Inventor and entrepreneur Eric Huber launches 9 of his invention ideas at the 2017 International Home + Housewares show in Chicago
Editor’s note: Eric Huber is a prolific inventor and passionate advocate for innovation. Eric has been a member of Edison Nation since 2008, was featured on Season 4 of Everyday Edisons, and today sits on the board of the United Inventors Association. He’s brought his invention and intellectual property advocacy to Capitol Hill and just recently, he brought nine new products to the 2017 International Home + Housewares Show in Chicago.
I’ve often heard rave reviews about the annual International Home + Housewares Show in Chicago. Big show with lots of exhibitors and tens of thousands of buyers from around the world. I’d never attended because I was always too busy and occupied with the trade shows in Las Vegas like the hardware and automotive show.
But this time I had to go, and I’m glad I did! Having licensed 9 of my inventions to a company, they asked me to attend and work with them in their booth. In order to be in two places at one time, my wife, Andrea accompanied me to walk the aisles looking for possible licensees for our other products.
As an inventor with many licensed products, the usual process went something like this: I sign the licensing agreement, we chat a bit about product development and then I sit back to wait for the royalty checks. That was typically the extent of my involvement. Kind of like “sign here, now bye-bye”. This experience was vastly different, and it was exciting!
After signing the agreements, the company and I went to work with about T-minus two months until show time. Two months sounds like a decent amount of time and it probably is for one or two items, but I had 9 products to get ready.
The plan for the booth dedicated the center slat wall area of the 10′ x 40′ space to feature my products. My prototypes were OK. They were good enough to tell the story on a sell sheet. But in real life, that’s another story. Let’s just say some were “look-like”, while others were “work-like”, but very few were the coveted “looks-like, works-like” prototypes that were needed to compel the big retailers to see, touch and feel. So I went to work, spending long days in my workshop. Luckily I was not alone; my licensee’s vendors were very helpful, creating some of the prototypes and packaging mock-ups. Additionally, I had to create the displays, including the imagery of the products in use. My kitchen, my fridge, my bathroom became photo studios… I have such a patient, understanding family.
With a few days to go, I was almost done. All that was left was to “prop” and stage my prototypes. Sounded simple, just buy some cans of soda, fruit and boxed goods, but then came concerns about durability for packing it to Chicago, and the added shipping weight. Eggs or bananas don’t do really well sitting out for days. Luckily, Michaels carries faux fruit, vegetables and with Easter season merchandise on the shelves early, I found eggs! Have you ever tried emptying cans of soda through a small hole in the bottom? How about emptying containers of yogurt? Not easy and quite messy. But I did it…everything packed perfectly and checked in as luggage.
With unusual dimensions of one of my prototypes, I crafted a custom box out of cardboard, duct tape, webbing and pipe, big enough to carry everything, but small enough so as not to be charged extra fees by the airline.
Needless to say, my wife and I arrived with the maximum allowable luggage. Promoting of our inventions started in baggage claim when a couple of women asked my wife what was in the duct tape covered box…my wife answered with a proud “inventions for the Housewares show”. The buyers were intrigued and asked for our booth number.
The next morning was set-up. It was hard work. But displaying my products pretty close to how I had envisioned it in my mind made it fun. Dinner that night was hosted by the licensee at an upscale, top-rated Chinese restaurant to celebrate the completing of the booth. Unbeknownst to my wife and I, we were dining and enjoying the company of a well-known icon in the catalog retailing industry.
Saturday morning the show doors opened. I must say, I was a bit nervous and I don’t usually feel that way, but this was a big day, at the largest housewares show in the world. How would my inventions be received by buyers for the biggest retailers in the world? We discussed strategy. I rehearsed important selling points. I was ready.
First up, “really big retailer”.
I was promptly introduced as the inventor of most of the new products. As my licensee went through my products with vigor and enthusiasm, I found myself stepping back and thinking how amazing it was to hear a 40-year veteran in the Housewares industry selling these buyers on why they needed MY inventions in their 7,000 stores. By the third hour of participating and experiencing the amazing retailer’s feedback, I was relaxed, confident and ready for more. The scenario repeated over and over for the next few days, and I found myself on cloud nine.
