So you want to be an inventor?
So you want to be an inventor? -
A total success.
So did I!
My idea for getting lots of loot was unique - and if not unique, then pretty clever!
Not all that surprising really, since I had to live with my old dog Joe.
Joe was a worn out Boxer who farted obnoxious gases just as much as he dumped huge amounts of hair all over my flat. What I needed (and God knows all other owners of mangy dogs needed) was a method to reduce canine flatulence and a way of stopping their pets from shedding hairs and detritus everywhere. I decided that the hair problem should be tackled first (there was more hair than stench; after all, anyone who has had to contend with a pet which has you constantly ingesting hairs for breakfast will know what I mean!).
It was a simple concept - it came to me that if hair lacquer holds hair together, maybe something similar would stop it falling out!
Well, the technical side wasn’t so difficult - I simply used my ole’ granny’s Victorian recipe. A little gum arabic and flour diluted in a solvent of water and alcohol and then heated until slightly glutinous.
It sure was sticky.
I bought enough of the ingredients to fill three thousand clear spray bottles. These I purloined as ‘seconds’ from the local plastics factory (who made them for Tesco) and I was away! Jack, my mate from the pub, was foreman in a printing works and he printed out the labels. I wrote the blurb.
HAIRSTOP - The Guaranteed Way to Stop Pet Hairs.
Just Spray a light coating of HAIRSTOP over the back and hind quarters of your
pet and not only will hairs be a thing of the past but your furry companion will scratch less.
Your pet will enjoy a sterile coat and will need much less grooming.
More importantly, your home and food will remain hair free for at least a week.
Use HAIRSTOP once a day (or twice during moulting) and you’ll never need to
worry about a hair and flea infested home again !
God, what an idea - technically easy and commercially as good as it gets! I made each bottle for 7 pence and sold them for…well, that at first was the problem!
Nobody knew me you see - after all, the label didn’t exactly say ‘Unilever’ or ‘Du Pont’ on it - so most of the pet shops were naturally wary of taking on a product that didn’t have a big reputation behind it. Someone said that nobody would buy it without some kind of liability insurance - or other legal protection - behind the product, I knew then that I had to think again!
But bloody hell, lots of pet owners out there were surely screaming for a product like this!
OK, (I decided), let’s see if we can attract all the punters - a little advertising would be certain to get the mugs asking for it and then the subsequent distribution to the pet shops would be easy.
I remember that the ad went into the papers on a Thursday - not a large ad (admitted) I was a little short of cash. Oh yes, and it wasn’t one of the nationals, just a local rag (but good circulation I was assured).
Results were, as they say, a little disappointing. My next round of the pet shops left me with the profound feeling that my commercial efforts had been a waste of time – the ad hadn’t elicited a single enquiry. ‘Ask at your pet shop for HAIRSTOP’ might just as well have read ‘Ignore this advertisement if you see it’!
However, someone did mention that if I was going to advertise why not make it mail order and cut out the middlemen (that is the pet shops). Then, I could avoid liability problems, people wouldn’t ask if it were made by a reputable firm because it would be too late by the time they got it, and if people weren’t satisfied they could send it back for a refund - to a fictitious address that is! This was… in a word, splendid! And (to a certain extent that is) it worked.
The second advertisement, this time inviting people to order by mail, resulted in seventeen orders. (though, strangely, two were from pharmaceutical companies). Still, things were moving, and by the first week I had cleared a grand total of 112 bottles of HAIRSTOP. I could see a day coming when I would be operating at a profit!
Week two and the turnover with advertisement three reached 720 bottles; I was obviously becoming a success. Mark you, there was the odd worry - like the letter from the crazy old bat who said her Pekinese cracked when it moved. There were others too, like the man whose letter started with an obscenity, moved to a series of expletives and ended with a seriously nasty profanity. There were threats to ‘do me in’ if they ever got hold of me and six small minded customers actually complained that their post arrived all glued together - what did they want for £3-50 plus P&P! One letter, (was it trading standards?) even mentioned ‘product evaluation and testing’ but I didn’t understand that bit.
So, things were looking up.
Time to get serious!
I needed to ensure that what looked like a nice little number was not going to get pirated by some big combine looking for a mug to sucker. Being slightly less than a prat was the essence of good business so I decided to patent the idea while I had some cash. What the hell! Patent pending, written on the bottle, was going to make all the big boys think twice - and if I registered the brand name ‘HAIRSTOP’ I would also get a bit of insurance against nicking a soon-to-be household word. Charley Bennett, another drinking pal of mine, had once been a solicitor’s clerk. After lubricating him with a few brews he agreed to get things moving and promised to get back to me in a few days. Once more - splendid!
Getting premises for the large-scale production of the ‘hair glue’ wasn’t a problem - alright, the old workshop was close to the sausage factory and that made it cheap. But the alcohol vapour and the gum arabic stewing in the vats would mask the smell of rotting entrails in the summer months! I hired a couple of down-and-outs to mix the ingredients and fill the bottles. Their biggest problem was licking and sticking on the labels, but this was resolved when I told them to use the residue of the vats as an adhesive.
Advertisement four was bigger. This time in a National tabloid using a layout that was really eye-catching. The post flooded in and I had a hell of a time getting enough newspaper to wrap up all the bottles (I keep costs DOWN!). In the end I had to admit defeat and gave up trying to write return addresses on my betting slips and sticking them on the parcels with the vat dregs. I had to get professional!
