Creating Demand For A New Product

Thomas Love

“If you make a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door” is an old adage.

But John Bardeen, a Denver small-business owner, found that you first have to convince the world that it has mice.

Bardeen is founder of Pumpkin Masters, a firm that manufactures and sells what he calls the world’s first pumpkin-carving kit-a package of instructions, patterns, and tools for carving intricate jack-o’-lanterns.

“The idea came from a 50-year family tradition of pumpkin carving,” Bardeen says. “When Dad died in 1983, my sisters and I decided to put together his ideas into kits as a tribute to him.”

When the kit was introduced, the initial reaction was indifference, Bardeen recalls. People thought, “Why do you need a canting kit when a kitchen knife will do?” he says. “It isn’t like introducing a new dog food, where one informs buyers of the product’s superior features. We had to convince buyers to open up a new vendor account for a product that didn’t even have a category”

In 1986, the company did a small test marketing of 6,000 kits through a local grocery chain, a couple of craft outlets, and a few toy stores.

The trial run was a success, and the company hired a Chicago marketing firm with a nationwide network of sales representatives. It also contracted with a well-known national public-relations company. The marketing firm reviewed the Denver sales results and forecast 1987 sales of 600,000 kits. Based on that optimistic estimate, Pumpkin Masters got $425,000 in hank letters of credit to finance the overseas production of 235,000 kits.

At the end of 1987, the company was in trouble. It owed the bank $250,000; the Chicago firm had sold only 50,000 kits which was increased to 92,000 through Pumpkin Masters’ efforts); the PR firm had produced meager results; and there were 143,000 kits-10 percent of them without saw blades-in a Minneapolis warehouse.

Over the next six months, Bardeen persuaded the bank to extend the terms of the loan for a year, fired the marketing company and the PR firm, hired a new team of sales representatives, and had the contents of each kit inspected.

The turnaround for the company came in 1988 when the purchaser of a Pumpkin Masters kit offered to do volunteer public-relations work. She suggested having pumpkins carved in the like-nesses of the ABC-TV announcers on the Halloween night football game between the Denver Broncos and the Indianapolis Colts. She sold the idea to ABC-she “doesn’t take ‘no’ for an answer” Bardeen says. He packed up his pumpkins, patterns, and carving tools and flew to Indiana.

The pumpkin portraits were shown during the game, and a scary, Bardeen-carved pumpkin face named “Skull” introduced the show.

Although Bardeen won’t release his financial figures, he says, “We’re doing fine.”

The publicity gained on the “Monday Night Football show was just the impetus Pumpkin Masters needed. Last year it sold more than 2 million kits.

Fine enough that Pumpkin Masters was named a 1998 honoree in the Blue Chip Enterprise Initiative, an annual program that recognizes small firms that have overcome challenges. It is sponsored by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co. known as MassMutual-The Blue Chip Co.), the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and

COPYRIGHT 1998 U.S. Chamber of Commerce

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group

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