Can the Infomercial King Who Gave Us the PedEgg Save Publishing?

The roster of media mavens, moguls and bold face names spotted today at Michael's.

lunch at michaelsYou may not recognize A.J. Khubani, but if you’ve ever found yourself hypnotized by one of those “As Seen on TV” infomercials for the PedEgg, Hurricane Spin Mop and any number of personal and home products you didn’t know you needed, you’ve seen his genius at work. He has parlayed his company, TeleBrands Corporation, which he started in 1983 on a whim with $20,000, into a nearly one billion dollar marketing behemoth. Today’s lunch was a master class in how moving quickly on a good idea and building your own business models can lead to unrivaled success. I was in awe.

AJ Khubani, Diane Clehane and Andrea Pass
AJ Khubani, Diane Clehane and Andrea Pass

The soft-spoken, New Jersey-based entrepreneur told me one tale after another of stratospheric marketing success. It all started with his first infomercial for Ambervision sunglasses, which sold out within days at New Jersey-based Herman’s World of Sporting Goods. The sunglasses went on to rack up $150 million in sales during the product’s lifespan. Some of his products like the PedEgg, which was introduced in 2007, were a complete surprise even to him. “It sat on my desk for a year. I thought, it’s a cheese grater for your feet. No one is going to buy this thing.” To date, over 50 million PedEggs have been sold. “We never launch a product with less than a million pieces.” See, I told you the numbers were staggering.

Between bites of Dover sole, A.J., who was nursing a broken collarbone from a fall while biking home from the office, explained that one of the secrets of his success is acting fast on a good idea. “We test market with a commercial which is not difficult to produce. If people are ordering, we go ahead. If they’re not, we move on.” And he’s always looking for ideas. Before Shark Tank came along, A.J. was one of three judges/investors on Discovery Channel’s PitchMen. The show, which aired for two seasons (2009-2010), involved inventors pitching products for infomercials. He backed three products: Heel Tastic, Jupiter Jack and One Second Needle, all of which, he said, have been more successful than any product featured on Shark Tank, which he dismisses as “not real, it’s entertainment.” And then, “No one on that panel has a lot of marketing experience except Lori Greiner and she’s limited to QVC.” Ouch.

TeleBrands’ products are everywhere, including Walmart, Walgreens and Bed Bath & Beyond and are sold in 120 countries. I was surprised to learn that 90 percent of Telebrands’ business comes from its retail distribution, with the infomercials acting as more of an enticement to go to brick-and-mortar stores. Navigating the retail climate “is a lot more complicated” in the digital age, he said.

A.J. told me his company (he’s the sole owner) has a presence on social media and he finds Facebook the best of the lot for reaching its target demo of middle-aged shoppers. The company also posts videos on YouTube (“It’s free advertising”) and is “just starting to play around” with Instagram. But he’s dismissive of its net effect on sales. “It’s just window dressing,” he told me. “Everyone just feels compelled to be there.” In the next two months, TeleBrands will unveil its own website, showcasing its 80 brands in one place with online videos.

A frequent guest on CNBC and Bloomberg, A.J. hosts regularly scheduled TeleBrand Inventors Days across the country. Last year he hosted the industry’s first Virtual Investors Day, where inventors pitched products via a remote Internet access video feed. Next week, he’s convening an Inventors Day at his alma mater, Montclair State University, where ten teams of student entrepreneurs will pitch their business ideas and products. The winning team will a $10,000 prize from TeleBrands.

It wasn’t until our coffee arrived that I learned that A.J. has now set his sights on publishing. Under his own imprint TeleBrands Press, he decided to get into the book business and publish Who Knew? 10,001 Easy Solutions for Everyday Problems in 2013, which sold 1.5 million copies. That was followed up with Dump Cakes, a cookbook written by “As Seen on TV” personality Cathy Mitchell, which sold a head-spinning 2 million copies. The second in the series, Dump Dinners, published earlier this year, has sold 800,000 copies and counting. Up next: Crock Pot Dump Dinners. In a bit of fortuitous timing, TeleBrands Press will publish Colorama, an adult coloring book that comes with its own colored pencils in June. “We decided to do it and then we started to see all of these stories about adults coloring as a stress reliever. We just stumbled upon the idea and caught it at the right time.”