It has been a good year for Nancy Tedeschi, who invented an eyeglass repair kit and patented the SnapIt screw. “I have gone gangbusters,” she says.
Tedeschi, owner of the Clearwater-based company Eyeego, has watched her sales soar as she hopscotches across the globe and opens new markets for the kit. She just returned from a trade show in Japan, where she found plenty of interest in her kits, which make repairing eyeglasses easy and inexpensive. “I'm going around the world, doing licensing deals,” she says.
Tedeschi has also discovered the wonders of offspring in the patent world. In addition to the original SnapIt patent, she is obtaining patents for different dimensions of the screw. Two new U.S. patents were issued this month, and more are coming.
“It's like you've got one parent, and all these little kids come along,” Tedeschi says. “They're also called divisionals and continuations.” She has patents issuing in Australia, South Africa, and the Philippines. “It's pending everywhere. It's been quite the year,” she says.
She recently flew to Dallas to negotiate a licensing deal with Essilor, the France-based optics manufacturer. “They're just going to be licensing the optical screw from me, so they'll have the U.S. rights only,” Tedeschi says. The deal is worth millions. All the current deals are expected to spur her business revenue, which has risen from about $850,000 in 2011 to a projected $1.5 million in 2012.
What's fueling demand is the SnapIt innovation, an extension that allows the eyeglass screw to be quickly twisted by hand and the extension snapped off, eliminating the frustration of trying to manipulate tiny eyeglass screws.
Tedeschi wrangled a deal with Wal-Mart, and The SnapIt kits will go on sale at Wal-Mart stores in February. The retailer already sells the kits online. “I'm just starting to get into the retail stores,” says Tedeschi. “That's a process in itself.” Although she found a warm welcome from Wal-Mart after placing third in its Get on the Shelf Contest, an online competition, gaining access to many major retailers can be a laborious process.
With some companies, it took her a year to reach the right people. “You don't know who to call and nobody ever returns your phone calls.” She learned that to gain entree, an entrepreneur needs to use the right buzz words.
Telling the merchandisers that she just negotiated a licensing deal, or that a patent was issued, gives the entrepreneur credibility, Tedeschi says. Telling them that she is now selling in Wal-Mart or Rite Aid spurs interest.
Wal-Mart was a different story. She and other contest winners were flown first-class to the company's Bentonville, Ark., headquarters for its shareholders meeting. “They took really good care of the winners,” Tedeschi says. She addressed company employes in a Skype meeting from headquarters, and saw top entertainers perform — Celine Dion, Justin Timberlake, and Taylor Swift. She met Wal-Mart leaders, including the son of founder Sam Walton.
In the past two years, Tedeschi has sold more than 5 million screws. She has a distribution agreement with OptiSource International, an optical supply firm based in New York. Her repair kits are now available at Walgreens, Office Depot, Ace Hardware, and online through Amazon, Target, and other retailers.
With her success has come a problem of success: imitators. She had to send a cease-and-desist letter to a company that infringed on her patent. “I'm an independent inventor, and they don't think I have wherewithal to sue them.” Taking a patent infringement case to court can easily cost $500,000, she says.
Still, Tedeschi is enjoying the whirlwind of success. “I'm on the bell curve of the high.”