Innovations, purveyor of wacky gifts, is 10 years old. Hester Lacey met its founder
THE CATHOUSE SaniSuite disposable cat loo is essential for your pet's travel comfort. Innovations is the enterprise that can supply it direct to your door. Between 25 and 30 million of their familiar glossy little catalogues are annually slipped between the pages of newspaper supplements, and the company is a decade old this year. Products that have stood the test of time include the "All-action Expedition Clothing", featuring trousers with zip-off legs that convert into "rugged leisure shorts" and the fearsome Aerator Sandals, soled with vicious spikes for punching air into a compacted lawn (wear them while you mow). The latest bumper catalogue proudly features New Long-Reach Nail Cutters with powerful leverage and ergonomic angled head (alarmingly like a pair of garden secateurs) and battery-powered Heated Gloves and Socks (£50and £40 respectively, they promise to keep extremities "toasty warm in the worst cold").

The Innovations trademark is the quirky product you never knew you needed. Their offices should be crowded with mad boffins, jostling to come up with ever more variations on the Energy-saving Microwave Kettle, the Night Vision Glasses and the Wonder Button (a button on elastic, the "instant solution for too-tight clothes"). But, disappointingly, there is not a single wild-haired scientist to be seen in the Innovations building in Richmond, west London.

Originality, however, is still the key, according to Clive Beharrell, Innovations shareholder, director and founder. Between 50 and 100 ideas turn up in the post every week, from hopefuls of all kinds - established manufacturers looking for backing, through to amateurs tinkering in the garden shed. Few make the grade. "We take up roughly 5 or 10 per cent maximum, of which maybe 1 or 2 per cent at the most become real successes," he says.

Home inventors rarely come up with the top sellers. Money-spinners are more likely be dug up by the hard-nosed Innovations buying team, who comb the planet for ideas, particularly from the Far East and America.

Innovations is now an arm of the Kleeneze company and has expanded to handle a number of different catalogues. At the time of the launch, Beharrell was only 29; 10 years on he could pass for not much older. "Our turn-over this year in the mail-order business will be in excess of £50m," he says casually.

Amazingly, he claims the main change of the decade has been a move towards practicality. "Well, you remember the days of the flowers which danced when you played music? That was a ridiculous product which sold hundreds of thousands."

Innovations has a single walk-in shop in Richmond. There are no plans for more. "Innovations is going into the computer age. Instead of retail stores we believe interactive shopping is the future," says Beharrell. "We're launching the Innovations Gift Point interactive kiosk. You key in who the gift's for, their age, their interests, how much you want to spend, and suggestions will come up on-screen. A lot of products have video as well as still pictures, so you'll be able to see them working. Then you use your credit card to order direct through the machine."

Initially there will be just one kiosk, at the Richmond store; but they may soon become a familiar sight. "There are huge opportunities in areas like airports and stations," says Beharrell.

Innovations is also the first mainstream catalogue to exploit the ether. "We've just gone live on the Internet. In the first three days we had a thousand people access our section. Not many bought, though," he admits. Even anoraked computer nerds could find their lives improved by an Ergonomic Knife Collection or an Anyone Can Learn To TapDance video.

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