One April morning, Martha House, president of Trap-Ease America, entered her office in Costa Mesa, California. She paused for a moment to contemplate the Ralph Waldo Emerson quote that she had framed and hung near her desk:
If a man [can] . . . make a better mousetrap than his neighbor . . . the world will make a beaten path to his door. Perhaps, she mused, Emerson knew something that she didn’t. She had the better mousetrap—Trap-Ease—but the world didn’t seem all that excited about it.
The National Hardware Show Martha had just returned from the National Hardware Show in Chicago. Standing in the trade show display booth for long hours and answering the same questions hundreds of times had been tiring. Yet, all the hard work had paid off. Each year, National Hardware Show officials held a contest to select the best new product introduced at that year’s show. The Trap-Ease had won the contest this year, beating out over 300 new products.
Such notoriety was not new for the Trap-Ease mousetrap, however. People magazine had run a feature article on the trap, and the trap had been the subject of numerous talk shows and articles in various popular press and trade publications. Despite all of this attention, however, the expected demand for the trap had not materialized. Martha hoped that this award might stimulate increased interest and sales. BACKGROUND
A group of investors had formed Trap-Ease America in January after it had obtained worldwide rights to market the innovative mousetrap. In return for marketing rights, the group agreed to pay the inventor and patent holder, a retired rancher, a royalty fee for each trap sold. The group then hired Martha to serve as president and to develop and manage the Trap-Ease America organization. Trap-Ease America contracted with a plastics-manufacturing firm to produce the traps. The trap consisted of a square, plastic tube measuring about 6 inches long and 1-1/2 inches in diameter. The tube bent in the...