The mothers of invention

Simple Garden from Fertile Earth
Leaf Lugger from Better Products
Krystal Touch
GardenMaster 3D from Fertile Earth
A number of inventors showed off their ideas and products...

Like most of the vendors in the Inventors Spotlight section of the 2010 National Hardware Show (NHS), Kalvin Vogt was confined to an 8-ft.-wide space that ran approximately 4 ft. deep. But he was right at the entrance with his crystal doorknobs, which are illuminated from inside with LED lights.

“We had Home Depot come in the first 15 minutes of the first day,” said Vogt, CEO of Krystal Touch of New York Inc. This being his first time at the show, Vogt and his associates were stunned. “We were ready to leave right after that,” he joked. 

Although Vogt wasn’t prepared to supply a big retailer like Home Depot — “we were just an Internet company selling doorknobs” — he and the buyer talked about a possible product test in a year’s time. Vogt also talked to; a number of independent reps; and two Canadian retail chains, Rona and Home Hardware. 

Over the last 12 months, Krystal Touch has ramped up production and expanded its line to 83 SKUs. Its custom business has taken off, and the Walt Disney Co. asked him to create a prototype for its home decor line. 

Expect to see Vogt back at the 2011 NHS, in the Inventors Spotlight section, prepared to take orders. “When we go back this year we’ll be ready,” he said.

The NHS always brings together the brightest ideas in the home improvement industry, and last year’s event featured a New Product World section in four different areas, plus the Inventors Spotlight. Steve Costello, president of Better Products, was another first-timer at the 2010 show. “I didn’t have Home Depot knocking down my door last year, but I could have gotten into more [distribution] avenues,” he said. “I was trying to curb my enthusiasm and not do something disastrous.”

Costello has an innovative product that transports raked leaves from one part of the yard to another, then to the curb or compost pile. Called the Leaf Lugger, it’s basically a tarp with rigid edges that folds easily into a pyramid. 

This year, Costello is ready to handle more accounts from his production facility near the Philadelphia airport. He’s open to more catalog business or to possibly broaden into other channels. And he likes the snug little Inventors Spotlight section, which drew good foot traffic last year, he said, adding: “Someone could go through the whole section in 10 minutes if they wanted to.” 

Other vendors, preferring a larger venue, chose to showcase their inventions in one of the New Products Worlds or the New Product Launch. Dan O’Very of Fertile Earth, which brings a new product every year to the NHS, debuted the Simple Garden in 2010, an all-in-one indoor gardening kit for growing vegetables or herbs. 

“Last year’s [NHS] was the most productive trade show we attended,” O’Very said. “We met with numerous domestic and international buyers.” O’Very was particularly happy to move up from the smaller independents he met in 2009 to the regional chains like Westlake Hardware and Fred Meyer. Buyers from Crate & Barrel and Home Shopping Network also stopped by the booth. The company’s network of sales reps brought several merchants by in anticipation of future meetings. “It certainly helps when a buyer can see your product first,” O’Very said. 

So what is he unveiling in 2011? The GardenMaster 3D. “You can plant up to 6 ft. of garden in 2 ft. of space by using the top and sides,” he explained. 

Always Green Lawn Paint will be sitting out the 2011 NHS for several reasons, according to owner Dawn Marks. Traveling is difficult for her and her partner, Emily Smith, because of family commitments. Plus, they’re still working off the leads they got from the 2010 show. 

“We were very happy with the appointments with buyers and sales we got from the show,” Marks said. They saw a number of catalog and online retailers, which is their target retail channel. “Big boxes want us to cut out prices so much it would cost us to sell to them,” she said.

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