In this day and age, the quest to be different and stand out has become so competitive that it becomes tempting to steal someone’s work, ideas, or concepts. Natasha and Fred Ruckel of the Randy Cooper Foundation join us today to talk about protecting your products from infringement. Embodying Randy Cooper’s passion and desire to stand up for the product inventor’s rights, Natasha and Fred help protect, educate, and empower inventors. As they unfold the ways infringers play in the field and give us advice on how we can combat them, they also go deeper into the rules of copyright protection, the right way to build and launch your brand, and the proper ways to protect your product. As ideas are becoming more creative, so are the ways people steal, so equip yourself with the right education to protect your creative output.
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I have a fun and interesting couple to talk to you. I have Natasha and Fred Ruckel from the Randy Cooper Foundation. They were also featured in a book that I may have written about, As Stolen on TV. When I read their story, I thought, “I’m so glad I’m not doing this every single day. I’m so glad I’m not out there inventing new things.” That’s a terrible thing because we want those wonderful inventions that you’re working on to come out into the world. It’s amazing what they’re doing with the foundation and we’re going to talk about that. What they’ve done is they have put this in the name of Randy Cooper who’s the inventor of the Noodlehead Sprinkler. It’s aimed to embody Randy Cooper’s passion and desire to stand up for the inventor’s rights.
That’s what Natasha and Fred had been doing on their own. They have their own program, their own product called Snuggly Cat. They have been inventing, selling and getting knocked off left and right. It is that story that is absolutely unfolded into a network of very scary players who are going after inventors, stealing their concepts and knocking them off in such a crazy way that it’s almost not believable. It’s an As Stolen On TV movie. We’re going to talk about that. The infringers out there are getting sophisticated and the things that they’re doing are getting very scary. This isn’t just a blatant, “Someone invented it at the same time as me.” This is an absolute dead-off, “I’m buying your product and I’m making a video of it and knocking you off.” Natasha and Fred, thank you so much for coming on this show. I’m so excited to talk about this. I can’t wait to know what you have, what you guys are working on the foundation side of things and what you guys are working on your own. Welcome to both of you.
Thank you so much. We appreciate it.
How long have you been inventing and working in the space?
It should be first said that we both worked in marketing and advertising for twenty plus years each. We were helping others with their inventions for many years. We decided back in 2015 to take the leap and make one of our ideas real. We applied all of our skills that we’ve learned over the past two decades or plus each into launching and creating an actual brand as opposed to just a product.
I want to start there because it’s changed a lot in the twenty years that we’ve all been working in this industry. Marketing and advertising have changed. I think that’s why it’s opened up the field for the infringers to be a lot better at it than they used to be. What kinds of things have you seen change?
Going back to when we first started in the business, I remember something as simple as the office memo. That was how communication was done. If you were talking to someone on the other side of the world, you’d pick up the phone and have a conversation later in the evening or early in the morning. Now, business isn’t done that way. We all know that we spend our time through email. Social media is a way of communication with people. That makes it so easy for information to get out to multiple people at one time, which means that we have to be constantly monitoring all the traffic out there, all the noise to see what’s happening.
You’re saying that the speed of communication has also opened up the possibility of having things leaked out, having all this information be spread as quickly too, which is traumatic.
The immediacy of the generation that we’re in, you’re expected to answer a text message even if it’s 11:00 PM or 6:00 AM that you’re expected to always be on and it takes away from having a life. In the past working in television, we used to make what’s called three-quarter-inch videotapes and send the client a version of a commercial on tape and it would take a courier to either take it downtown or to send it via FedEx somewhere across the country. They would watch a rough cut of a commercial and say, “We like this, this and this. Let’s change this.” You had a moment to breathe and that allowed you to digest the creative. The creative process has been stifled. You don’t get a chance to digest something you create before building upon it. They expect you to build but you have to take a moment, step back, look at it, analyze and say, “We could have done this a little better. We could change this.” Because they want it right now, you don’t have that opportunity anymore. It’s flushing the idea out completely.
You guys have done a lot of that video-based advertising and the success rate is low. The numbers I’ve heard it’s been fourteen out of fifteen failures. If we’re talking about one out of every fifteen succeeds or I use the number seven out of ten failures in product launching regularly, three out of ten successes, we’re still 30% or less. Even at best, those are scary numbers out there. Is it because we’re moving too fast that these things aren’t occurring? What it’s also doing is in your case, the investment isn’t high enough and they don’t care, so they’ll just knock you off and see what goes and take a piece.
It’s so much easier for people to come along, steal your video, your imagery, your marketing, your language, even your product name and they can post anywhere on social media. They can set up a store on Amazon. It’s very easy for them to do that. Before it was so much more control on video. For example, in commercial, if you didn’t have the tape with the original master, then you wouldn’t be broadcasting it on your own website. Now, you can just go on and record everything. This is what we found with our product, the Ripple Rug, when it was initially stolen. We discovered that the infringers essentially took all our photography, video and marketing word for word. They didn’t change anything. Our cat Yoda was featured on all the pictures.
She was in there. I was in there. They stole pictures of us.
They had no qualms. They took the information, made a website, put their own name on the website as though it were their product, and Photoshop all of our labels. They sent an email blast to 963,000 people on December 3rd targeting very specifically the right target audience and directing them to the website, which was almost identical to us.
The same colors, same look. It was our actual pictures. It was a total brand manipulation.
How long had you been selling the product before this?
We only launched 41 days prior.
When you launched, what was your marketing launch like? What did you do?
