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TIA: Tennessee Inventors Association in Knoxville Tenn and Oak Ridge TN
Oak Ridge and Knoxville, TN  

October 2010 Marketing of Consumer Product Inventions

Meeting Date: 
October 16, 2010

Thomas Dollnig was the featured speaker for the October 16 meeting of the Tennessee Inventors Association. Tom provided a very informative discussion of selling. Every inventor needs to know how to sell. The inventor may be selling the rights to a patent. The inventor may be selling products based on the invention. But, to profit from an invention, the inventor must be able to sell.

Tom Dollnig has a varied background in marketing of consumer products. He discussed his career as a sales and marketing person. He started out at General Electric Company, Housewares Division. He moved up until he became the Manager of Sales Planning. Seeking new opportunities, he became the Director of New Business Development at Schick, Inc.

When the company that made Mr. Coffee was just starting up, they hired Tom as the Vice-President of Marketing & Sales. His first office at the company was in a converted bathroom in a house that was the corporate offices. At the time, Mr. Coffee was a totally different way of brewing coffee. The company went from start-up to 65% market share. The company was sold for $165 million.

Pet RockTom also discussed the Pet Rock. The Pet Rock was created in 1975 by a California salesman. Gary Dahl wanted a pet, but he did not want the headache that goes with taking care of a pet. He wanted something maintenance free. So, Gary had a pet rock. Not only did he have his own pet rock, but he thought other would like to have a similar pet. Such was the start of the Pet Rock fad. It made Gary a millionaire.

Basically, the Pet Rock was a rock in a box. The Pet Rock came with an instruction book that was tongue-in-cheek. The original Pet Rock was sold for less than a year, but more than one-million Pet Rocks were sold.

The Pet Rock is right up there with the Deely Bobber antennae, Wacky Wallwalkers, and the Hula Hoop as fads that made their promoters a lot of money.

Tom discussed Invention versus Innovation. Invention is creating something brand new, while innovation is starting with something already invented and making it better. Tom offered several examples.

General Electric invented the first electric carving knife. It worked very well, but it was heavy and hard to handle. The first year it was out, they sold a lot. Along came Hamilton Beach and they redesigned the handle of the electric carving knife and they started outselling General Electric.

Tom described his electric potato peeler. There was an existing product, but it did not work well. So, Tom innovated and made it work better and made it easier to manufacture. The year was 1981 and K-Mart carried the potato peeler. They sold 250,000 peelers in the first few months. He sold the company to another company in Canada, and the peeler disappeared from the market.

Tom also worked with Bill Felknor. Bill had a popcorn popper that Tom helped with the marketing. The popcorn popper was a pan with a hand-crank for mixing the kernels and oil while cooking on a stove. They sold 250,000 poppers during 10 shows on QVC.

Tom also told the group that it was dangerous to mess with things that should not change. He showed us Curveware, which was a complete redesign of the common fork, spoon, and knife. No one would buy it.

Tom offered the advice that inventors trying to license their patents should not show their patent application to anyone unless they are close to making a deal. In other words, he did not think a patent application should be used as a marketing tool for generating interest in a product.

Tom also commented on plastic products. He said that there is no advantage in going to China or elsewhere outside the US for plastic products. He said the major cost of manufacturing is in the material and the US has a slight advantage over the rest of the world for making plastic products.

Tom Dollnig is retired, but he still has a sales promotion agency. He said that he is willing to talk with others about their options in promoting their invention. He can be reached at:

Marketing For Inventors
57 Heights Hollow
Acworth, GA 30101
770-529-8820 (landline)