You have an idea. Nothing profound, but you're convinced it's clever and original - and would earn you a million bucks, if you could only figure out how to sell it.
This is story of a houseful of young friends in California who found a way. They haven't made a million yet, but they're on the way, thanks to a funny little booklet and the quiet desperation of thousands of uncoordinated people.
The book is called "Juggling for the Complete Klutz." Simply written and printed in large type, it promises to teach even the most clumsy among us how to keep three objects in the air with only two hands.
"If you can scramble and egg, find reverse in a Volkswagen, or stumble onto the light switch in the bathroom at night, you can learn hhow to juggle," says a blurb on the backcover, encouragingly.
It comes with three colorful bean bags for practice (they don't roll away), and it's illustrated. The package retails for $7. More than 35,000 have been sold so far in book stores, gift shops and department stores from coast-to-coast, with a major Christmas push still to come.
Of only minimum redeeming social value and no particular productive use - and intended purely for fun and frivolity - the klutz book represents one of a number of popular, offbeat gift items that surgace about this time on year. Whether taken as a sign of zanier times or a mark of the sublime in an affluent society, they prove there's a market out there that thrives on the amusing and unusual.
The two-year tale of the birth of the juggling book and its parent company, Klutz Enterprises of Stanford, Calif., is itself a lesson in the power of following a few simple steps. It teaches that even the most inexperienced entrepreneurs can, with pluck, persistence and a few believing investors, cash on a good idea.
Step 1: The idea. Teaching juggling to the masses was the brainchild of John Cassidy and B. C. Rimbeaux, two Stanford graduates (class of 1972) who learned how to juggle in school and went on to pilot raft trips in California and Iowa teaching juggling to their passengers." People not only learned quickly, but became addicted," Cassidy said in a recent interview.
(Cassidy is in Washington this week promoting his book at Woodward & Lothrop's, Garfinckel's and Walden Book shops.)
They decided to broaden their horizons. Returning to Stanford, Cassidy enrolled in the School of Education to study for a masters degree - "I was looking for a re-entry into the world" - and began selling bean bags on campus together with free lessons.
"At that point, we were sewing the bags ourselves. Our initial investment was an $8 pair of scissors. After three weeks, we cleared a little more over $30, for a net gain of about 400 percent on our investment.It was then that we began to realize the potential involved, and also the need for a book on juggling designed for people like us."
Step 2: The money. They asked a friend, Diane Waller, to illustrate the book. But they needed $2,750 to publish 3,000 first edition copies and several thousand dollars more to make the bags. A set of unsuspecting parents pitched in 5,500. A friend of a friend, whose faith in Klutz Enterprises, said Cassidy, "was based on a fondness for our illustrator more than any tangible evidence of future solvency," put up $2,000.
Step 3: The production system. To sew the bags, they elected to take the cottage industry approach. "We relied on a bunch of little old ladies in the area, who are neither little nor old," Cassidy remarked. Packaging and shipping were done at first from a garage behind the house where they live. Now it is done by Hope Rehabilitation Services, a county-run employment center for the handicapped.
The center, by the way, did the same thing for Pet Rocks, the non-sensical gift that proved a sale sensation several Christmases ago. The comparison between Pet Rocks and the juggling book is inevitable, although it bothers Cassidy.
Step 4: The bigtime. Last Christmas, selling just through books stores and gift shops around Stanford, they sold out. It was time to go national. They recruited Darrell Hack, fresh out of Stanford Business School. Hack tossed in $5,200 (her life's savings), talked one of her business school professors, Greg peterson, into investing $5,000, and convinced a small local bank, Camino California, to grant a $25,000 line of credit.
The orders have not stopped coming since.