Houston businessman Mike Watts, 41, once hoped to retire by age 40.
The Texas A&M graduate had successfully launched one consumer product – a specialized head for grass trimmers – while still his 20s and working in corporate public relations. By 2012 the garden product, called the PivoTrim, was racking up millions in annual sales. That’s the year Watts sold the company to a competitor for a cool $6 million.
“But we’d built a facility and still had this big building,” Watts said. “Plus, I had all this knowledge about how to make products, how to design them and how to package them. At that point, my wife basically said to me, ‘You’ve gotta get back out there and find something else to do.’ ”
That “something” was another consumer product in 2014. This one involved a strap that attaches to the back of a cellphone and allows the user to carry it more easily.
“I’d told a friend of mine to be on the lookout for cellphone products, because I knew I wanted to be in that space,” Watts said. “He showed me something he found at a craft fair on a Saturday. By Monday I was on a plane to meet the inventor.”
The inventor, a robotics professor from Minnesota, agreed to sell Watts the patent. Watts and his father spent some $300,000 to acquire the intellectual property rights, molds to make the product and some inventory.
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His 12-year-old daughter dubbed the product the LoveHandle, and the name stuck.
“We ended up with a couple of frivolous lawsuits right off the bat, which seems to be normal these days,” Watts said. “People claimed we copied their idea, but they really wanted to keep us out of the market. All told, we’ve spent about $75,000 to defend the product from lawsuits.”
Watts planned to market this product like he did the first one: through television infomercials.
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“Here’s a lesson for people,” Watts said. “They shouldn’t assume that something that worked yesterday is going to work today. Things change. In that short period of time, everything moved from television to social media. We spent a ton of money producing a great television commercial, but it didn’t work.”
Watts refocused his marketing efforts. The company switched to marketing it as a promotional item for companies.
“People are more than happy to put their logo on something affordable,” Watts said. “So they’d order 10,000 of them and give them away, and all of a sudden we had 10,000 new customers out there.”
The company last year grossed $1.2 million, and Watts said it is on track for $3 million in sales in 2017.
Watts also created his own knockoff with a cheaper version of the LoveHandle, called the SlingGrip.
“Anytime you launch a product that you think is going to be really big, you’re going to get a knockoff, whether or not you have patents,” Watts said. “So from Day 1, I decided to co-launch two products, so we could be our own knockoff.”
The more expensive LoveHandle sells for $9.95 on sites like Amazon. Sales got a big boost on March 9, when it appeared on “Deals and Steals” on “Good Morning America.”
“I love mine, but when a friend first told me about it, I thought it sounded kind of silly,” customer Ashley Ramirez said. “I changed my mind when my friend put one on my phone.”
The less expensive SlingGrip is sold as a promotional item and runs $2.50 to $3 per unit.
To date, Watts said, he and his team of 18 have sold more than 2.5 million units, split evenly between the LoveHandle and SlingGrip.