Steve Sugar

Denny Hatch is the author of six books on marketing and four novels, and is a direct marketing writer, designer and consultant. His latest book is “Write Everything Right!” Visit him at dennyhatch.com.

When I came across the obituary of Milton Levine, it struck a chord deep within me.

Here was a 43-year-old salesman of toys and novelties watching some ants at a July 4, 1956 picnic when he suddenly saw his future—the ant farm—a 6” x 9” two-sided plastic frame with sand, tunnels and live ants busily doing their thing as mesmerized kids watch and learn.

A half-century later, kids are still enthralled with ant farms. The basic model sells for $10.99.

Last year, Levine sold his business for $20 million. His website, UncleMilton.com has a slew of wonderful scientific gadgets for kids.

Milton Levine—described by one magazine writer as “anty-establishment”―gave pleasure (and inspiration) to millions of kids, made pots of money, obviously had great fun and went to the great beyond at 97.

Life doesn’t get any better than that!

So what does a fledgling entrepreneur do following a “eureka moment?”

How do you translate an idea into a profitable business?

My suggestion: go the dry test route.

I spent 15 years creating dry tests for clients and my own little business—the WHO’S MAILING WHAT! newsletter and archive service—started out life as a dry test.

Technically the dry test is illegal, but many years ago I discovered a possible loophole.

The king of high-end tchotchkes (Richard Thalheimer, former CEO and chairman of The Sharper Image) and queen of low-end tchotchkes (Lillian Vernon) have been dethroned. Lillian Vernon and Sharper Image—two iconic catalogs—were known to have been struggling in recent years. Their bankruptcies were expected. That they were announced on the same day is astonishing. How could this happen? Both Vernon and Thalheimer launched businesses without paying their dues. Ultimately, neither of them knew what the hell they were doing. Lillian Vernon’s Story In 1933, Lillian Katz’s family fled the Nazis. They left Leipzig, Germany, for Amsterdam, and four years later were lucky enough to

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