Our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy have changed.

By continuing to use this site, you are agreeing to the new Privacy Policy and Terms of Service.

A million-dollar biz: Plastic wishbones

Annual family squabbles over the turkey bone sparked this entrepreneur's profitable big idea.

EMAIL  |   PRINT  |   SHARE  |   RSS
google my aol my msn my yahoo! netvibes
Paste this link into your favorite RSS desktop reader
See all CNNMoney.com RSS FEEDS (close)
By Ken Ahroni, as told to Emily Maltby


(Fortune Small Business) -- Each Thanksgiving, my household brims with abundance and gratitude. But after dinner my family always squabbles over who gets to break the wishbone. One year I had an idea that would solve the problem for my family and, I was sure, many others on Turkey Day.

I was familiar with plastic manufacturing because I ran a consulting firm that helped Christmas-light makers meet quality standards. So I called eight plastic companies and requested samples of breakable plastic. They wondered why I wanted them, but I didn't tell. After a year of testing we launched our product in 2004: a plastic wishbone with the feel and satisfying snap of a real turkey bone.

Given my background with seasonal products, I was confident enough of this one to wind down my consulting business and focus on bringing the wishbones to market. We began in a few Seattle-area novelty and grocery stores. By 2006 we had hit almost $1 million in sales, and our four-packs were selling in nearly 1,000 outlets, such as the Party Store chain, in 40 states.

The previous year we had gotten a call requesting a product sample from Sears Roebuck's (SHLD, Fortune 500) ad agency, Young & Rubicam. Next Y&R asked for a quote on millions of wishbones custom-packaged for Sears. We were thrilled, and created a design for it. But then Y&R abruptly went silent. We assumed the deal had fallen through.

Days before Thanksgiving 2005, I spotted a Sears ad insert in our local paper. On its top left corner was a photo of our product! I drove right to Sears and saw that it was using our wishbone and packaging as a marketing tool: Customers got a free wishbone redeemable for $10 off a $100 purchase. My blood boiled as I stood with the product in my hand.

We promptly sued Y&R and Sears for copyright infringement. The case went to trial 2˝ years later. Thanks to our patented design and our packaging's copyright warning statement, we were awarded $1.7 million in damages. (Sears spokesperson Kim Freely notes, "We're disappointed by the verdict.")

We lost 50% of our business in 2007 because of the time and money we spent in court. But we are moving on with new wishbone design ideas, such as colorful and custom-printed lines. The wishbones are a hit with vegetarians and even internationally - turkey is also a Christmas staple for many families.

At the end of the day, breaking a wishbone is a lot like blowing out birthday candles. There's a renewed sense of hope and optimism when it snaps.

Ken Ahroni is the owner of Lucky Break Wishbone Corp.in Seattle.  To top of page

Is your idea safe?: Mark Publicover expects to spend the next decade in court fighting rivals that allegedly ripped off his invention.

How patenting protects your inventions

When piracy is legal
To write a note to the editor about this article, click here.

QMy dream is to launch my own business someday. Now that it's time to choose a major, I'm debating if I should major in entrepreneurial studies or major in engineering to acquire a set of skills first. Is majoring in entrepreneurship a good choice? More
Get Answer
- Spate, Orange, Calif.

More Galleries
Top luxury hotel suites for business travelers For many people, you can't put a price on comfort. More
Million-dollar startups: These firms scored big sales their first year Their first year in business, these companies generated $1 million in sales. More
The 10 best states for retirees It might be worth moving to a new place to find your dream retirement home. Check out these 10 states. More