Jack TenneyExtra Point

by Jack Tenney, Publisher

April 1998

A.J. Kinwest

I had a client who had a client who had a client who had an employee who wanted a favor. By the time everyone in the loop had a turn, Prince Philip had made a concession that makes you wonder why the state of Vermont never registered its name as a trademark.

Here’s the short version. A fellow named Ernest worked for a firm that designed and manufactured pieces and parts for the computer industry back in the days when a removable disc was bigger than a bread box but held a fraction of the data. Ernest's employer was a client of Jonah's advertising agency, which was a tax client of Ben for whom I did per diem work at various clients, including Jonah's ad agency.

On the side, nights and weekends, Ernest made radial templates in his basement. A radial template is a precisely curved piece of plastic that carries the arc of a big circle. If you had a complete set of Ernest's templates (handsomely stored and displayed in a teak rack for $229.99 plus shipping and handling), you would never again be forced to use several friends, thumbtacks and string to scribe a portion of a circle with a 42-foot radius. Thanks to an ad prepared as a favor by Jonah's agency, Ernest had captured, according to Jonah, 60 percent of the world market. He had sold three sets.

Using that success as an excuse to write off a vacation trip to Europe, Ernest embarked on a grand tour of plastic molding factories. I forget whether it was on the first or last stop, Ernest lost his heart, head and close to $1,000 US to an adjustable triangle manufactured in Manchester, England. Called a kinwest, the triangle allowed precise settings because of an engine-divided scale and stainless steel hinge and set screw.

To all who knew him, Ernest's passion for the kinwest was understandable. After all, it was chiefly made of plastic and had almost no market. What was a bit harder to understand was the UK company's ardor for Ernest. Perhaps Ernest's indication that he wanted to run some tests back at his factory on the samples before committing to a larger order persuaded Jim, the managing director, to swing by Boston and visit Ernest's factory. Or, maybe Jim just wanted to write off part of a trip to his sisters place in Toronto.

When Ernest got the cable with Jim's arrival date, he panicked. He couldn't pick up Jim at Logan and whip him out to the house for drinks and then say, Right, lets just have a look around the cellar for my factory, shall we?

Naturally, Ernest went to Jonah the adman for help. Jonah consoled Ernest, Were marketers, Ernest, not manufacturers. We want the rights to Jim's stuff. Were Americans, for goodness sake, we consume, we deal, we win. Let me make the presentation and well get the U.S. distribution rights, a little seed capital and a name change.

Name change? Ernest gulped.

A.J. Kinwest? I can't market an A.J. Kinwest, it has to be a British Kinwest!

To stage the presentation for the visiting managing director, Jonah enlisted his partner, Bob, Ernests wife Georgette and, even me. I was to be introduced as the numbers-guy. The meeting really went well; Jonah never stopped talking. He roared right through Jim’s protestations that the use of the word British for commercial purposes was quite tightly controlled, indeed.

Jim! Babe, everyone cringed except Jonah and Jim, you want to flog kinwests around here, change the name. Im telling you if we just sell your stuff to Anglophiles well all be rich.

Somehow, Jim got the name changed but the kinwests never did that well. Jonah probably overestimated the Anglophile market. I wonder how it would do if reintroduced as Vermont Kinwests. Better, I bet. And, you wouldnt have to ask anyones royal by-your-leave.