Our initial launch involved a competition called the Next Big Thing, which was in conjunction with QVC and the Today Show. For us, it was an amazing opportunity. Suddenly we would be featured on national television talking to exactly the targeted audience we wanted to reach showcasing our brand-new product, which was the Ripple Rug. Fred and I both got the opportunity to pair up on the show. Al Roker was one of the judges. We brought Yoda our cat with us. We present it. When we left the studio, Fred’s cellphone started to ring as the orders came in. We were exceptionally excited about that.
That was on September 30th, 2015.
One of the first purchases when we were on the Today Show, I think it was the fifth purchase of all purchases ever was the bad guys buying it from us to immediately start to knock off process. By December 3rd imagine they had 41 days. They stole all of our pictures, downloaded them, built a website, built a pricing model, structured everything, set up an email blast targeting 963,000 people and sent that out on December 3rd to December 5th, 2015 thereby causing havoc for our first Christmas sales wondering, “What happened? Everybody wanted to buy the $19.99 version.”
They would be getting two for $19.99 whereas our product is $39.99 for one and made in the US out of recycled bottles.
Do they even have a product? Did they ship anything or was it a total scam?
As we learned later on in our lawsuit during the discovery phase, you get information from the infringers and they get all your information as well, which is quite a scary process. We found out that they took our very own Ripple Rug and they all did it on QVC because they said it was more anonymous that way.
Literally, those are the words in their email.
They sent it to their manufacturer in China and they were communicating on a regular basis trying to get the product manufactured at a cost that would be viable for them to produce. They were aiming for $3 or $4 a unit, which is impossible because our product is made of a heavy quality carpet and rubber base. The materials we use are a formula that’s specifically made to the use of the Ripple Rug. Its safety tested and its toxicity tested because we wouldn’t want our own little fur babies to be on something that was dangerous. Our principle is we would never sell something that we wouldn’t be happy for our own cats to play on.
They sent out this email blast to basically a million people to essentially gather awareness and see who would want the product, but the magic behind the devious plot that they do and they do this for many websites is they build into the HTML no index, no follow, which means that Google, Yahoo and every search engine on the planet cannot see the site. It’s hidden from the internet.
That’s to say if I went onto the internet and said, “Cool carpet toy made out of rug,” ours would come but theirs would not.
These microsites are all made by a company called Digital Target Marketing in Florida. They make hundreds of knock off sites.
They’re experts at doing that all kinds of product.Your brand is a very big part of who you are. Click To Tweet
The good ones too but we found a lot of bad ones.
They aren’t making any product?
At the end of the day, these guys didn’t deliver.
There is one lesson we can learn from them. They were doing this as a dry test to see if the product was something that they could sell thousands of units and make loads of money from. As it happens, our product tested off the charts. They actually got quite a high percentage of people who placed orders even though there was no product available. For them, that meant, “We’re going to take it to the next part of our product launch,” which is to make a TV commercial and launch it nationally. Just for newbie inventors though, it’s a great way of testing your product, but obviously, you have to have a product before you can sell it. It’s illegal to sell something knowing full well you don’t have a product to sell. That’s an interesting lesson because they weren’t product testing.
Imagine they kept sending emails back and forth with China saying, “No, it’s not good enough.” They’d send a sample from China to New York so the people here and they’d say, “No, it doesn’t work as good as the other one. Let me order some more of the original ones to compare the new ones.” They were trying to get as close as they could to ship while at the same time, they already accepted orders for this fake product calling it the Purr N Play. Ironically, if you think Purr N Play, Ripple Rug, the alliterations within the double P’s and double R’s, all these things that they have, they’re the same letter and syllable count. It’s a total symmetry.
This is a cautionary tale and also it’s very scary as to like, “How am I going to launch my product?” As we were talking about the days before the early internet even when I first started is that you could soft launch something. You could do your own test marketing and you could go on out there and start to build your growth and not risk that exposure. They’re targeting all the places where you do go out there and test where you go out there and first launch like the Next Big Thing, Kickstarter or Shark Tank as you know I’ve written about. All of those are places that are specifically targeting adventures in that process.
You’re the low hanging fruit in that capacity. You have no money. You’re on a shoestring budget. You’re trying to do the best you.
You probably don’t have a patent.
It’s not issued yet even if you do have it in process.
It’s not haphazard. They’re very methodical. The way they do it, it’s a white-collar organized crime scheme and we know all the players involved.
The story of how you uncovered everything was through serious investigative research. Do you watch videos frame by frame? You did a whole lot to investigate. It’s amazing on what you’ve uncovered, but here’s the thing where most people feel defeated by this process of how there’s so much against you. You guys became empowered. You started a foundation. What drove you to that?
We spent a lot of money on legal fees in our lawsuit. We realized that if we had hired investigator, it would’ve cost us two or three times the amount of work. We did a lot of learning about the rules of copyright, protection, passing off, everything that a lawyer would have advised us, but because we did a lot of the research, we saved ourselves a lot of the money.
That was the key to it. Both of us have very investigatory backgrounds and that we’re inquisitive into things and were both technologically sound. We were able to do a lot of research on our own. If we had to hire an investigator to do similar work, it would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
I also don’t think they would have done as good a job as you guys did on your own.
Most lawyers, unfortunately, that worked for big companies have multiple cases at the same time. There’s a huge burden on them to know every single fact of every single case.
Tom and I found this in our experience of just patenting. We have a couple of great attorneys that we work with again and again. The reason we work with those patent attorneys is that they know us well enough to involve us in the process of patenting, so we get a stronger patent. I think that’s a big miss. There are many firms out there who don’t involve you in the process of investigating. The investigation veered wrong and didn’t look for the right things or didn’t even know what to look for. Where you guys know intimately, “This is the key factors in our product. If I see this, I know it’s us. I know that’s my cat.” You guys knew what you were looking for.
