Opportunity knocks

Jan. 1, 2012
Some years ago on a trip to England, I decided to accompany my brother to the local supermarket to help him with his weekly groceries.

Some years ago on a trip to England, I decided to accompany my brother to the local supermarket to help him with his weekly groceries. Upon touring the beverage aisles, I stumbled upon a special promotion being offered by Unilever, the manufacturer of PG Tips—a very popular brand of English tea.

In conjunction with Aardman Animations—the producer of the equally popular "Wallace and Gromit" clay animation films—Unilever had packaged a "free" mug carved with the face of Gromit the dog with a large packet of the company's tea. Curious to understand the popularity of the product, I purchased one and returned to my brother's house to investigate further.

Upon filling the mug with hot water—and, of course, tea—I was surprised when the formerly black nose of the dog turned bright red. This very amusing feature was made better by the fact that I had paid very little for the tea and the mug.

Rather than take home presents to the United States from one of the neon-drenched toy stores at Heathrow, I decided I would instead invest in a few more Gromit the dog mugs. But then I had a better idea. If the mug was so popular, I could make a few pennies by selling them worldwide.

So, the next day, I returned to the store and purchased no less than 30 that were then stashed away at my brother's house. After returning to the United States, I duly placed an advertisement on eBay to market the product at a price 20 times higher than what I had paid. To my delight, orders flooded in from as far away as China and Australia, and within days my inventory was sold.

Having had to walk to the local post office in the English rain to ship these mugs individually, however, my brother was not keen to pursue the idea of starting a "Gromit the dog" mug distribution company.

As successful as the endeavor was for me, it was more successful for Unilever, which, according to The Grocer magazine, reported PG Tips sales increased 600% during the "Gromit" mug promotion.

While the Internet may have proved very useful to me for reselling these products, I would not have discovered the mugs were available and ultimately come up with the idea to resell them had I not visited the store. Likewise, those folks that believe the ideas for their new imaging systems will emerge from a simple Google search may be mistaken.

Nowhere was this more evident than the VISION 2011 trade show in Stuttgart, Germany. After a hectic three days, I managed to discover numerous new companies that had developed Camera Link to CoaXPress converters, image classification software, and VHDL software for license plate recognition—many of which you can read about in this issue.

Like a supermarket, a trade show like VISION 2011 is chance to see new technologies that attendees may not have been aware existed before they walked through the aisles. But more important may be the business opportunities that emerge from seeing the technology in action and discussing your application needs with the vendors of those systems.

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