It's a tall order to replace infomercial superstar Billy Mays, who died last year, but on Thursday TeleBrands, which markets a whole roster of "get two now and I'll throw in the third for free" products -- and used Mays as a pitchman -- hit the Big Apple to hold auditions.
It was the first time the 27-year-old company, whose products include the Bottle Top (turns a can into a bottle), Windshield Wonder, and Ped Egg (sort of a cheese grater for the sole) has auditioned for pitchpeople. Twenty-six people -- everyone from a guy who works for FEMA to a spokesperson for cheerleaders to a guy who has made dozens of eBay pitch videos and pretty much idolizes Billy Mays -- from 15 different states showed up. This reporter even tried out, pretty much to everyone's horror (more on this, plus incriminating footage, in Monday's issue).
"The key thing is honesty," says TeleBrands founder and CEO A.J. Khubani. "People have to come across as honest and sincere; they have to connect with the American public. Not [be] the loudest and most obnoxious."
Khubani says TeleBrands' roster of 10 products reflects a mix of in-house inventions and products chosen from outside pitches. "We have similar events like this for vendors on a regular basis." He adds that the company gets some 300 inventor pitches at its monthly "Inventor's Day" event. "We narrow it down to 30, and out of that we find maybe three products we like, and if we really like a product we will produce it no matter what. But out of those we decide to test market, only 10% of those work."
Khubani says the next big thing is usually the next small thing: it's a device that's not terribly complicated and fills a basic need. "We look for something that is so simple to understand, people will say 'why didn't I think of that?' We are looking for simple solutions to everyday problems."
The Bottle Top fits that bill, per Khubani. The product is essentially a pop-on funnel for a beverage can that makes the can, functionally, into a bottle. "We did research and found that 100 billion cans of beverages are sold in the U.S. every year. How many people really don't like drinking out of cans?" Not many, he concedes. But "not many" out of 100 billion is a lot, he explains. TeleBrands' all-time top seller is the Ped Egg, a self-contained product for smoothing the skin on the bottom of one's feet. "We have sold over 30 million since December 2007," says Khubani.
Even though the company's media focus is television daypart buys, he says over 90% of the products sell not via the televised 800 numbers, but at retailers like CVS Pharmacy, Target, Bed, Bath and Beyond and Wal-Mart. The company shoots about 40 commercials per year and airs four of them.
Khubani says even though only 10% of sales are via direct response, infomercials are critical because they build brand awareness. "Television is by far the most effective way to get our message out," he says. "Our products are visually demonstrable. We spend most of our media dollars during daytime. Prime time is too expensive and people watching prime-time shows are much more interested in the programming. When people watch daytime, early fringe, late fringe and nighttime, they are less interested in the show; sometimes they are actually more interested in the commercials."
He says about 70% of TeleBrands' consumers are women and the buyer demographics cut across all economic levels. Khubani says he doesn't have much competition. "Only two or three companies make up 80% of the direct-market business," he says.