Me too. So I met up with the guy responsible for all of those, the impeccably dressed A.J. Kubani, founder of the 25-year-old company Telebrands. He agreed to go poking around a mall with me, looking for the next great-but-obscure product he could turn into infomercial gold.
Here's how you, too, can come up with the next, great, egg-shaped callous grater!
GET ANNOYEDWhen Kubani went to fix a fuse in his house a few years back, he found himself on the dark side of his basement. "I said, 'When we built this house, we really should have put a light bulb here,'" he recalls. "And that was it." Light bulb! He invented a battery-operated light that looks like an ordinary incandescent. Its holder sticks to the wall, but the bulb can be removed and carried around. It made its debut in September 2006. More than 5 million have been sold -- so far.
READ MAGAZINES FROM THE BACKThat's where the classified ads are -- a great place to find ideas. Kubani first started advertising back there in 1985, selling AM/FM Walkman-type radios after college. He broke even and then did better with bumpy "massage slippers." A year later he hit pay dirt with a little device that emits ultrasonic waves pests hate -- literally a better mousetrap. On $11 million in sales, he made a $3 million profit. That's when he moved out of his parents' house (a house with something strange in the water: Two of Kubani's three brothers own companies just like his).
ASK THE HELP"Do you have anything unusual that would make a great gift?" Kubani asks at the Radio Shack we visit -- and every other store, too. That's how he finds oddities that aren't necessarily front and center. If it's an item he can license, he will. Otherwise, he'll make something similar -- but not litigiously so. Remember:
NEVER BE AFRAID TO COPY"The big companies aren't," Kubani says. "Sony and Microsoft both tried to copy the iPod." That gives him the impetus to ask his other favorite in-store question: "What's your best-seller?" At gadget shrines such as Brookstone, "everything is always overpriced," he notes with relish. So he'll find out that, say, an electric grill cleaner is popular, then go back and make one for $19.99.
FIND THE STORYOn a trip to China, Kubani had his ears cleaned with a lit candle. (The flaming part was on the outside.) At GNC he found a bundle of those candles and started musing, "Probably these have been around for hundreds -- thousands -- of years. They come from China, and it's very popular there ..." No story, no emotional heft, no sales.
NO FOCUS GROUPS"You go to a focus group and everyone says they'll buy your product," Kubani says. So he tried it one time. "I said, 'OK, you can buy it right now, for $19.99, out of my trunk!'" The focus group folks didn't. It was the Robo-Maid, a round mop-device that rolls around. It tanked. Moral of the story -- and Kubani's M.O.: Do actual test marketing.
THE MORE BORING THE CHANNEL, THE BETTERWhenever Telebrands advertises during prime time on a popular channel, not only is it expensive, but "people are unresponsive," says Mr. K. They're too engrossed in the show. Better to advertise on channels where your ads are the most interesting thing. Kubani's favorites? The Game Show Network and Fox News. Yes, really.
BOTTOM LINEFind a common problem and solve it in an unusual way that you can demonstrate on TV. It's that simple. It's that quick.