New ideas, new products -- they're the lifeblood of many plastics housewares molders. You see them in specialty stores and late-night TV ads and infomercials. Today I discovered an unexpected gem: the Happy Hot Dog Man. The plastic device cuts hot dogs into the shape of a person. In other words, it's a simple product that no one really needs. But it's getting attention and (apparently) selling like hotcakes. According to this story from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the HHD Man was originally marked by local residents John Twerdok and Dan Brodland, who called it the "Frank Former." Fairfield, N.J.-based TeleBrands Corp. -- the company behind the "As Seen on TV" logo -- discovered the "Frank Former" at one of its inventors day events, decided to test market the product, and eventually signed a deal. TeleBrands changed the name to the "Happy Hot Dog Man," developed a goofy TV ad and website, and priced it at $10.99 for two, plus shipping and handling. HHD Man has benefited from some media interest -- Jimmy Kimmel mentioned it in a recent monologue, and today the Huffington Post blog wrote about it. Can molders survive making proprietary products like the HHD Man? Plastics News staff reporter Rhoda Miel wrote about the topic for a 2010 special report -- here's a relevant snippet:
The varied companies operating in the marketplace do not necessarily have some secret to success that others lack. Instead, they have to learn a specific set of rules to survive, just as molders do in any industry, said Jeff Mengel, a partner with Plante & Moran PLLC based in Chicago. "It's not something that just happens," he said. "They've been honing those connections and those products for years." In its annual survey of molders, Plante & Moran compared the profit margin for contract molders with those molders with at least 25 percent of their business from proprietary products. It found no statistical difference, Mengel said. Any benefit those proprietary firms would see by controlling the marketplace for their own pieces is taken up by the cost of marketing those products either to retailers or directly to consumers. Making it in the consumer and proprietary products arena means developing all new skills in marketing -- either through going directly to buyers or by fighting for retail space with major manufacturers, some of whom distribute inexpensive items made overseas.In other words, it's not a license to print money -- but it may be an effective way to stay in business.