Don't leave the seat up, hon Commodity: Page and Eric Anderson of Annapolis are marketing The Gentleman, which automatically lowers a toilet's seat when it is flushed.

January 19, 1998|By Shanon D. Murray | Shanon D. Murray,SUN STAFF

You may have seen them.

For two months, a couple dressed in tuxedos walked around a local mall selling their recently patented device -- The Gentleman -- in a real-life infomercial.

It's an elegant presentation and name for a rather inelegant device. Installed on toilets, The Gentleman automatically lowers a raised toilet seat after flushing.

"I'm not sure where the idea came from, but it seemed like it was the right time for it," said Eric Anderson, founder of John Gault Enterprises, which manufactures, markets and distributes his invention, the company's only product.

Said Anderson's wife, Page: "It's intended to be a convenience like the microwave oven or a remote for the TV."

Based in Annapolis, the home-based business sells The Gentleman through mail order and the Internet for $39.95. The product consists of a small counterbalance arm that is attached to the underside of a toilet seat. The arm is attached by a thin string to the float in the toilet tank. When the toilet is flushed and the float goes down, so does the toilet seat.

It takes about 15 minutes to install with a screwdriver, Eric Anderson said.

The product is assembled and packaged by The Chimes Inc., a Baltimore-based agency that provides jobs for people with mental retardation and developmental disabilities.

The organization ships large wholesale orders, while the Andersons ship single orders from their home. So far, about 5,000 have been packaged, Anderson said. Hundreds have been sold -- primarily through the Internet, often to customers who learned of the product through radio spots or the Andersons' mall appearances.

The next step for the company, he said, is to find a major retail distributor such as Bed Bath and Beyond or Home Depot. He's also considering selling the product on TV shopping networks, on TV commercials or through catalogs.

So far, the Andersons have snagged many of their customers from a kiosk they leased at Towson Town Center in November and December.

Christopher Schardt, the mall's general manager, must approve all products sold in the mall. "I was amused by the concept and impressed by the professionalism of the Andersons and the quality of the product," he said.

It's not typical for inventors to approach the mall and ask to rent a kiosk for a product they have developed, he said. "We wanted to see them succeed."

It was also a chance for the Andersons to do some market research.

What they found out, Eric Anderson said, is that they should not stress that The Gentleman is a gadget, but an upgrade for the toilet. The Andersons expect the product's packaging and presentation to get that point across.

The Gentleman comes in a black box decorated with a red bow tie. It was designed by Jarrett Industries, a Baltimore design, production and packaging company.

"We wanted a sophisticated retail package," said Eric Shepard, a company sales consultant. "We want to get the idea across that the product is for home improvement and is not a joke."

Aside from getting beyond assumptions that their product is a gimmick, the Andersons' other big hurdle has been financing, they said. The former construction manager quit his job last year, and his wife quit her position as an office manager for a land development company the year before to make The Gentleman a full-time venture.

So far, the couple has used mostly their savings to launch the project, about $75,000 to date, they said.

"The Gentleman is not intended to correct a social ill," Anderson said of the dispute between men and women about whether the toilet seat should be left up or down after use. "We see this as a legitimate upgrade of the toilet."

For more information on The Gentleman call 1-888-551-GENT or contact on the Internet.

Pub Date: 1/19/98

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.