By Jack Lander

Annmarie Vanini asked herself what she could do to train her 3-year-old son, Brian, to use the toilet without the inevitable overspray.

The young mother from Grand Island, N.Y., was tired of cleaning the toilet, the seat and the floor each time Brian used the bathroom.

The modern flush toilet didn’t come into popular use in the United States until the late 1800s. Before then, we used outhouses. But whether a single-seat flush toilet, or the three-holer out back, the problem of overspray has plagued with us for centuries.

After dwelling on the problem, Annmarie conceived the Flippee. The tagline: Just flip and pee.

The Flippee is a shield that fits on the front of a toilet bowl, almost out of sight, and pivots up into position when Junior is ready to test his aim. She set out to produce the Flippee and sell it on her website. Eventually, maybe, she’d try to license it for royalties.

Annmarie was sure Flippees had to be made of plastic. But she knew little about what process or exact materials to use.

I suggested she use a combination of injection molding for a rigid rim and sheet plastic for the shield.

I turned her over to Jim Richardson, an expert in plastic products design and prototyping. Within a few weeks, she had her first prototype. Jim also recommended U.S. vendors that could produce her components economically.

Annmarie refined her product, adding pivots and suction cups that mount the Flippee to the toilet bowl. From the time Annmarie got serious about producing and marketing her invention to the time it was for sale through her website and a number of catalogs, was only about three and a half months.

How’s that for inventor dedication? Oh, and she recently received her patent.

Other inventors have worked on the pee-spray problem, of course. But most solutions involved funnel-like devices that corralled overspray, but didn’t offer feedback to the little guy. (Hey Brian, aim for the water, not that big curved thing in the background.)

Annmarie’s story is a solid model for aspiring inventors. It’s not the only model, to be sure. But if you’re a true inventor with lots of great ideas, you probably want to keep on inventing, rather than becoming a long-term producer.

Success with future inventions often depends on revenue from previous inventions. And success in licensing inventions – past, present and future – is greatly improved by being able to demonstrate even a modest sales history to potential licensees.

However, know this: A common difficulty is meeting the “cost vs. selling price target.”

The rule of thumb is the retail price should be five times the direct cost of the product, including its package. This may seem high, but you’ll find it’s realistic, given distribution, advertising, special discounts and other promotional costs.

So, what have we learned from Annmarie’s story?

 

  • Ordinary problems and annoyances of everyday living often provide the basis for good inventions.
  • Professional help for designing, prototyping and producing enable inventors to get the job done and bring products to market.
  • Internet and catalog selling are the most feasible.
  • And most inventors find it difficult to achieve a product direct-cost of one-fifth of their selling price without investing in volume-production tooling and methods.

Visit Annmarie’s website at www.flippee.com to see how she appeals to potential customers.

And if you’re a parent with a young boy and your bathroom doesn’t pass the sniff test, you might even want to place an order.

Contact Jack Lander the inventor mentor at Jack@Inventor-mentor.com

Editor’s note: This article appears in the June 2011 print edition.