Unconventional Inventions

Quirky creations led to success for these entrepreneurs.

Brooks Lambert thebeerbelly.com

While most people try to get rid of their beer belly, Brooks Lambert is trying to sell you one. For as long as he can remember, Lambert wanted to be an inventor. As a child, his father would always ask him what he wanted to invent and his reply was “cool stuff.” He did just that when he created his quirky product, the Beerbelly through his business, Under Development, Inc., an innovative product development company.

The Beerbelly is exactly what it sounds like: a fake beer belly made up of a sling and a polyurethane bladder with a dispensing tube. The idea is that you can fill it up with your favorite alcoholic beverage and hide it under your clothes so you can avoid paying for $10 beers at your favorite sporting events or concerts. According to Lambert, the Beerbelly initially started as a joke. “While drinking with some buddies one day, we were talking about the different ways we used to sneak beer into the movies and such, and were wondering what people did nowadays,” he said. “We ended up cutting up one very expensive wetsuit and stuffing a Camelback bladder under it.” They showed the contraption to some friends, who expressed interest in buying one.

His ingenious marketing move came from one e-mail he sent to gizmodo.com, a popular blog that reviews the coolest new tech and gadgets. After the Beerbelly was posted on it, Lambert’s website received 2 million hits in three days as a result. “At the end of the day, this product is all about having a good time,” he said. “For me it’s kind of like stealing cookies from the cookie jar. There are so many rules today; it’s hard to have fun.” The Beerbelly Deluxe Kit retails for $49.95 and includes the Beerbelly sling and bladder, the Pleasure Extender (cold pack), and a one-step Beerbelly Cleanser.

At the end of 2005, there were approximately 5.6 million patents in force worldwide. Of that amount, 49 percent were owned by applicants from Japan and the United States of America. — World Intellectual Property Organization

Shawna Ellsworth tassicompany.com

If you have ever come across the “Beauty Solutions” segment while watching QVC, then you may have heard of Shawna Ellsworth. The former elementary school teacher and mother of five has already appeared on the channel four times selling her product, the Tassi, a unique yet simple
way to keep hair out of your face while doing your daily
skin care routine.

The name Tassi comes from middle French and means “little pocket” or “little pouch.” The design for her product came from a hair wrap her Aunt Dot used to make for her three teenage daughters. After refining and developing her aunt’s original idea, she secured a patent and began selling Tassis from her home in Arizona. In fact, the first mass shipment of Tassis arrived at her home in a semi and had to be stored in her garage. “Seeing a semi pull into our cul-de-sac and trying to back in was pretty crazy,” Ellsworth said. “It was kind of a surreal experience to see something that I had always dreamed about and envisioned. Here were thousands of Tassis that were made by someone else.”

One of the most important lessons Ellsworth said she’s learned is that she can succeed and she has plenty of support. “It’s been really fun to get out of my circle and meet people all over the world,” she said. “There are a lot of really great, helpful people out there if you just ask them.” The Tassi is available in 12 colors and retails for $14.99.

Michelle Watters flapart.com

Would you notice if you were sitting on the subway and the person next to you was reading a book whose front cover stated, How to Murder a Complete Stranger and Get Away With It? Michelle Watters hopes you will. She is the creator of FlapArt, specialty gag, alternative book covers. The former stay-at-home mother of two actually got the idea for FlapArt from her husband, Brian. “I never thought that I would ever own my own business,” Watters
said. “I’m funny, quick-witted and I always make people laugh. The idea that
I could turn that into something I could sell never entered my realm
of thought.”

However, after coming up with the false book titles on her own, she contacted printers and graphic designers and was on her way. Within a year, FlapArt covers were sold worldwide. As far as advice for fellow entrepreneurs, Watters said the most important thing is to do some research to see what’s already out there on the market. “If there is something similar out there, that’s not necessarily your only competition,” she said. “There was nothing like this when I started. Now I realize that my competition is in gift wrap and greeting cards.” Watters has been selling the covers since 2005 and today offers 44 titles, including How to Cheat Your Way Through College and Do-It-Yourself Dentistry. There is a cover for every occasion and recipient, from birthdays to Mother’s Day and friendship to Father’s Day. FlapArt covers retail for $5.99 and ship worldwide.

Have a great idea you want to patent? Learn more through the United States Patent and Trademark Office at uspto.gov.

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