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Confessions of a new product junkie

I know that some of you out there have been attending the National Hardware Show for decades, maybe as far back as the ’70s, when it was held in New York. So my 10-year milestone this year won’t sound very impressive. But what I’m most proud of is this: Every year I get a rush when I walk into the New Product World section and see what the inventors have been up to during the last 12 months. Like Madonna says: It’s like the very first time.

I hear from these irrepressible guys (and gals) throughout the year, but unless their new and innovative product is already selling through a retail channel, there’s not much I can offer them except encouragement. And frankly, even that is a stretch sometimes. Take, for example, the inventor of the Mopsie Flopsie, who should have made it clear from the beginning that the white terrycloth booties she sent me were not meant to be used in place of a kitchen mop -- i.e., don’t put them on and then submerge your feet in a bucket of hot soapy water. You only wear them to clean up spills, she later explained.

The Mopsie Flopsie falls into the category I call, “You’ve got to be kidding.” I find several suitable candidates each year at the Hardware Show, and this year was no exception. But as the Romans liked to say, De gustibus non est disputandum . I’ll bet there’s plenty of people out there who find nothing objectionable about painting dead grass with green dye ( easygreenlawnpaint.com ) or drinking coffee out of a cup shaped like a toilet bowl ( bigmouthtoys.com ).

My Favorite Brownie Pan (styleasia.net) also seemed a little over the top to me. It features removable dividers that allow you to bake three different types of brownies in the same pan. Isn’t life complicated enough already? But for some reason, the product that really got under my skin was the Last Drop Bottle Stop (lastdropbottlestop.com), a simple wooden stand that can hold a ketchup or shampoo bottle upside down until every last drop drains out. It’s frugality run amok, in my opinion. Great impulse purchase for the pennywise, pound-foolish consumer.

But these are the exceptions, for many products fall into the category I call, “Of course!” This means that someone should have thought of it years ago, but didn’t. Here’s one: the screw-on toilet bolt cap (ventelplastics.com). Those are the little white oval covers for the bolts that anchor your toilet to the bathroom floor. Do you know how many times a week I have to bend down and replace those things?

Kwik-Covers (kwikcovers.com) have come up with a product that just about every family in America needs. Disposable tablecloth covers that snugly fit those six-foot folding banquet tables everybody uses at picnics and outdoor parties. These covers have elastic sewn into the edges. No more scissors, tape and flapping edges.

The heated outdoor safety treads (heattrak.com), which plug into a 120V outlet and melt the snow on your steps, were pretty interesting. Pricey, though, unless you only have three steps leading to your door.

I predict that the Grill Daddy (grilldaddy.com) is going to be a big seller. It’s a man-sized stainless steel brush that steam cleans barbecue grills. Daddy may be the one who wields it, but I’ll bet Mommy will be putting it in the shopping cart.

The last product I’d like to mention is not new -- in fact, it’s 305 years old. The Gadsden flag, used by the first U.S. Navy and later by the young state of South Carolina, is the familiar coiled rattlesnake set against a bright yellow background. It bears the message: “Don’t tread on me.”

I saw a number of the Gadsden flags on display in the Chapin International booth (chapinmfg.com), alongside Old Glory. I’m not a regular watcher of Fox News, but I know a Tea Party when I see one. So I asked Chuck Mattes, Chapin’s director of sales, whether the Gadsden was a big seller. Not especially, he said.

But wait a minute, I said. You’ve got six of them on display, and one is on top of a really tall flagpole.

I was starting to feel like Bill O’Reilly.

“After the election, for some reason, the interest in that flag did peak,” Mattes admitted.

I decided to stop badgering poor Chuck and add the Gadsden flag to my list of “Cool items every retailer should sell,” my last and final category. Regardless of your political persuasion, there are consumers out there who would love to get their hands on that flag. And that’s the business we’re in, bringing the best new -- and newly discovered -- products into people’s homes. Maybe I’ll bump into you next year at New Product World.


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