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Trader-turned-inventor invests in a Shore thing

Jerseyan retails her tote bag-beach towel that won't fly up

Sunday, May 30, 2004


Star-Ledger Staff

Tina Marie Connors had seashore issues.

"I used to go to the beach and have the corners of the towels fly up. It was so annoying," she says.

But the commodities trader and Point Pleasant resident wasn't ready to give up her beach time, so she invented the antidote to her problem. She designed Towel Down, a combination 40-by-70 inch beach towel and tote bag that comes with the pledge that no longer will the blowing wind be a menace to stretching out on the beach to get some sun.

She says she bought a sewing machine and made the first prototype herself.

"It's a beach pack and towel all in one," Connors says. "When it's a towel, you have a pocket in each corner where you put sand to weigh it down. And you don't have to carry a million things with you when you go to the beach. All you have to take is the towel backpack."

She says Towel Down is designed to pull through the biggest pocket to form the carry all, which can be used as a tote bag or back pack. Plus, she says, it has corner pockets where valuables can be hidden, a chamber that can be filled with sand to form a pillow and even Velcro closures on the side that can be attached to other Towel Downs to form community beach blankets.

During July, Trump Plaza Casino in Atlantic City will be giving out 2,500 Towel Downs as a promotion. Laurie Hankinson, executive director of special events for Trump Plaza, says: "We chose it because Towel Down is a great product. There are other types similar that have been out for years, but hers is the most plush. It's very large, and the price is very reasonable. For promotions, we look for price and quality. She hit both. It's a great item."

The product was unique enough to earn a federal patent. She says she took the idea to a patent attorney, and a search showed that no one else had applied to the U.S. Patent Office with anything similar.

Connors, in her patent application, listed several similar products. But she won the patent because of the unique design of the towel itself and the way it converts to a tote bag or backpack.

During 2002, she says, she was awarded patent number 6192536.

Once she got the patent, Connors says she decided to retail the beach towel herself. That meant going to trade shows and exhibits to get an education on how to launch a product like hers. She recently showed the product at the Invention and New Product Exposition in Pittsburgh.

She also sells Towel Down online at, distributes to retail stores and promotes it personally. Towel Down was part of the gift basket given out at the MTV Latin Music Awards and the Screen Actors Guild Awards, both in January.

"I have a manufacturer in China, I go to shows to meet people and sales reps," Connors says. "But my ultimate goal is to license the product out. Collecting royalties is my ultimate goal."

She says she is in production for a 60-second television commercial that she expects will be out in the next few months to sell the Towel Down through an 800 telephone number. She says a company, which she wouldn't disclose, will handle the retailing while she will concentrate on manufacturing and wholesaling.

"I have no employees, and with sales like the number I sold to Trump, I will be making a little," she says. "But I don't get paid until 90 days after delivery, and I pay out a lot of money for exposure. I am going to give it my all. It will be worth losing money if I will be getting it back 15 or 20 fold in the future."

And she says, "I'm pretty confident because I get so much positive feedback. Everybody is positive, optimistic about it. But you have to be patient."

It's quite a change from the rapid fire world of commodities trading. By the time she was 25, she had earned her badge to trade in the pits of the New York Mercantile Exchange. But romance took her from New York City to Point Pleasant.

"I got married in 1996, and my husband was from Point Pleasant," she says. "I lived in Battery Park, which was a 10 minute walk to work. When we moved to Point Pleasant, it turned into a two-hour commute. I only lived in Manhattan and Point Pleasant. It took a long time to adjust. The hell with this, I said. Now I trade from home where I can make my own hours."


Dan Weissman writes about small business. He can be reached at