The only difficult part was staying in the booth, but I had to, the future of these 9 inventions were at stake. It was difficult because I had other inventions needing homes, and there were many, many potential licensees “needing” my inventions 🙂 …enter my wife with business cards and sell sheets in hand, here is her journey.
As my husband’s business partner for nearly three decades, I have rock-solid confidence in Eric’s abilities to identify a need, ideate a solution and effectively communicate the steps necessary to turn a simple idea into a marketable reality on a shelf with a price tag. On a day-to-day basis, my job is to support and nurture Eric’s innate creative abilities. My duties look strange on a resume; ranging from inventor’s muse; voice of reality (“that idea sucks!”); press release writer; contract negotiator; social media promoter; motivator; general office duties; receptionist; sewing machine needle threader, and janitor.
My job, for this epic event was to pound a lot of bone-jarring concrete.
Day 1 – CRUISE, PERUSE, TAKE NOTES AND PLAN: I intentionally chose to take the first day off from introducing myself to vendors. I’m considerate that the vendor’s motives for being there is to sell, and at this show, they had only 32 show hours to do so. Depending on the size of booth, booth design, set-up, booth and product transport logistics, employee salaries, hotels, food, airfares, taxi fares and more, their expenses are upwards of $250,000. Now divide that by the 32 hours – They are expending over $7,800/hr. If I show up during what they perceive as their peak selling and networking hours, I’ve just introduced myself as a pest. So on that first day, I scoped out the exhibitors that I felt would be a good match for our present categories, future products, made note of trends, and observed the interactions between the buyers and sellers, getting cues of what the buyers are looking for. Sometimes I’d overhear where a manufacturer’s product offering was inadequate to fill that particular buyer’s needs. That’s when the light switch flips to high beams in my brain. That sounds like opportunity to me!
The show directory was limited in providing valuable information for me as a licensor. Names I’m familiar with fall under parent company names that were listed in the directory. It got confusing. The show directory was handy for taking notes when accompanied by the show floor map. For the big name manufacturers, I mapped out location and planned my attack plan. Some describe the International Home + Housewares Show as huge or enormous. I felt a more adequate description was epic. There were multiple floors, wings, and so many exhibitors and 60,000 attendees from all over the world. That is epic!
Days 2 & 3 – MEET THE EXHIBITORS: I’m sure there may be better ways to do what I do, but this is how I introduced myself. I’m careful to not interrupt any transactions or conversations between buyers and sellers. I believe in being succinct (the exhibitors are too tired to wade through small talk.) I tell them who I am, and ask if they accept outside submissions. If they answer affirmatively, I hand them my card and ask for theirs. I determine if they are the decision maker, if not, who is, and their contact information. If that person is on site, I ask if they are available, again being cognizant of the importance not to be a pest, but a potential future asset for their company. I make sure I’m with a decision maker (or at least someone who is rife with valuable knowledge I need to move forward.) I determine if they sign NDA’s. I then give them a brief history about my prolific inventor husband. My voice exudes friendly, welcoming excitement and the confidence that I have in my husband’s creativity and abilities. I can’t help but smile when I talk about my husband, and I think people want to share that happiness. If the person has a heartbeat, and not a hangover from the night before, I may interject a joke at that point, like “He can’t help it. That’s how his brain works. I’m tempted to make him wear a helmet to protect my investment.” The laughter breaks any ice or hesitation. I’m a very sincere person… genuine. If I see a fit for our products or even for inventors we know, I am taking notes to help me follow-up effectively after the show. I ask for a catalog, and am courteous enough to make sure they have enough to make it through the show with their stock on hand. If the exhibitor has time, I inquire about their target market, distribution methods, their top four categories, if they are looking to expand or add new categories. I ask questions and I listen for needs that Eric and I can potentially fill.
DAY 4 – If I missed anyone, I made a last ditch effort to make a connection. For exhibitors that I really made a good connection with, I went back to say one last goodbye.
SURPRISING – I was amazed that there were so many different exhibitors with only one product, water bottles; and often their only distinguishing feature from their competitors was simply visual, graphic design. Most surprising to me were the water bottle exhibitors that had purchased the equivalent of four booths, featuring one water bottle product in different colors.
We look forward to going again next year!
A few familiar Edison Nation faces were at this year’s Housewares show, including Elizabeth Crouch, inventor of the Cupcake Rack. Stay tuned for her story!
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