Big Idea to Big Box

How one local entrepreneur made the leap.

For many product-oriented startup businesses, getting to the mass market is frequently the ultimate goal. And nothing gets a product to the masses like placing it on the shelves of one of the big-box retailers.

While it may seem that the big boxes stock primarily mass-produced items from major manufacturers, such is not necessarily the case. As one south Louisiana inventor recently discovered, build a better mousetrap — or in this case, a better HVAC ceiling vent cover — and even a one-man operation can claim some space on Walmart’s shelves.

In the course of conducting his HVAC service business, Cool Works La., Wade Bergeron often found himself changing air filters for aged or infirm customers. While standing three rungs from the top of his ladder one day, it hit Bergeron that there had to be a better way. Thus the Reachable Magnetic Ceiling Filter Vent Cover was conceived.

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Coming up with the concept and initial design was the easy part. Getting even as far as the prototype stage proved significantly more difficult, as none of the fabricators near his Youngsville home could do the job.

Being an independent businessman for many years, Bergeron is blessed with a thick “do-it-yourself” streak, so he quickly took matters into his own hands.

“I checked out YouTube,” Bergeron recalled. “Those how-to videos will show you how to do a lot of things. I also looked into the new production technologies. My local library has a 3-D printer, which really helped move things along.

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“Doing it myself turned out to be a much better way to go,” he added. “I would advise anyone to be very careful about outsourcing during the prototype stage.”

Bergeron allowed himself plenty of time to get the prototype just right, but finally he felt it was ready to bring to market. He brought the vent cover to a well-known HVAC company, and was immediately told by the manager, “That won’t sell.”

Looking back, Bergeron realizes he was ahead of himself anyway. “I was as impatient as anyone to make this work, but it’s really important to move slowly. It takes maturity to know when you’re not ready.”

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A pause to regroup and do a little tinkering brought Bergeron to do-it-yourself, part two. After patenting his invention – something he said he should have done earlier anyway — he began selling the product himself at home-and-garden shows. After building up a record of successful sales, he was ready to try breaking into the regular retail market again.

Feeling better prepared, and aided by the support of Product Launchers, a business-consulting firm that assists entrepreneurs in taking that leap to the larger markets, Bergeron was able to get through to the national retailers. Between in-store and online presences, his product is now available through more than half a dozen major hardware and general merchandise chains.

Reflecting on the journey from big idea to big box, Bergeron noted that both time and money were major challenges. He invested a significant portion of his life savings in realizing his vision, which, he acknowledged, gave him some scary moments.

“Still, time was a greater challenge than money,” he recalled, because he was still operating his service business while trying to launch the product. “That’s really just about being willing to make the time.”

Now that he’s succeeded in breaking into the major retail marketplace, Bergeron is far from complacent or satisfied. “I want to blow the tires off of everything,” he said. “That’s my real goal.”

Keith Twitchell  spent 16 years running his own business before becoming president of the Committee for a Better New Orleans. He has observed, supported and participated in entrepreneurial ventures at the street, neighborhood, nonprofit, micro- and macro-business levels.



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