twice a year to visit the CRTProducts offices.

Reflecting back on the whole experience, Bessinger says, “I’ve learned that it’s easy to think up ideas but to put them down on paper and to start getting patents and those types of things for the product, it’s very costly and it’s not a question of just putting it out and seeing the reaction.” While Bessinger says the experience has taught him many things about what it takes to get an invention to market, Resnick believes Bessinger stands out from most inventors he’s come across because he comprehends the business side.

“Inventors, in general, think that everybody involved in the project is making a jillion dollars and taking advantage of them, but that’s inventor paranoia. They have no understanding of the economics, the risks involved, the investment involved, and the difficulty of doing a product,” says Resnick. He adds that it becomes even more complicated when direct response television is added to the mix.

“They really don’t understand the costs that go into sourcing a product, producing a commercial or show and absolutely no concept of the difficulty of buying media. But even somebody who has resources of their own and manufacturing experience doesn’t realize how many units can be sold, and how impossible it is for just an individual inventor to just simply finance the inventory in order to continue to have a show and then a retail program,” suggests Resnick.

Speaking as an inventor, Bessinger believes that “you have to have implicit faith in what you have invented. You have to put your life and soul into it. I know people, so-called inventors, who have put a lot of money in and they have pursued it right to the end. But unfortunately, your product is not always going to do what you think it will do. You have to find the right company that’s going to [expose] it to the market in some shape or form. And through that company, find the right direct marketing firm that’s prepared to run with it, and then it’s in the hands of the gods, really.”

Online Marketing Breathes New Life Into a Pet Vacuum Product

By Vitisia Paynich

Evan Matsumoto, founder of Vac Buddy Inc. in Seattle, Wash., has been selling central vacuum cleaners for 15 years. “In that time, I’ve had two or three product inventions that I tried to put on TV that weren’t successful,” he says.

However, one day, Matsumoto had an idea for a device that hooks to a vacuum and intercepts the dirt-preventing it from going directly into the main vacuum unit. Thus, he had his manufacturer build a prototype based on his specifications. The product was constructed of metal with a shorter hose attached to it.

But the inventor ran into problems early on. “I couldn’t get the price point low enough to put it on TV,” says Matsumoto. To lower the expense of manufacturing, Matsumoto decided to redesign the product using plastic rather than metal. He tried to sell the modified product on TV for a while but the price point still made it a hard sell.
“We actually sold 800 of them to vacuum dealers around the country, and they weren’t able to move them either,” admits Matsumoto. “And so, I had 1,700 devices left in my garage.” He then decided to rethink the product. “Because the central vacuum machine is out in the garage, people have always been able to vacuum their pets with it,” he says. Matsumoto explains that people have generally found that because the system is quieter than a traditional vacuum, it could easily be used on pets.

The central vac’s long hose allowed for simple functionality, which caused the inventor to think, “Why don’t we do that with this and use the same concept but put a long hose on it, hook it up in another room like a closet with the vacuum, run the long hose out of there and groom pets with it?”

He says it was a combination of inventing something and then changing it out of desperation. Soon after making a slight modification to the product, Matsumoto named the modified product the PetBuddy and shot his own video commercial.

In September 2003, Matsumoto was attending the ERA Annual Conference in Las Vegas when he came across the Livemercial booth. “I was impressed with the work they did,” he recalls. “I had never put the video on TV and I went to them first because I realized that would be the least expensive route to take.” After speaking for a while with Livemercial, Matsumoto was convinced that he should give online marketing a try.

Jeff O’Connor, vice president of sales and media for Livemercial in Valparaiso, Ind., says, “The main objective of the program was to create an offer that could test successful on the Web from scratch, and make the transition to TV with the same or similar offer. We knew that we had to structure the offer to reflect TV offers and not necessarily Web offers to get the proper metrics in place that would later lead to a TV rollout.”

He adds that Livemercial didn’t give away free shipping; however, the company created a strong pipeline to increase the average revenue per order. The company also focused on the conversion rate on the initial offer.

“The placement of the media we initially chose was not a direct vertical of pet or pet owners. We wanted to be as general as possible in our targeting to see the acceptance and conversion percentage of the general consumer,” explains O’Connor. “Our media team decided that e-mail marketing on a CPM basis would provide the PetBuddy with the most accurate read for a possible rollout down the road, and [would also] prove to be the toughest test.”

He recalls that the initial response was positive. “We sent out our first few million e-mails and had a positive ROI from the beginning,” says O’Connor.

Besides launching a full-scale e-mail marketing campaign, Livemercial built a Website for the PetBuddy product. The first distinctive feature the company used for the PetBuddy Website was putting Matsumoto’s two-minute call-to-action spot on the Website together with instant streaming video.

“Evan had a great infomercial piece on the PetBuddy and we wanted this to be part of the focus of the sale,” says O’Connor. He adds that it also determined how well the spot would perform on TV.

What were the results? Displaying a Website name on the PetBuddy call-to-action TV spot combined with a full online marketing campaign have led to a 30-percent lift in overall sales for the product. According to O’Connor, the Website has also lowered TV spending CPOs with high conversion rates off the TV spots that have been displaying the URL call to action.

Matsumoto is also pleased with the results. “For every three PetBuddies we have sold on TV, we have sold one through Livemercial,” he says. “I probably couldn’t have made it without them. If they wouldn’t have built our site, our sales wouldn’t have been strong enough just off of TV by itself to make this campaign work. That’s how important it was.”

Electronic Retailer would appreciate your feedback. To submit comments or questions, point your browser to


No Comments

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a comment