To go back to your initial question, the reason we were inspired to help others was that we realized that there isn’t good advice out there. There isn’t someone to help you. You pay a lawyer, but unless you pay them hundreds and thousands of dollars, which realistically as a newbie inventor, you just don’t have, because you’re probably using your 401(k) to finance your launch. Through discovery and finding out hundreds of other inventors whose ideas were completely ripped off and then contacting them in person and them saying, “We don’t know who that person is, but we don’t know what to do. We can’t fight it and we’ve lost 60% of our business.” To us, it made us realize that the pain we’ve been through is been worth it if we can help someone else and steer them away from those horrifying situations.
It’s eye-opening to see how much these people go through in terms of the lengths to hide their trail or make it seem like they’re doing good. In the case of ours, after all the damage that they did, they even had the nerve to come through a back door under another name called the Bargain Show and pretend to be our white knight and save us from certain death because our sales were stranded because of their own making. That was a racketeering style.
They tanked you and then they say, “We’ll buy you.”
Yes, under another name.
There’s more irony to that because the people who run the Bargain Show were the people who shot video of the fictitious Purr N Play, which incidentally was the Ripple Rug.
They still couldn’t get the right thing. I’m a product girl. What I do love about it from a product perspective is that you guys created a product that’s impossible to knock off at a reasonable price and doing all that. That’s way better protection at the end of the day than a patent.
We’ve made thousands and thousands of Ripple Rugs and still, every single batch of custom carpet that’s made, they cut pieces, they send them to us, we test them. We often will reject a carpet that doesn’t meet our specifications because it has to be just right to be a Ripple Rug. If it’s not, we reject it because we have to maintain quality standards and that’s important to us.
That’s usually a great protective layer. We call that proprietary design. You’re designing something where you have a proprietary source, proprietary materials. We like to build that into our designs in addition to patenting and copywriting and doing all of those good things. Having them as an added layer usually prevents people from knocking it off. They got a little over cocky and thought that they could do this is the thing. They thought, “This is a lot simpler than it looks.” That was where they fell apart in trying to make that thing. They did some tremendous brand damage to you because they didn’t deliver.
It’s irreparable what they did.
The problem as a newbie inventor, you don’t have a sales history. We just launched our product to market and we didn’t have sales on a regular basis. That’s what happens when you start. You work hard to generate awareness and get people to buy your product and word of mouth and so on. For us, it’s even difficult to determine how much damage and how much of a delay they put on our product. By them bringing our product to a Chinese manufacturer, we all know the scenario in China. All the manufacturers share all the ideas together. They’re all very close-knit. Consequently, we have thousands of mushrooms, literally fake Ripple Rugs popping up every day. People often use our pictures. They often use the word Ripple Rug, and customers click on it because they think, “We found a cheap Ripple Rug. That’s what I want for my cat.” They buy it and it’s a piece of felt.
If you imagine had these guys not done it, sure someone else might have because it’s been so popular. What they’ve done is what’s called cause to create. They caused the creation of all of these manufacturers in China to make similar versions to try and sell. We would have had it happen anyway, but it might’ve only happened six months later when we had enough grounding of our product that people do.
What you’re talking about is something that I have great experience in. People are always asking me, “If I take it to China, I’m going to get knocked off.” The answer is no, probably not, not until they see you with tremendous traction in the marketplace or a big box wanting to buy your stuff, then they’ll knock you off. They adopt the wait and see model as well. Just because you came to them, they still think you’re a small player. They don’t know if you’re worth it. Tom and I have designed over 250 products. In that time of going back and forth to Asia, we’ve only had two products knocked off. They happened because of Walmart and because of Staples because they both solicited the knockoff.
They went out there and said, “I want to put this product out for bid. Make it but not exactly like it,” which at the end of the day then they accept something that looks exactly like it. They are the ones who put out and were that cause to create. Unfortunately for us, we couldn’t do anything about it because we were contract designing for another company. If they wouldn’t say anything and wouldn’t do anything about it, what were we going to do? It doesn’t happen when you walk into the factory with stuff. It happens when you sell stuff and they see you’re selling stuff and they want to have a piece of that.By putting your own personality into the products, you create a brand and awareness about who you are and what you are doing. Click To Tweet
Talking about the protections of your product, we also found that your brand is a very big part of who you are. By putting our own personality and by openly sharing pictures of both our cats, Yoda and Spock every day playing on the Ripple Rug, we feel like we’ve created a brand and awareness about who we are, what we are doing. The fact that we are so adamant to make the product in America because we believe in supporting the community in which you live. Obviously, I’m English, so if we were in England, we would be producing the product in England. Another thing for us was the environmental consciousness. We decided to use materials and the carpet is literally made out of recycled plastic bottles. For us, it was important to have principles and philosophy in place that would make a brand that cares. We wanted to show people it wasn’t always about profitability. It was about making a product that made a difference, that stopped cats from getting bored and do it in an ethical manner, which we think businesses of the future should be adopting.
You guys went about building your brand the right way. In a way, you did help your case though because there were so many personal touches. It was you, not stock photos and you didn’t have stock actors doing this. You helped yourself find you in a little better way and a little easier for you to tell that you are being knocked off and it was being stolen on top of it with all the imagery and all the brand’s identity. What has this done for your business? Where is your business and how is the product going?
I will say it’s Prime Day on Amazon.
Is it going well?
We were the number one best-seller. Amazon probably doesn’t like it because we’re the number one best-seller on Prime day and we’re a non-Prime item.