Larry at the chip shop was very obliging – for a backhand tenner he let me have 10,000 sheets of white wrapping paper and suggested that if I was short of ways to address the parcels why not tear off the return address on the orders and stick them on! Yeah, Larry always could see the quick solution!
The next day Charley Bennett turned up. He wanted to write what he called the ‘specification’ - though what the hell that was I couldn’t fathom. He asked me to give him the recipe for the product and then pointed out that I stood no chance of getting a patent unless I disclosed the ‘inventive step’. I must admit to being somewhat chary on this but realised that either I trusted him or I didn’t and, since no other sod was going to be my agent for anything less than a couple of grand, I might as well dive in. It took a few minutes to lead him through the ingredients and the heating process and the matter was done. He made a few notes, doodled on a couple of forms, looked again at the blurb he had written and then asked for a share of the business if the patent came through and he undertook to handle the finances for me.
Bloody hell – he didn’t want much, did he?
I told him to sod off but promised to pay for the postage etc. He said he would be around again soon to complete the trade name registration forms.
When I got back to the office I had two irate customers to fend off. It was clear that some of the threatening letters were genuine. One guy, with what looked like a skinned rabbit on a lead, said his dog needed a vet to cut away its coat after ‘HAIRSTOP’ was applied. The dog had rolled in builder’s sand and the spray had formed a concrete-like layer impossible to remove. The other nitwit claimed his dog had rubbed its paws over its eyes and was now as blind as a bat - after the eyelids got glued down to the fur. I made the mistake of sniggering when I recalled the tale of the ‘winky-wanky bird’ whose eyelids were stitched to his foreskin. This did not please the two dog-lovers and just before they were about to lay in to me, I beat a hasty retreat and got my two factory down-and-outs to throw them off the premises.
It was while I was hiding in the workshop that I noticed that the stock of methyl alcohol was only a third what I expected. It looked as if my employees were getting well lubricated at my expense. When they came back I fired them and went looking for some more cheap help. No luck - it looked as if the word was out among the local vagrants and in a moment of feigned bon-homi I re-hired my delinquent staff of two on condition that they didn’t consume the stock. I promised a bottle of hooch every Friday if they kept their word. They mumbled their agreement and I was back on course again.
Time passed and output remained steady. Good enough for me to begin to plan expansion. The only fly in the ointment was the conspicuous absence of Charley Bennett. I didn’t expect much from him but having given him a chance to escape his alcoholic haze I was more than disappointed. After this one flash of silly sentiment I forgot about it and pressed on.
It must have been about 12 months later that things started to go wrong. Out of the blue the post brought a great thick wad of papers - it appeared to be a summons to defend a class action by 112 people, all of whom had bought my marvellous HAIRSTOP and were suing me for damage caused to their pets. Next day I was visited by the Trading Standards and the Health and Safety people who gave me notice that they were closing me down on at least two hundred counts of contravening working practices and supplying ‘a noxious substance for gain’. Later, as I licked my wounds in my office, my eye happened to glance toward a newspaper advertisement, which from the drawing of a hairy dog clearly rang a bell! I couldn’t believe it - this was a product from a well-known company specialising in pets and their new offering was called STOPHAIR!
This, as the advertisement revealed, was an innovative and well-tested formulation now subject to a Patent application. Unlike previous products it was chemically well constituted ensuring that the application was effective without ‘risk of permanent adhesion, damage to eyes or degrading to an impossibly tacky residue’.
Next morning, nursing a very bad hangover, I phoned the contact number given in the advertisement and asked to speak to the marketing manager handling the sales of STOPHAIR. A very nice lady said that the manager wasn’t in but Mr Bennett would call back if I left them my number. I numbly left my office number and was so immersed in my troubles that I almost didn’t twig. It was only after the phone rang about twenty minutes later that I recognised the voice of my old pal Charley and his words confirmed my worst fears.
When he heard me croak out my protestations at his treachery he had enough compassion to gently point out that all was fair in love and intellectual property and that I should have ensured that he operated under a confidentiality agreement, was retained exclusively for ‘the benefit of the inventor and/or its company’ and was promised a fair remuneration.
Without any of this, he said, I had given away my rights and even if I were to complain to the Patent Office it was unlikely I could prove anything. Furthermore, I couldn’t afford a civil action in the courts, not least because I was (a) bankrupt, (b) about to go to prison and (c) his company could hold up the process for years slowly draining me of my spirit and any cash I had left. In short, he said, I was a mug and in this life ‘one never gave a sucker an even break’!
My hard lesson took a lot of recovering from.
Two years passed before I got out of prison, got straight’ and saw Charley again; and only then did I realise that I was better - better because I managed to control the fury that I usually experienced every time I thought of him. Even seeing him in his new Jag and business suit, knowing that his company had made millions from STOPHAIR - distributing it to satisfied pet owners all over the world - simply left me empty but no longer enraged.
However, what really rankled was the two guys who stopped me as I left the prison and gave me a fiver – I’m sure they looked like cleaner and better fed versions of the two down-and-out’s I’d hired to work in the factory!
One day I suppose I’ll get even. But even if I don’t I may yet turn my experience to advantage - I have been experimenting with old Joe my Boxer, I have succeeded in making his farts smell vaguely like rose hip syrup - next step, roses themselves!