Inventors Chase Their Dreams Of Multimillion-Dollar TV Payday

By Marcia Heroux Pounds
Sun Sentinel.

There was no shortage of nifty ideas in the room.
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But would the products sell on TV?

More than 20 local inventors gave their best pitches Tuesday to direct response company Top Dog Direct, which claims $2 billion in retail sales by selling products on TV.

The inventors temporarily left their day jobs in real estate, construction, technology and homemaking to sell what they dream will be multimillion-dollar consumer products.

First up at the event in Boca Raton was Susan Costanza of Boynton Beach, who invented Sleeves 2 Go.

She demonstrated black lacy and vanilla chiffon flutter sleeves that snap onto a woman’s bra, giving a sleeveless dress a different look.

“This is an awesome product!” said Steve Silbiger, co-founder of Tog Dog Direct and a judge at the event who said he’s frequently called “Dr. No.”

Costanza, 51, is a fashion show coordinator who said women always tell her they want to cover up their aging or tattooed arms.

The judges liked the product and asked to talk with her Wednesday.

Many of the inventors had put in several years of time and signficant money — one as much as $500,000 — into their products.

But they said selling through their own websites or directly to a few stores wasn’t enough — they need wider marketing and distribution.

Top Dog’s co-founder and president, Bill McAlister, has been selling products on TV for 27 years; his company bills itself as “The As Seen on TV Company.”

McAlister said he looks for products that solve a problem and that can be demonstrated on TV. Consumers want to see it working, he said.

Judges also invited back Bruce Moorhead, 49, of West Palm Beach, who invented the LA Wedge. Moorhead lay on the floor to demonstrate his waterproof pillow — with a compartment for a smart-phone and keys — for use on the beach.

“My family is a beach family,” said Moorhead, whose son and daughter serve as models on promotional materials for LA Wedge, which retails for $24.95.

Top Dog’s products are generally priced between $10 and $20. That low price kept a few local products out of the running.

Scott Ramsey, 56, and his daughter Alison, 24, pitched their Port-a-Bench, a folding, portable bench billed as a more comfortable alternative to nylon folding chairs. Top Dog’s judges were enthusiastic, but the $98.63 price was too steep.

“It’s not television, but it’s brilliant,” McAlister said. All four judges bought the product on the spot, anyway.

Ramsey, a Boca Raton resident who works for IBM, said he knew his product wasn’t right for Top Dog. “But it’s good exposure,” he said.

Inventors who accept Top Dog Direct’s marketing contract give licensing rights to the company and receive a percentage of the sales, usually between 1 percent and 4 percent, McAlister said.

Top Dog’s judges kept the atmosphere positive Tuesday, giving suggestions on redesign and providing other contacts. This was not TV’s “Shark Tank,” where wealthy investors make cutting remarks to presenters short on answers.

Inventors were mostly grateful for the feedback.

Jeff Christlieb of Oakland Park pitched two products: WhereEver Garden, a system to hang plants on a fence or tree without nails or screws, and a tool used with a bag to collect dog poop — before it hits the ground.

“There’s no way you can show this on TV,” McAlister told Christlieb about his dog-poop catcher. Judges suggested he market it through YouTube.

That didn’t deter Christlieb, who immediately pitched them another product.

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