I have a good friend who went on a speaking junket in New York. I saw him while I was out there and he was talking about Prime Day. He thinks that Prime Day is at its close. Its volatility in the marketplace of what is done to it. This is a glorified test for what products will do well at the holidays. That’s all it is. It’s not in the best benefit of the consumers and consumers are realizing it, so they’re not shopping anymore. I’m a huge Amazon shopper. I’ve been shopping with them since 1998. I used to buy more and more every year. I pretty much shop there and I would say about 90% of my shopping is done online on Amazon.
It’s probably a counterfeit anyways if you buy there.
Most people don’t. I know enough to spot that. I know what that looks like and it’s just a convenience factor for me because I need to shop. I don’t have time in my day, but I never respond to a single ad. Sponsored ad don’t work with me because 90% of them are fake. Those are someone just out there putting money in it and pushing out. It’s not the most legitimate brand. What I’ll do is I get something offline, find something and look for it on Amazon. That happens very frequently, which is why you should always have an Amazon store and a complement to it, even if it’s not the core of your business.
I think you’re right. You have to be on Amazon because a high majority of people won’t find you. You need to have something backing up. We do sell on a lot of different other outlets for our website. We feel is a good informational resource. We think it’s fun. We think it shows our brand. It shows real cats having fun. We have a wonderful Instagram feed. We spend several hours weekly looking at them and laughing.
It’s a reward in the sense we get beat down on a very regular basis, whether it’s Amazon customers being abusive or copycats trying to make knock offs. That can put a damper on your day, but you see someone that has a cat with hypoplasia that is living a normal life or is a disabled cat that is blind or deaf and using a Ripple Rug and playing like a normal cat. We say to ourselves, “We are doing good.” It makes a difference.
You’ll get someone who posted some adopted foxes and they all loved the Ripple Rug.
I don’t have a cat anymore but we used to have a lot of cats. I have a puppy. They told us that we needed to give her a puzzle toy to give her food so that she doesn’t eat food fast. That’s the way most dogs get fat. She’s a Cocker Spaniel. I don’t think she’s going to get fat anytime soon, but it could happen. I went out there and I bought a puzzle toy and I’m telling you, she was eight weeks old and she figured the thing out. It’s not even a challenge anymore. I question myself every time I do it. I think your Ripple Rug might hide treats and food well and it might work for her. I’m thinking about testing it.
We did have an actual vet say that they love the product. They have it in their office and they hide treats and toys. They reconfigure the rug on a regular basis and it keeps the cats entertained because it’s continually changing. What we observed was cat behavior. They like to scratch, bring their toys into an environment, they feel safe, they like to stick their paws into holes. The carpet fulfills a lot of their behaviors and we think that’s why it’s become very successful because it keeps them entertained and they don’t get bored.
The reconfiguration factor that literally every day, all day, you can change the shape. You don’t even have to. The cat or whichever pet is using it can press their body against the ripple or pounce on it and squash it, go underneath it and scurry under a bush.
I think it’s entertaining. I was doing my research and my girls were hanging around watching and they’re laughing over how funny the cat is because the cats are going in and getting all excited about it. You have some adorable videos. We’ll have a link to that so people can find them.
We’re passionate about what we do, and so we are all inventors. I think a mistake that inventors do is they get carried away about the passion of the product and they don’t test it and don’t protect you properly. We also feel that with Randy Cooper. We want to help educate people, learn about how to test the product viability, how to protect it. Everything that we’ve learned through our experiences, we are eventually going to put through seminars, podcasts on and everything else under Randy Cooper. We’re wrapping up our lawsuit. It has taken a considerable amount of our time and effort from that, but that’s definitely going to be a goal of ours.
As the lawsuit ended, are you’re in closing on that? Have you won? What’s the result?
We’re in appeals court. Because they did what’s called motion practice, essentially they’re a liar, lied, denied and delayed everything they could to cause us to spend over $200,000 in legal fees in a very short period. The case was dismissed in our favor without prejudice so that we can pursue it in the future as we build our funds and having our best year ever. We’re hopeful that’s coming soon. Just to make it even worse, they appealed the judge’s decision to dismiss without prejudice, thus causing us to have to pay another appeals lawyer $20,000 to sit on retainer to deal with our appeal.
They find ways and reasons for delaying or just taking the subject off-topic.
Their lawyer is such a lying person that he will contrive into us doing something different.
As if here you’re disparaging them. This is not unusual though. I want to put that out there. Counter suits, stalls, and delays are a very common practice in all lawsuits happen to us multiple times through everything that we have done. They’re all legal tactics because they usually don’t have a case to stand on. If they felt that they were right, they would rush to court and they don’t. That’s what I find most often is the case.
What this thing went was haywire and why we feel it went the wrong direction is that this company Opfer communications has insurance for wrongful acts specifically outlining all the things they did to us so that they’re covered. When we come after you and catch you for doing this to us, they’re allowed to say, “Insurance company pays the legal bills.” You get a high-priced lawyer who runs the bill through the roof because he gets paid by insurance to $3 million policies. They’re like, “The lawyer go was only $300,000 for us. That’s a win.”
Amazingly they took out their insurance policy the day after we sued the first party who were infringing against us, who were their business partner, strange coincidence.
We believe it’s insurance fraud and we’re trying to press that.
That sounds like insurance fraud to me. Most insurance companies they air on the side like, “We’re not going to cover that.”
We’re trying to get the insurance company to bow out so we can take them mano a mano and go after them.
The best defense of course is a great offense. What have you learned that you would do differently?
We have learned from the get-go that copywriting is your strongest defense.
Better than trademark, copyright is your best friend.
