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BREA – Rick Hopper had a simple idea: a magnetic clip attached to the shirt to keep reading glasses in place when not in use.
He knew it could be huge, if only he had more money and help to market and distribute it.
So he dove into the "Shark Tank."
And when he emerged five minutes later, he was on a course to become a millionaire.
Hopper is the inventor of ReadeREST ("Reader Rest"). In the six months since appearing on ABC-TV's investor reality show "Shark Tank," the product, which retails for $10 to $20, depending on the type, has raked in $1.4 million in sales.
"It is a simple idea," said Hopper, who manufactures the device in Brea, along with 14 employees. "The difference between a guy like me and 99.9 percent of other people who have an idea is one word – action."
Hopper, 46, who grew up in Anaheim, has been inventing and refining products since age 13: "When I was 15, I drove the manager of my pizza shop nuts because I was always refining things – where the pepperoni should go, whatever it was to make it more efficient."
Early in his professional life, Hopper worked as a window-and-door installer. Dissatisfied by the tools available for installation, he invented simple tools to make the process easier and started his own company.
The success of those inventions allowed him to leave his job as a supervisor at Home Depot. In 2010, he sold his share of his company and was searching for a new business when "the light bulb went on."
Hopper experimented with bending paper clips and screws, with different strength magnets and various glues until he refined a device to hold his reading glasses. One side of the magnet goes inside the shirt, the clip on the outside.
It held his glasses steady.
Even when he took a tumble near his Fullerton home on his electric skateboard, breaking his shoulder and wrist, his glasses stayed attached to his shirt.
In early 2011, he began manufacturing the device – spending hours gluing the devices to magnets and packaging them in plastic. He took the product to trade shows related to golf, jewelry, crafting, computers. The device works with regular glasses and sun glasses, too.
Within months, he'd sold 65,000 units. He couldn't keep up with production.
TAKING IT TO THE 'TANK'
Friends told him he'd be perfect for a TV show he'd never seen, "Shark Tank." Entrepreneurs get five minutes to pitch a business idea to five big-name investors – the Sharks.
Hopper sent an email and, much to his surprise, a producer called a week later. A month later, the doors to the show's studio opened, cameras and lights pointed at his face. His heart raced as five powerhouse investors awaited his pitch.
Hopper dove in, taking a planned fall and rolling on the ground to show how the product held his glasses in place.
He'd done research on the investors and hoped to get an offer from Lori Greiner, dubbed the Queen of TV shopping channel QVC.
She tossed an offer: $150,000 for 65 percent of the company.
Not what Hopper was looking for.
One by one, the other Sharks bowed out.
Greiner demanded an answer.
Hopper looked to NBA owner Mark Cuban for a better offer. None came.
"It was quite possibly the most stressful few minutes of my life," Hopper said. "I had tunnel vision, I felt like ... my soul was collapsing inside of me. It was that intense."
Grenier upped the offer to say that she would handle distribution, that he could sit back and collect a check.
Hopper had promised himself he'd keep at least 51 percent ownership. But unwilling to walk away empty-handed, he said, "Yes."
The relationship has flourished. The ReadeREST (also called SpecSecure) has appeared several times on QVC.
The first time, $100,000 worth was sold in five minutes. He expects to bring in up to $6 million in sales by the end of 2012. For now, it's available in select retail stores and online at readerest.com.
Hopper will appear on "Shark Tank" again at 8 p.m. Friday to give an update.
But the married father of three – and grandfather of one – won't sit back and enjoy the profits. The success of the product has freed him up to focus on other ideas he plans to manufacture and market with the help of Greiner.
He is keeping them secret – for now.
"We all have the same joys, the same fears, the same problems," Hopper said. "My thought is that if I can solve a problem for myself, I can turn it into something that can help solve a problem for millions."
Contact the writer: 714-704-3769 or [email protected]