I'll start by saying that if you ever can't sleep at night .... give me a call, and I'll tell you everything I learned about adhesives. That'll put you out in less than 5 minutes - it really is that boring.
Adhesive Knowledge is Necessary to Create a Long-Lasting Product
Yes, it is boring - even to me after all of these years. But I had to learn about the different types of adhesives so that I could intelligently make a decision as to which adhesive, and how much, would best suit our purpose for hanging photos and/or calendars on many surfaces such as non-magnetic stainless steel refrigerators, mirrors, windows, counters, etc. Of course, we'd love to be able to guarantee that our self-stick frames would adhere damage-free to walls, but we're not quite there yet.
Why did I Invent Fodeez® Dry Erase Adhesive Frames?
We built a new home in 2006. It had all of the bells and whistles of a new home at that time, including a big refrigerator that had a solid wood front panel to match our cabinets. It didn't occur to me until we moved into the home that all of the kids' artwork, party invitations, photos and calendars I was used to having on my fridge in the kitchen wouldn't stay on our non-magnetic wood panel refrigerator. My kids were aged 6, 4 and 2; and they were plenty busy. Without that kitchen command center in place, I wasn't sure how I was going to keep track of everyone. So I started using scotch tape ... sure, it looked tacky, but it worked. Plus, it was a much better option than my husband's suggestion to use push pins!
The Process of Manufacturing Fodeez® Frames - Adhesive, Really??
While I had a great idea, I wasn't sure I could pull it off. At first, I didn't really want to use adhesive. The thought of sticky stuff going onto the front of my nice new wood-panel refrigerator didn't really thrill me. So I tried static cling ... it fell off. There just wasn't another good option, so I finally agreed to go the route of adhesive. After all, I had just purchased a "Fathead" of my son playing basketball to go on his bedroom wall, so the adhesive seemed like a decent idea.
To Patent or Not to Patent an Idea
So I had the idea, but did I need to patent it? And how would I even go about obtaining a patent? Luckily, I have many friends that are attorneys, and they in turn introduced me to freinds of theirs that were patent attorneys. I talked to a couple of them .... very expensive to use. But it turns out you can file a provisional patent, which essentially gives you a year to protect your idea and see if it's viable. I won't even begin to claim I know everything about patents, especially since the laws have changed since I first began this process back in 2012. My plan with this blog is simply to explain what I went through, but if you'd like more info on patents, this blog seems to be pretty detailed.
Deciding to File for a Utility Patent
Before the year of our provisional patent expired, we filed for a utility patent. When protecting your idea, you have the option of filing for a design patent or a utility patent. The design patent basically protects the design or look of your product. A utility patent protects the way the product works. Obviously, there is more protection when filing a utility patent. It takes a while for the patent examiner to reply to your initial application. I chose to proceed with a patent attorney rather than complete the application myself. It took over 4 years and more than $40,000 to obtain the patent, but I (and my investors) believe protecting the idea was worth both the cost and the work involved.
What should they look like? A design journey
I had the idea, and I had some designs, but I didn't have any sales, and my concern was that the designs we chose could be hindering our sales. I'm not a designer, and I most certainly wasn't an expert on home decor or anything like it. So I called in a great friend, Barbara Cronin, whose interior design taste was unequaled. Armed with a pile of magazines she had culled through to develop design concepts, Barb sat down with me and gave me her top 5 ideas. We really thought we nailed what people would want in a frame .... but we were so far off!
Solid Picture Frames are the Best!
What we quickly learned was that most people want the frame to be quiet and allow their photos to do the talking. Our solid prints out sold our patterns by about 10 to 1. Further, our designs for the tweens absolutely tanked! We were right that they would like a mixture of patterns in coordinating colors, but the designs were just not what they were looking for.
RV'ers Were Our First Market Adapters
My parents built an RV Park in the Mojave desert back in 1975. If you're traveling through California on your way to Death Valley or Mammoth Mountain, you will see the signs off Highway 395 directing you to my home town of Ridgecrest, CA. If you remember the awful earthquake on July 4, 2019, Ridgecrest was the epicenter. That poor town is still shaking after all this time.
With my parents' background in the RV industry, we thought using our handy little frames in motor homes and RV's was a great idea! There is a HUGE trade show for RV'ers out in the middle of the desert in Quartzsite, AZ, every January. People drive for miles to hang out with other RV'ers and to shop the hundreds of vendors that attend the show. We're talking thousands of RVs piling into a big open field in the middle of nowhere! And they're all there to find the latest and greatest new "gadgets and gizmos" to improve their travel experiences. And what better way to enjoy your home on wheels than to be able to display family photos and photos of places visited without taking up space of having them fall off when you move?!
$1000 in Sales of RVFrames within the First hour
In 2012, we attended Quartzsite for the first time. The initial name for our products was RVFrames - made sense to us and easily conveyed what they were! My parents set up a 10 foot x 10 foot booth. My dad was at the front of the booth demoing the adhesive frames on a kitchen cabinet we picked up at The Home Depot. I was taking the orders, quickly exchanging cash for packages of frames, and my mom was at the back of the booth accepting credit cards via her laptop PC. We were barely able to keep up with demand the first hour the booth was open.
We easily sold over $1,000 worth of frames by 10 am, and the show had only opened at 9 am. I was able to step away just long enough to text my husband and say "Gold mine!" I was only in Arizona for a couple of days (my son's birthday is January 17, which also happens to be our wedding anniversary, so I needed to get back to Chicago for the celebrations), but my parents worked the show the remaining 8 days. They averaged at least $1,000 per day in sales. We were pretty excited!
The RV Industry Makes Sense, Right?
With the success we saw at the RV show in Quartzsite, it would make sense to do another RV show, right? I quickly booked into the Chicago RV show held during March of 2012. What I didn't think about is that the entire market I was trying to reach had left town to get away from the cold weather .... my full-time RV'ers were in Florida or Arizona! Most of the show attendees were people looking to buy an RV or people that were just curious as to what was available, and they were killing time exploring with their families. The good thing, though, is that I met a buyer for Stag-Parkway, the largest RV parts and accessories distributor at the time.
Although I spent my entire weekend mostly watching paint peel from the walls of the Rosemont Center, that one connection later led to an order of $45,000 worth of RVFrames.
You know, you really ought to be on Shark Tank!
If I had a dime for every time I heard this statement, I wouldn't need to work another day. I do see the value in Shark Tank, but I already have investors that I truly love, and they have yet to receive any type of return on their investment. But why not audition and give it a shot?
You can read more about my full audition experience in a later post, but suffice it to say that I didn't get on the show. I did, however, meet a fellow inventor that told me his sales went from about $50,000 a year to over $300,000 the next year. Of course, my question was "how did you increase sales 6x over?" He told me he attended a trade show for inventors, and his product won "Invention of the Year."
So as not to draw out this post, I'll detail our experience at Inpex in another post - - right after I write the Shark Tank post. Let's just say that we did really well!