We say better than a patent because the patent is a great tool if you have a lot of money to defend it.A mistake that inventors do is they get carried away about the passion of the product and they don't test and protect it properly. Click To Tweet
Copywriting everything though is what you’re saying. Your copy, photos, everything.
Every word on Amazon is copyrighted, the entire listing but not initially. We can do DMCA takedowns quickly and get infringes a room from Amazon within a day and they have to listen because we have an actual registered copyright for the Amazon listing.
That does involve a bit of work, time and energy because you update your listing and you’ve got to reregister. You’ve got to keep that accurate, but that’s a good lesson. How else would you test and launch yourself? Would you do it differently?
We did a Kickstarter as well, which didn’t make millions. We reached our basic goal, which enabled us to buy the tooling to make the Ripple Rug. It was a scary but valuable experience because it made you realize you had accountability to your customers. It made you realize that you have to have your brand language determined. Our product was unlike anything out there for cats that we have to determine exactly what its benefits were. How could we appeal to an audience? The product itself isn’t maybe the sexiest piece of furniture in your house by any means, but we had to learn how to present it in a way that people would understand the benefits of it and not be horrified by a piece of carpet.
It was never built to be beautiful. It was built to be functional and great for a pet, and to them it’s Nirvana. To a human, it’s a piece of carpet with holes in it. It’s so much more than that.
For us, although we have huge experience in marketing, advertising and creating language, it was a very good exercise for us because we had a deadline to meet. We had a responsibility and we learned a lot about manufacturing because we approached several different companies. Being small and not being able to do big batches, you get turned away by many companies because they don’t want to take on the risk, invent or a new process to produce your product. The other thing I would say is we started off with Amazon Prime because we didn’t want to have to deal with fulfillment. When you do that, you give away a huge amount of control.
While it’s excellent to get the awareness via Prime and being FBA, FBA is being fulfilled by Amazon, steer clear of FBA. FBA is what will destroy your company.
That’s interesting because I advised differently. I advise both. It depends on your product and depends on the method for how you’re going to it. In the early days when you have a lot of expenses in your business, going out there and figuring out the fulfillment process and doing all of those things may tank your focus from the essential marketing and advertising, which to me is your number one spend. If you’re spending more on your product, you’re spending too much. I have a rule of my percentages that I like to allocate. I like over 50% of the budget to be allocated for marketing and advertising. I’m not talking about your part cost. I’m talking about your overall launch budget in general. I like to have the other 50% between tooling, inventory, fulfillment and the things that you do need to spend money on. It might be customer service and not the fulfillment side of things. In that case, unless someone has tremendous capability and experience in there or connection to warehouses and other things that they could be utilizing, I do recommend doing an FBA model initially. Backing off of that, as you get your ground under you in your brand and your business.
I think that’s very fair comment because there was so much for us to take on board when we started that fulfillment for us was like a dream. We’re like, “We don’t have to do anything.”
It’s a huge cost structure. They’re taking a lot of money out of that and the benefit to you isn’t strong. There’s exposure to you, the risk is high. At the same time, if it’s distracting you from doing the number one thing, which is driving the brand awareness and leads that you need into sales, then you’re not going to make it anyway. That’s why I advise that way because I’ve seen it go wrong too often.
We did Prime for FBA for December 15th to end of May.
You did six months in there. That’s a good amount of time.
In those six months, we had over 400 units disappear in Amazon’s warehouses. We had arbitragers steal our listings by the handful on a daily basis. I’d say the returns back then were probably around 20% compared to 0.86.
Which is where you should be, by the way. Everyone, you should be under 2%. You’ll never make it in a big box. You’ll never make it at any retailer with your above 2%. Good for you guys to get the handle on that. You take a lot of risks and there are a lot of problems, but you maybe wouldn’t have been able to handle that on day one.
We did even run the whole gamut of multichannel fulfillment with Amazon for our website. When we pulled the reins back in, we emptied out our garage, filled it with warehouse shelves, conveyor belts, and it became shipping central. We were moving thousands and thousands of packages. The two of us would pack them up on a Sunday.
Our spare time would be packing bags.
I was telling you guys the story of our ttools pens and our lawsuit and infringement with an idea. For our readers, we have a whole episode on it so you can find that. In that story, we started doing that from 1998 to 2001. At one point, my daughter, she was probably about five or six when we first started in there. One of her friends says, “What does your mom do?” She says, “My mom works for FedEx.” We were dying laughing because every night we would make a FedEx run. We’d go down and take the packages to the post office and to FedEx and we would drop the packages off. She’s in her PJs, we would go and make the run and then we come back home and put her to bed. It was the last thing we did every day. She thought I worked for FedEx so I can relate to that.
You go through all of these things and you learn about what it takes to do it. It gives you an appreciation of the struggles and a lot of work that other inventors put into getting their product out there. How everyone says, “I have this great idea and someone else is using it.” It’s not about the idea. An idea is not a sellable product. That’s a point that a lot of inventors don’t get.
With your work, with what you’re doing with the Randy Cooper Foundation. You’re going to be providing education and resources and I love that because what I think is happening is that so many of these inventors, organizations themselves are part of the problem. They have a lot of bad actors in their organizations. Paula Brillson Phillips, who wrote the book As Stolen on TV, has some stuff that I didn’t even know about, how bad their statistics were of success rates. I knew it was bad, but because I’ve tried to write about a success story, I still can’t find one. I’ve tried, I’d put out bids. I don’t know how many HAROs that I’ve put out. I can never get anyone who will go on record with any success story. I was thinking there was but she found some statistics that are astounding.
