LAUREL – Eric Anderson wants to put his toilet on TV.
More specifically, he wants to put the Gentleman — his invention that automatically lowers the seat as the toilet is flushed — on the Home Shopping Network.
So Anderson joined more than 200 small business owners who pitched their wares to buyers for the Florida-based cable shopping channel at a product fair Wednesday.
They filled six rows of tables at the National Guard Armory in Laurel, with products ranging from gourmet doggie treats to cat jungles, home security systems to floating children’s swimsuits.
Larry Wood showed off an interactive dog toy he designed to entertain his chocolate Labrador retriever, Shaft, while he is at work. The anchored device lets Shaft play tug-of-war with a chew toy and rewards him with a taped message from Wood when he pulls hard enough.
“He likes a sock so I just put that over the end and he plays all day” with the device, said Wood of Fairfax.
The product fair was organized by the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development and limited to businesses whose products retail for more than $15. The cable channel was not interested in guns, animal furs, tobacco, women’s dresses or men and children’s clothing.
Leonard Elenowitz, who runs the Maryland with Pride program for the Department of Business and Economic Development, said he weeded out about 30 companies before yesterday’s fair.
To participate, businesses had to be past the idea stage and into manufacturing and distribution. The six Home Shopping Network buyers roamed the room, getting 10- to 15-minute pitches for the products.
Sandy Leatherman and Suzanne Santos, from Williamsport, have already sold almost 200 Katch-a-Drips by mail-order. The clear- plastic devices go under spouted urns to catch last-minute drips and were inspired by the mess kids made a camp where Leatherman worked two summers ago.
Buyers sampled Deale resident Margaret Knight’s spicy zacusca, a Romanian-style salsa. She has six varieties of the fire-roasted vegetable dip and spread, all vegetarian except for the Chesapeake crab dip.
Stephen J. Urbish and his Baltimore partner made a sales pitch for their service that is designed to stop sales pitches.
Urbish said he developed Don’t Annoy Me Inc. when 50,000 people asked that a New Jersey telemarketing company he owned stop calling them. For $19.95, his new business will notify more than 1,500 firms that a Don’t Annoy Me client does not want to be called any more.
Not all the businesses were start-ups. James A. Hart, general manager of Carvel Hall, brought an array of steak knives and seafood utensils from the century-old Eastern Shore business that crafts knives.
If the buyers like a product enough to put it on the Home Shopping Network, they will request samples, send it through quality control and then send out purchase orders. After that, the inventors will get to pitch their own products on TV.
Elenowitz said he has put together similar “targets of opportunity” for QVC, another cable shopping channel, but this was the Home Shopping Network’s first time in Maryland.
Marty D. Smuin, director of new business development at the Home Shopping Network, called the fair a success even before he had seen all the products.
“I would absolutely do it again in Maryland,” said Smuin, adding that he appreciated the diversity of Maryland products.
Diversity would certainly include Anderson and his patented potty product, which he said is good for everything from asthma to potty-training to “preventing cold porcelain surprises.”
“It would seem to me that the toilet seat coming down automatically should have happened years ago,” said Anderson, whose business is based in Arnold. “It’s like an industry oversight.”