This is going to have to be done over multiple posts cause it would be way too long for anyone to read and most likely for me to type.
Obviously I don't know what the final result will be but at this point in time I would have to say that going to the National Hardware Show was the best thing that I could have done at this stage. I got more accomplished in 3 days than I could have gotten in 6 months by phone and email.
Fortunately I was able to bring someone along who has way more business experience than I do to act as support and he bailed me out of a few awkward moments!
I started by walking the entire area of the Paint and Accessories area (about 250 booths) to make sure that no one was selling anything that was competitive and make a list of the companies that I needed to talk to. Turns out that I had already had some contact with almost all of them so I just started going in and asking to speak with the person that I had originally approached. So I met with CEO's, VP's, Engineers, etc. and most of them remembered me and were willing to talk for a few minutes. I got way more information than I was given by email and even if they couldn't give me any time, I made sure to introduce myself and leave a card so that they would not forget that I actually made the trip. Only one person totally ignored me and the surprising part is that it was a Canadian company....aren't we all supposed to be nice? I believe that I will get the last laugh in this though.
I got some serious interest from several companies but their timelines and lack of willingness to step up with development costs was frustrating.
The best part is that I was able to talk to a US manufacturer/distributor and then in a matter of minutes....go to China for a quote! I tried different tactics and we totally changed directions a few times.
My default was always to go to the Chinese company that I had spoken to last week. After my first run through North America I just walked over to China and sat down with him. I had him sign an NDA (just for show of course) and I had him explain his business, checked out the quality of his products, and made sure that my design worked with his accessory.
My goal was to get him to take it from my handmade prototype to a production model that I could take to retailers to get some sales numbers.
In exchange, he would be allowed to sell under his brand in the countries that he is set up.
It started well....he liked the idea and agreed with my marketing concepts and said that he could build it. We talked about where he would be able to sell and then we started to talk about the most important market. Turns out that he does OEM manufacturing for some of the US companies that I was trying to get in front of!
All of this is of course 'tentative' but instead of getting 1 US distributor, I will potentially get several of them and they might not even know that it is me. (that's the last laugh part!)
Next week, my prototype will be shown to his biggest customer as a newly-developed product that is available for ordering immediately. So I just got my idea past all of the obstacles they put up and right in front of the buyers in the hands of someone who they have a 10-year relationship with! If they order, my product will be fast-tracked through their factory could be in stores within a couple of months and I would start generating royalties right away. According to Roger Brown, who was kind enough to provide some advice and much-needed encouragement, the initial offer that I received was excellent and quite high for this type of product.
I will be given the opportunity to say 'yes' or 'no' to my product being shown to any of their other customers as well.
I had to take a big risk and put a lot of trust in this company. I made very sure to let him know that. My partner has just finished negotiating an unrelated contract with a Chinese company so he gave me a lot of advice on how to establish a bond when dealing with China. Honestly, I would have had a very difficult time doing this by phone and email but in person it felt natural.
I will post some more info later but if anything here doesn't make sense please feel free to ask for clarification. I will not include any names at this time but if this company honors our agreement, I will have no problem recommending them to others here. That is one of the pieces that I used as well...if you treat me well, I can introduce you to other inventors with great ideas!