If these inventors’ organizations are getting the attention and the hearts of inventors, but treating them so badly, how do we circumvent them? How do we stop that? I hope your foundation is able to do that in a good way, because I see it every single day. When I have a phone call, there are a dozen things that they’ve fallen victim to that I wish I could have said, “If you had one conversation with me, I would have stopped you from that.” I can’t have a conversation with everyone and you guys can’t either. How can we get it moving to make sure that that happens?
That was a part of the impetus of the Randy Cooper Foundation. When we were doing the investigation into these bad guys, Natasha came across the Noodlehead Sprinkler. I picked up the phone and called the company and talked to the woman who owns the company, which is Randy’s wife and explains to her that we believe we found your counterfeiters. She was very upset because her husband had died three years prior trying to find them. Never having been successful finding who was the bad guys and we called her out to tell her, we found these people not knowing what had happened. It was a shell shocking to her like, “This is what we’ve been waiting for years and here you are giving it to us.” We do that with numerous companies where Natasha would do some research and give me some information. I would call people and we’d put the things together. We found hundreds of different companies that have been targeted by the same methodology over and over.
This is all they do for a living and we figured awareness is the thing that people have to have because every inventor helped company, whether it’s InventHelp or any other name similar, they get you excited like, “Someone’s going to help me. I’m going to get my product out there and it’s not going to cost a lot.” The truth is they’re like, “That’s a good idea.” While they’re on this side saying, “It’s great.” In the other room, they’re passing it to someone else saying, “Go send this out and do a quick test.” A perfect for instance is when this other product was on the Today Show with us. They contacted us a month after we became friends at the show and they said, “Someone knocked us off. We don’t know what to do.” This was well-before we even knew anything was going on with our product. We jumped in and as investigators, we were able to uncover who stole their product and it was the exact same group of people that did everything to us.
We didn’t know that.
We helped them get their bad guys down. Unbeknownst to us, it was simultaneously happening to us.
We felt terrible for them. We said, “If this was happening to us, how awful.”
One of their friends received the email blasts that they sent out to everybody with their product pictures. It was the same everything. That’s why Randy Cooper’s all about awareness. Teaching people, educating them, giving them the empowerment to make proper decisions and not fall for the long con, not fall for the, “I can make you rich,” scheme.
As an inventor, particularly if you go on Kickstarter, you’ll have a slew of people contacting you and saying, “We’ll make a video for you. We’ve hired James Earl Jones. He’s going to present your product.” Obviously, you get very excited because you’re like, “James Earl Jones? Of course, he can present.”
Kevin Harrington, that’s another one that gets involved in all the scam going on.
All they do is the company hires and gets them to say a few generic lines. They edit it together, get some footage of your product and then they promise to air on TV so they buy cheap spots in the middle of the night on a Skilled TV channel. You get no traction from it and you’re wondering, “Why have I spending $20,000 on something like this?” We were getting solicitations.
I kept the solicitations. I put a little folder of all the solicitations and that’s how we realized one of them was the bad guys coming under another name.If you're spending more on your product than your marketing, you're spending too much. Click To Tweet
It’s a never-ending battle for me to get the inventors to listen because they’re wearing their hearts and their inventions on their sleeve. They get taken so quickly. It’s something that I thought Paula wrote brilliantly in the book. How badly all of us want to help them but it is their passion and their excitement for this that is getting fed by the machines that are out there.
Sometimes they don’t realize that their product isn’t ready. It’s just a concept.
That’s the part of my job. My job is to tell people that their baby’s not ready yet.
The brand is the key. When people start developing similar products, it’s your brand that’s going to make you stand out.
Do you guys have a mass-market future? Are we going to get Snuggly Cat on the shelf?
We are in a lot of places, but we’re trying to slowly and organically grow it because everybody keeps asking to buy and stock it and put it in places. The biggest issue is customers have been trained to buy something, use something for a period of time and bring it back and get their money back and do it over and over. We believe that once a cat touches a product, it leaves its scent through its paw pads. It leaves its scent on a product. As soon as you get it home and your cat goes out and you’re like, “My cat’s not that interested.” That’s great, but it’s tainted. I can’t give it to someone else or sell it.
It could be unsanitary. I agree with you on that one. That’s probably not the way to go. There are a lot of products out there in the marketplace you can’t return like that because of that sanitary reason.
If you imagine big box stores wanting our product, part of the rule of the game is whatever returns that come in, they deduct it for whatever they owe you in the outstanding invoice and they keep track. If you have something that they love, and in our case, for instance, our biggest issue. People don’t realize you have to wash our product to maintain it. Just like when you wear clothing every day, you wash it. Our rug is made of polyester. You have to wash it to maintain it being crisp, clean and good to use. If you just have a cat and use it for months on end, it’s going to get soft, floppy and oily. They’d rather return it, get their money back in order another one then wash it. It’s also in this whole slew of returning. If you have it on the shelves in Walmart, you’ll have that constantly happening.
What about line expansions? Are you guys going to expand into new other cat products?
We love Snuggly Cat. We love our cats and we’ve learned a huge amount through this process. Our passion is our creative ideas. We created a thing because we like bringing tangible elements to other people’s products and services. We’ve been doing it for years. One of our companies, RuckSack New York, helps small or big companies sell their brands and their products. Our ultimate goal is we want to expand and help other companies. A lot of what we want to do as well as for our experience into Randy Cooper. One of our focuses is going to be in that area.
