Business Behind TeleBrands: Kitchen KitschTech

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Inside the business-and consumer psychology-of oddball kitchen gadgets

Your kitchen is stuffed with equipment that can cook hot dogs any number of ways. They can be boiled. Steamed. Grilled. Microwaved. Sautéed. Baked. Wrapped in bacon and deep fried (you know you want one!). You can warm the bun with a couple of minutes in a toaster oven, or a few seconds on the grill top. You can use the time spent preparing your snack to get the mustard and relish ready. It’s been done this way for decades.
So why, then, have so many people bought mission-specific weenie machines like the Pop-Up Hot Dog Toaster pictured on this page? Are we, as a society, really eating that many hot dogs? Have we reached the point where we have said to ourselves, collectively, that we need a dedicated countertop machine whose sole purpose is to warm up frankfurters?


If people find these products appealing enough and think they will add excitement to their lives, they’ll buy them.

By all accounts, the Pop-Up Hot Dog Toaster works fairly well. Yet it is completely and utterly pointless. And the world just doesn’t care. The world has decided it does need insanely mission-specific kitchen gadgets, and has tasked a man named A.J. Khubani to surface the very best.
Khubani founded TeleBrands in 1983, and still oversees the marketing of some of the biggest “As Seen on TV” products around. Kitchen gadgets are a staple of TeleBrands’ repertoire, and besides hawking its own version of the weenie toaster, the company proves every day that people will eagerly throw down money on the weirdest, most seemingly unnecessary cooking gadgets.
It really comes down to the right kind of weirdness, though. Most kitchen gadgets should not get made, so TeleBrands forces each production candidate through an intense vetting process before greenlighting it for sales and marketing support.
Of the dozens of inventions TeleBrands is pitched every month, only about 10 percent are selected for a live-action demo at a special “Inventor’s Day” event (locations vary), or for a more intimate demonstration at TeleBrands’ New Jersey headquarters. Of this select group of products, only 10 percent merit a small production run coupled with test-marketing in the form of a two-minute, direct-response TV commercial that runs for one week. And only 10 percent of those gadgets are deemed promising enough for mass-market sales.
Of the 500 or so gadgets that Khubani seriously considers each year, only five sell well enough to make the company and the inventor, who gets a small royalty any money.
Says Khubani, “It’s survival of the fittest.” All of which serves to remind us that, yes, apparently the world does need a dedicated countertop machine whose sole purpose is to warm up frankfurters. Because if people didn't buy it, Khubani wouldn’t continue to sell it.
Still, are we truly unable to get by without TeleBrands’ $15 Chef Basket, a wire mesh strainer and colander that fits inside a pot while you cook? Khubani turns philosophical: “What do we really need beyond shelter and food? Beyond that, everything is a luxury, and it’s just a matter of where people want to spend their money. If people find these products appealing enough and think they will add excitement to their lives, they’ll buy them. We provide products that are useful, fun, and entertaining… in a way.”
As you might expect, most culinary professionals have no need for kitchen gadgetry, at least of the TeleBrands’ ilk. David Locke is an executive chef in Massachusetts and decries this stuff as junk. He’s particularly down on the George Foreman Grill, saying it’s ruining our food by “basically just squeezing out all the flavor.”
Nonetheless, he says, the appeal of all these mission-specific gizmos is understandable because modern consumers feel that they’re so strapped for time. Says Locke: “Consumers are basically lazy. Back in the day, everything was done with a knife, a pan, and fire, and we got along fine. Electric pepper and salt grinders? You spend far more effort replacing batteries than you save in cranking a handle.”