Real Life

Examples from the Trenches

(note: Please check back often. We will add more examples.)

The TopsyTail®


The TopsyTail® is a hairstyling tool for turning a ponytail inside-out. Millions have seen it on TV and in stores. The inventor, Tomima Edmark, earned millions with her invention. Her good fortune even led to an appearance on Life Styles of the Rich and Famous and many articles have been written about her success.

O'Connor Technical Systems had nothing to do with the TopsyTail®, but is still our favorite product development example. Not because of the millions it made for the inventor, but because this case study illustrates the time and commitment needed to develop and promote even the most elegantly simple product.

0 months (Start)

  • August ‘89 - Inventor thought of idea
  • Paid $5,000 for patent
  • Was turned down by manufacturers of hair styling products

12 months

  • Used revenues from another project to finance the TopsyTail®
    (Inventor got advance royalties for a book she wrote named, "Kissing: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know.")
  • Invested about $9,000 for a mold and found a shop to make her product for about 50 cents each
  • Committed $2,000 to advertising

20 months

  • April ‘91 First ad in a magazine got $1,000 worth of orders (about 100 units).
  • She was selling 200 units per month at $10 each by the end of the year.

30 months

  • February ‘92 Half page article in Glamour Magazine - $100,000 worth of orders in 3 weeks (about 10,000 units)
  • August ‘92 Began devoting all of her time to promotion after getting $25,000 early retirement from IBM
  • Invested in an instructional video and a worked on a TV commercial

40 months

  • December ‘92 Two minute commercial first aired on TV networks
  • Comparison:
    • In 20 months prior to ad - 250,000 units at $10 ea.
      ( $ 125,000 per month)
    • In 6 months after ad - 3,600,000 units at $15 ea.
      ( $9,000,000 per month)

72 times the dollar sales volume

However, she had to switch manufacturers just as sales began to skyrocket. Many of her products were being returned as defective. She filed a suit for $41,000 in damages against the original manufacturer claiming that they produced 35,000 defective TopsyTail®s.

March ‘93 Appeared on QVC - sold 5,000 units at $15 ea. in 11 minutes
(almost $7,000 per minute)

August ‘93 More than five million sold worldwide during the past year

While her success is very impressive, remember that it was 2½ years before profits exceeded costs which included many thousands of dollars for a patent, tooling, advertising, inventory, and, later, a lawsuit — not to mention the value of the time she had to invest. Also keep in mind that this is a very simple product and things went about as smoothly as can be expected. (Ms. Edmark was interviewed by serious business oriented TV shows about the efficiency of her strategy.) It also helped that her profits were enough to fund the nearly one million dollars per year in legal fees needed to fend off copycats who infringed on her patent after she became successful.

The next time you think about a new product idea, first consider whether your idea is simpler or more complicated than the TopsyTail® product. Then adjust the time and money you will need to invest accordingly. Finally, ask yourself if you would be willing stick to it for as long as it takes — all the while wondering what the outcome will be while you attempt to convince your friends and family that you're not crazy.

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Ron O'Connor, P.E.

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