We’ve had products literally two years waiting to go, excellent fun toys, tested them with people. Our one cat is hysterical. We made this type of long toy. We’ve had the same one in use. She loves it so much when we’re sleeping with her. We’re like, “What is that?” She will drag this six-foot-long toy all the way up the stairs around the side and into our bedroom and drop it on the floor to be like, “Play with me.” We sent five different prototype products down to our people that we worked with and said, “We need to cost out. When it’s going to take to make these?” Of course, we want to make them in the US. Amidst all that going on and the excitement of, “We’ve got this and all these accessories.” We had to deal with these bad guys. They completely took us over in the operation. They basically shut the innovation machine down because all of our money that was going to go into new tools to make new products and all these do things all had to go to paying lawyer after lawyer. We had eight lawyers.
The damage and the distraction to your business. That’s why it’s so high. This is what Tom and I have gone. I’ve given a lecture to I don’t know how many inventors’ organizations or local meetups. The number one thing I say is that, “Even when you win, you lose.” When you go into it, you’ll lose in the amount of business you lost during that time period, the distraction to your business during that time period. In the case when we want our stylus pen, we settled and we won. We got our royalties. We got two checks and then they shut the product down. They made it so we wouldn’t get any future royalties and they blocked us from a major cataloger. These are things that you still lose at the end of the day. That’s where it’s so hard, “Do I fight it or do I let it go?” I love that you are organizing because that’s actually the best way to fight it.
You aren’t damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Had we not pursued this, they would’ve put us out of business with their practices. While it was stressful than an arduous task, constantly sleepless nights, upset days, if we didn’t take them to the mat, they wouldn’t put us out of business without question. It would’ve been inevitable that we would have gone under because what they were doing was using all of our own marketing, which was excellent against us. The price point is 75% off. There’s no way to compete against that. It’s free marketing.
What I wanted to say also to that is a trend that we see again and again. We’re seeing a decline in Facebook ads, a decline in advertisements and push marketing, in all kinds of arenas. I believe it is because of my personal direction on this is that women buyers control 85% or more of the market. When you get non-delivery, we get very suspicious quickly. When there’s a lot of non-delivery, quality problems, it happens with different companies then it’s the Facebook model that’s broken. We get the pattern quickly. This is untrustworthy. I did an informal survey of a bunch of people and I asked them, “Have you bought on Facebook, anything from a direct sale ad in the last 90 days?” The decline in the number of women is very high and the increase in the number of men is very high. Also, the other telling part is most of them got it delayed if at all.
Right on point with what you’re saying, Natasha took the lead on this because it drove her nuts. We had a constant barrage of counterfeits using all of our own videos, pictures, customer videos, and they made a whole mash-up website and posted on Facebook to buy our product. We do Facebook advertising so we know well how much it costs per for views. They’ve had a hundred plus thousand views on this video that was our cat. They were saying, “Buy this cat activity play mat,” and flooding Facebook, flooding Instagram. She was constantly sending messages to Facebook, “Take this down. This is fraudulent.” Facebook would take it down, it would come back under another name the next day and it was for a couple of weeks. One would pop up and they were just everywhere and we were like, “What’s going on?” People were sending me pictures all around the world. This came at my Instagram feed. People are like, “I recognize Yoda. This is fake.” I’m like, “Thank you.” We had people all over the world sending us counterfeit people sending Facebook ads. You asked yourself, how is Facebook not liable when they are perpetuating sales of counterfeit goods using our real product as bait?
There are some regulations going in. Amazon has just been identified as being the retailer in a different way than they used to be. I think it’s only a matter of time before that happens with Facebook as well. That it will shut it down quickly because they will be so liable, they won’t be able to control that. They will shut down their shopping is essentially what they’ll do.
The bottom line is safety. People are buying products that are unsafe, untested, using real products as the bait to get you to buy it and you receive it. The beauty of it in the Facebook ad world of what’s going on, these guys would have you buy this product, which is garbage. If you got it, you’re like, “This is crap. I want to send it back,” they’re in China. If you send that back $60 and they’re like, “I’ll just keep the $15 and not spend the money to send it back,” they win. If you multiply that times 50,000 people, they’ve now diluted the market for us and they’ve got all these people buying products that are crap. Furthermore, someone else says, “Did you see this great product, the Ripple Rug?” They will show them a picture like, “I ordered it, it was garbage. You don’t want to get it. It’s a cheap thing. It’s nothing like what it looks like.” It’s not our product.
We have a good friend on the platform, Joe Tarnowski of ECRM, RangeMe is also the other name of the company that they work through and work with. The funny part is that he was doing this event where he was going to get to announce the keynote, who was this famous guy in the food industry. He had a whole line of t-shirts and he was a big name and had these great, cool-looking t-shirts. Joe goes out and he buys the t-shirt. He’s wearing the t-shirt and getting his photograph taken next to this guy who he idolizes. The guy says, “You know that’s a fake, right?” Joe was just devastated. He thought he bought it from a legitimate retailer and he didn’t. That’s what I keep saying to people. It’s like, “You get stuff with no instruction sheets, no brand information, you should be suspicious.”
The other version has a picture of our cat and it comes with our cat with an Amazon description on the counterfeit.
I hope you all learn from this. I’ve gotten a lot out of Natasha and Fred, all of the great information that they’ve provided you to be thinking about. We don’t say this all to scare you. We say this to make you aware. Empower you to do things differently. To ask twice, to get refresh references on the people you’re going to work with. Had you investigated maybe somebody else who had been on the Next Big Thing, you might’ve found out they had already been knocked off.
Most people don’t even know they were knocked off.
Maybe someone would have. I hear more horror stories about Kickstarter or Shark Tank, which is why I write about them frequently. I hear more horror stories than I hear successes. Making sure you ask questions, ask around, don’t get all into the hype about this stuff. Dive in deeper. Do some investigation because that’s something you guys have done amazingly well on and it might help you find better partners, better resources like the Randy Cooper Foundation. It might make you a better shopper too and be a little better at what we buy.
