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Keep on Slicin' and Dicin'

Direct marketer Ron Perlstein was impressed by, among others, EZ-Find, a device for the absent-minded
Colby Katz

Morton Iver got to the lobby of the Fort Lauderdale Airport Hilton at 8:15 a.m. By the time the other conferees took their seats in a second-floor conference room, the 81-year-old Lake Worth retiree was already front and center. His friend Hope Ryckman, 82, sat demurely beside him. Propped against the table in front of Iver and Ryckman was a lumpish wall-like object of gray polyethylene.

Polyethylene. The stuff is seriously sun-resistant, Iver notes sagely. Only 3 percent of UV rays can penetrate polyethylene. Therein hangs a tale. When Iver unfolds this polyethylene package, he will unveil his 20-year obsession. With a little luck and with a little perspicacity by the panelists at today's conference, Morton Iver will be declared to have discovered gold.

"Show Me the Money: How to Make It in Direct Response." That's the title of a free seminar that the Electronic Retailing Association (ERA) sponsored on July 12 for local inventors. At the colloquium, local entrepreneurs listened to a patent attorney, a product manufacturer, and several infomercial gurus describe the ins and outs of the industry -- the chances for rip-off and the possibilities for realizing career-changing dreams in a business in which a simple invention like the ThighMaster or the George Foreman Lean Mean Grilling Machine can transform weekend inventors into a money-making machines.

Eight people showed up.

Ron Perlstein, the lithe founder of the Boca Raton-based Infoworx and host of the seminar, emceed the event dressed in a smart black suit over a waffle-weave lime-green shirt with thin black socks slipped into highly polished, streamlined leather loafers. He was surprised at the turnout. "It was disappointing," Perlstein said afterward with a frown. The ERA holds four such seminars nationally every year. For the past three, Perlstein has put up the money for the seminar in the Broward/Palm Beach area. A turnout of eight? Disappointing, but probably an aberration. At past events, around 50 inventors have attended. Perlstein always enjoys these sessions with the peeps who generate new products.

"They are cute because they are free thinkers," Perlstein says. "They are the people sitting on a rock trying to figure out how to make a left-handed fork."

Aside from the inside-the-industry spiels, "Show Me" also provided local inventors an opportunity to parade their brainstorms before the pros on the panel. That, of course, was why Iver was there. He has invented what he claims is the only portable beach cabana that's heat-repelling, can withstand 50-mph winds, and can be fastened together in, oh, maybe ten minutes. With a little help from Ryckman.

This is something big, Iver says. "In the history of man, there has never been a portable shelter that can even compare to it."

Maybe he thinks so. The assembly part of Iver's demonstration extends excruciatingly past ten minutes, and the result is distinctly lacking in telegeneity. Iver doesn't get to first base. The panel of pros doesn't invite Iver to show his cabana at the ERA trade show in September in Las Vegas.

Winning an invite is the prize of the day for these inventors. There will be a "new products exhibit area" at the ERA convention where 50 to 75 amateur inventors selected from across the country will showcase their products. If any of these guys have the infinitesimally minute chance of their bright ideas' becoming the next hot infomercial, the ERA trade show is the place to be. The pros who could make it happen will be swarming all over the place.

Iver is undaunted. "I think it's perfect!" he crows. They laughed at Alexander Graham Bell, didn't they?

Don Pucci and his wife, Bianca, showed the panel an invention masterminded when their 18-month-old daughter, Christina, removed Bianca's keys from her purse. After spending $150 to replace the keys to the couple's BMW, an invention was born. EZ-Find. Pucci, who has a background in chemical engineering and manufacturing, engaged an industrial designer who devised an attractive, baby-blue, hand-held device (as winsome as a child's toy) to track lost articles. Tags complete with tiny radio receiver and speaker can be affixed to car keys, the remote control, or even the dog collar of the family hound. With the push of a button, the tag beeps. The tags are a little large, the panelists noted, but they liked the design. The Puccis make the cut.

Juan Blanco, product development coordinator from Coral Gables-based Invent-Tech, brought a number of products his fledgling company is repping. The panelists thought Invent-Tech's "wakeboard wax remover comb" a tad too niche-specific for direct marketing. Ditto for the squishy computer wrist guards. But they enthused over Invent-Tech's solar-powered swimming pool lights.

All six panelists also loved Doreen Zic's invention. Lynda LaFair, director of exports for Koolatron, fingered what looked like a small piece of jewelry about the size of a brooch. The object had a central circle of beaded stuff, a little smaller than a quarter, and three beaded strands extending from the central hub. Think Back to the Future. The device recalled the triangular time-travel "flux capacitor" invented by Doc Brown. "I love it," LaFair declared. But what is it? The Bikini Genie, of course.

For a full understanding of Zic's ingeniousness, picture a bathing beauty stretched out on her stomach, reclining on blue mats set upon a chaise, with one of those fancy design magazines open on a side table beside her and a glass of white wine. (You can actually see this on Zic's website, bikinigenie.com.) The woman is wearing an orange-flowered two-piece bikini bathing suit that just covers her rear cleavage in the back. She has a nice tan.

But then, with a little help from Zic's thingamajiggy, the two-piece is magically transformed into a hot, in-your-face, booty-displaying thong. Voilà. Just like that. Attached to the back of the two-piece, hooked into the sides and top, the Bikini Genie pulls in the fabric of the back of the traditional two-piece bottom -- and a thong is born.

Zic has already patented the Genie, following the edict that panelist and attorney Andrea E. Friedman outlined for the audience. "If you see a problem in everyday life and you solve that problem, you have a patentable product."

You may be wondering just what everyday problem Zic is solving here. Let her explain.

Y' see, Zic was outside her Boca home orchestrating a home improvement project. It was a sunny day, and she wanted to combine painting some crown molding with sunbathing. She didn't want to risk paint speckles on her only and her very expensive thong bikini. What to do? Wear your handy old-fashioned and now faded two-piece! The traditional two-piece bottom reveals belly button in front and has ample butt coverage in back. But once the tan lines of the thong have been established, wearing a two-piece bottom would cause the sun to stamp a second row of tan lines on the bod where the two-piece wraps around the booty. Brainstorm. The 36-year-old Zic grabbed a piece of twine and tied the back of the two-piece into a thong-like shape.

A revolution is born! She hopes.

Zic and fiancé John Hock will -- better believe it -- be at the Las Vegas show. Zic is on cloud nine. "I'm sooooo excited," she says.

Ridiculous, you say? The infomercial industry does almost $15 billion a year in sales, Sam Catanese, CEO of the Pennsylvania-based Infomercial Monitoring Service, says in a telephone interview. Of course, according to Catanese, whose company tracks industry trends, there's a slim chance of making it that big or making it at all on infomercials. But get over at all and you get over big. Gross $2 million to $5 million a year in this behemoth business and it's like hitting a single, Catanese says. Hit a home run and you've got maybe $50 million a year.

"The American Dream is alive and well," Catanese says.


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