Much of Gary Peterson's summer was spent cruising the toothpaste aisles at various Fred Meyer stores. There, displayed near the brushes and floss sits his baby: the Roll-It, a snail-shaped device that aims to squeeze every bit of paste from a tube.
The gadget made it into 132 Fred Meyer stores in June, but staying there meant selling at least 480. Without an ad campaign or any marketing, 590 reached check-out stands that month.
It's nearly unheard of for a first-time inventor to land in a major retailer's health and beauty care aisle, a highly competitive category dominated by multinational corporations. And yet for Peterson, 71, the work has just begun. He not only faces competition from the Johnson & Johnsons of the world, but also an ever-growing roster of rival inventors and inventor-aimed businesses, some willing to scam or lift from creatives as they travel the confusing, and sometimes costly, road to market.
atent and trademark experts agree inventors face more risks today, leaving many, including Peterson, feeling they must hold on tight to their ideas and go it alone. But most experts say the only way to generate real buzz and sustainable sales for a product is to hand it off to the experts at manufacturing, distributing and marketing.
Peterson, who builds gutters for a living, admits being overwhelmed by the nine-month process he faced to gain entry into Fred Meyer. And yet he still spends many nights at his dining room table slipping Roll-Its into little plastic bags and stapling on its bare-bones, red-white-and-blue label, in pursuit of an even bigger quarry: The Kroger Co. The Cincinnati-based chain operates 2,460 supermarkets under several banners, including QFC and Portland-based Fred Meyer.
"I do gutter work and climb on roofs every day, but I can't do that forever," said Peterson, who with his wife is raising 10-year-old twin grandchildren. "If we're going to get into Kroger, we'll need consistency." Consistency and, as it turns out, a little bravery. And better yet, a willingness to let go.