Meet Sue Townsend, Inventor of the Nif Tee Seat
Tell us about your invention. What inspired you to create it?
It’s a golf cart seat cover. I’m a golfer and sitting on vinyl golf cart seats was hot and sticky. I used to put a towel on the seat which would fall off every time I got out of the golf cart for a shot, so I decided that a better solution was needed and I made Nif Tee Seat, the golf cart seat cover.
What were the first steps you took after having your idea?
I went to the patent library and did a patent search. There was no (or very limited) internet at the time so that’s how a patent search was done. Once I found that I had a unique product, I took out my patenting “How To” book and started drafting my patent.
What was/is the most challenging aspect of bringing your invention to market?
The most challenging thing was getting the product manufactured. I wanted the product made of 100% cotton terry cloth, and in this country that market is monopolized by the large towel mills. It is nearly impossible to get small quantities of cotton terry cloth in this country. Again, back then it was not as easy as today to research overseas manufacturing. I ended up with a company in Turkey who sent me my first order the wrong size, because the product shrunk when they were dyed. I had virtually no recourse and I ended up having thousands of golf cart seat covers altered to fit the carts.
Now that your invention is on the market, what is the one thing you would do over/differently if you had the chance?
I would have been better prepared for growth. One year at the PGA Golf Show, the golf industry’s largest trade show, Nif Tee Seat was a really hot product. Orders came pouring in and distributers wanted to carry the product. I didn’t have nearly the inventory I needed and although my manufacturer (I was manufacturing in Pakistan at this point) worked fast to get the product out, shipping delays prevented me from delivering on a timely basis, and I lost credibility and my chance for huge expansion. Now when I hear “Coaches” telling business owners to say yes and “Figure it out” later, I cringe. Trying to expand too quickly and not being prepared can be devastating to a business.
How do you currently promote/market your invention?
Nif Tee Seat has always been a word of mouth product. I’ve done some advertising in women’s golf magazines, but I never received a considerable amount of business from it. This is a very specialized product, geared to women golfers, and there are really few advertising opportunities for the target market. Direct email and word of mouth has worked well for the product.
How long did it take you from having the idea to getting your invention in the hands of the consumer?
It took about a year to get my patent issued. Now it takes much longer. I didn’t actually start it as a business until the patent was issued. There was no reason for that, but I just wasn’t looking for a business at the time. This wasn’t my first patent, and getting the patent was really something more of a personal accomplishment than something that I was doing for a business venture.
Tell us about you, your background, what you did before becoming an inventor?
I am a career Real Estate Broker. I’ve been in the mortgage/real estate business every since I got out of college. That’s how I pay the bills and fund my other business ventures. I graduated from the University of Miami and went back “home” to New York and lived in the city for the next 15 years until one particularly cold winter when I decided to come back to South Florida for a few months and I never moved back. When I came to Florida, I decided to do some traveling and got a part-time job with Continental Airlines and ended up working there for 13 years. I took an early retirement from Continental after adopting my daughter Alex, from China. Through my other jobs and businesses, the one constant has always been real estate, which has been a great thing to fall back on when I’ve needed to.
Who has been you greatest inspiration?
My Grand Uncle was the late Tom Carvel, who founded Carvel Ice Cream. He taught me a lot about business and I learned a lot just from watching and listening to him. Two things that he told me were to take the word “Can’t” out of my vocabulary and to put my money in the “Ground” (Real estate). I’ve done both and both have served me well. My uncle had over 150 patents, and when I thought of my first invention, I told him about it and he told me how to do a patent search and application. My Uncle was always very encouraging and never once told me that my current invention or business idea was a bad one. He always said that I could do anything I wanted to, and I believed him. He came to this country from Greece and grew up to live the American dream. I watched and studied him and figured that if he could do it, there was no reason why I couldn’t do it too.
What advice would you give to up and coming inventors?
Don’t spend a lot of money on an invention! You’re an inventor. You must be resourceful. Do your own patent search. Learn how to draft a patent application. Now you can do a Provisional Patent for a nominal fee so that you can see if your product is market worthy. Start sourcing the product to see if it can be manufactured. The reality is, the US patent office reports that 2% of all patents granted make it to commercial success. If your invention isn’t one of the 2%, move on to the next idea and be done with it. By all means, do NOT start mortgaging your house and liquidating your pension to finance an invention! It is not necessary to spend a lot of money to get a product patented.
What is the cost and where can we purchase your invention?
Nif Tee Seat golf cart seat covers start at $34.99 and can be purchased at www.NifTeeSeat.com
You can learn more about my next invention at: SueVentions.com