Getting people aware about the high level of counterfeit products. We’re a cat product and sure that’s one thing, but I’m sure you may have seen in the news about counterfeit textbooks. It was in the news about a medical book having an issue. They are saying the printing of the counterfeit book was so bad they couldn’t see if it said the dose was one or seven. They were afraid people were going to overdose by taking so much or not take the right amount of medication because counterfeit books are proliferating. The pencils and pens on Amazon, imagine your kids at school chewing on a pen and getting lead poisoning and you’re saying, “I’ve got these great deals on all my school supplies on Amazon on Prime Day.” They’re full of lead and all kinds of toxic things that your child is carrying around. Even they said backpacks had high levels of lead.
I have been in some backpack factories and rejected them. I have a big experience in textiles and had to reject them because of the processing and the materials, the coatings that they’re putting on. It’s the coating that is mostly the problem on those. It’s very toxic some of the things that are going on in there.
People see a deal and they say yes. They all think what their head, they think with their wallet. They think, “If I saved money here, I could go shopping over there by something else.” Instead of, “Why is it so cheap? Maybe something’s not right.” As much as people don’t like paying the real price on something that’s American made, the difference is things that are made in America, our safety tests. They have to pass tests. Otherwise, you’re in trouble. Things that come from the China Post, they bypass customs, they bypass all regulations.
I want to clarify that and to nitpick the way you said that. It’s not things made in China that is necessarily bad. It’s the brand oversight of that is the bad part when you’re not taking control of your brand. I’ve made hundreds of products in China and it turned out to be extremely good, better quality than you could have gotten anywhere else, but also at a price point that we could sell enough of it, make it the cost go to the shelf. If you don’t have brand integrity on top of that, as you guys do, that dictates where you’re going to make it. How you’re going to control who’s making it and it. It can go bad in the US. I have honestly seen as many bad products come out of the US as I have out of China because of how people manage that.
Your integrity as an inventor and as brand personalities, you’re doing all of those things together. We value that. I can’t thank you enough for coming on the show and thank you enough for sharing your stories with everyone and being so honest and open about all of it that we wish you well. We want you to succeed. Be careful out there. Buy the right Ripple Rug. Go check out Snuggly Cat. We’ll be sure to push it out on social media the same way to make sure that the real stuff is getting out there.
Thank you for asking great questions. You obviously have your finger on the pulse of what’s pertinent for inventors.
It’s important for people to get the information they need, not the information people want to pump them with and you’re doing a great thing.
Thanks for reading. This has been Tracy Hazzard on Product Launch Hazzards. We’ll be back again next time with maybe another cautionary tale, maybe another success story. Who knows what tip will come next time? Maybe we’ll be diving deep into some of more of the hazards of product launching.
Tune in to Natasha and Fred Ruckel’s next Office Hours. Connect with and find out more about Natasha and Fred Ruckel in our Experts Directory.
- Randy Cooper Foundation
- As Stolen on TV
- Snuggly Cat
- Ripple Rug
- RuckSack New York
About Natasha and Fred Ruckel
Fred and Natasha Ruckel are the founders of SnugglyCat Inc. Although they both love their cat Yoda, they never thought that would end-up creating a business that makes cat-friendly products!
Fred grew up working in the family business as a plumber. He shifted his career in 1993, where he accepted an internship at a television production company in New York City. Fred worked his way up the ranks to become a visual effects artist and Creative Director, eventually opening his own company during 1999.
Fred has been featured in trade magazines over 200 times in his career. He is also a speaker at technology conferences and regularly consults for investment firms about visual effects technology.
Natasha’s career started at a digital television graphics computer manufacturer based in the UK. Her first role was as a Graphic Designer, but she soon progressed to Product Demonstrator then Product Manager. While there, she spent time at the BBC News & Current Affairs Department, as well as several other large broadcasters around the world. Close involvement with global markets, TV graphics, innovation and product research led Natasha to undertake post-graduate studies in marketing. After working for several different corporations within technology and life sciences (in Oxford, UK), Natasha relocated to Montreal. While working in Canada, within the Media & Entertainment industry, Natasha met Fred.
Eighteen months later, Natasha moved to NYC. Following a stint as Social Media Director for a billion-dollar global consulting company, Natasha then became Creative Content Director at digital agency.
During 2011 Fred and Natasha produced a TV show for the DIY Network called ‘Dream House Log Cabin’, it was about building their own home from scratch. The show is still airing and can be watched online on the DIY network website.
As 2011 came to a close, Fred launched a new company called RuckSackNY, a digital full-service marketing and advertising agency. As RuckSackNY grew, Natasha joined forces with Fred; this husband and wife duo have been working side by side ever since. Together they write, produce, direct and create campaigns that help both small and large companies.
Technology, inventions, green-building and health-conscious living are important to both Fred and Natasha. These criteria make the foundation of SnugglyCat’s safety and quality standards when manufacturing products for our furry friends.
Fred and Natasha run their business out of their garage. Like many other small business starting out, they look forward to the time when they’ll be able to move into a bigger state-of-the-art facility. Until that time, they’ll continue shipping Ripple Rugs around the world, (wearing gloves in winter if they have to) and wait with great anticipation for the day when they’ll be able to park their car in the garage again!
About Randy Cooper Foundation
The Randy Cooper Foundation, is named in memory of the inventor of the Noodlehead Sprinkler. The Foundation aims to embody Randy Cooper’s passion and desire to stand up for inventors rights. The hope is to help protect, educate and empower inventors. The “As Stolen on TV” book, published by the Randy Cooper Foundation, was created to help inform and educate newbie inventors about the challenges and pitfalls they may face.