Mike Cote's Business Editor's Notebook: The making of the Mighty Marker Mount
After two major snowstorms, chances are chunks of your lawn have been swiped by a plow or chewed up and spit out by a snowblower. That is, if you can determine where the asphalt ends and your grass begins.
Oh-oh. This column is starting to sound like an infomercial for the Mighty Marker Mount driveway marker mounting stake. It's made in China, but will soon be proudly manufactured in the USA.
Jessica Doucette is sure you need one. After all, it was her frustration with driveway markers that inspired her to invent it.
"After watching my husband for many, many years come up with homemade solutions to keep the plows off our lawn, I started to think about better solutions," says Doucette, a stay-at-home mom making her first foray into business. "I wanted something that was easy to install and something that would increase the visibility of our lawn. It's just a plastic hand-held stake that can easily be driven into the grown by a hammer or mallet."
In the center of the 11-inch stake is a hollow area that has gripping channels designed to accommodate common driveway markers, says the Salem resident, who sells the markers for $5.95 each and at a discounted price for packs of five and 10 through her website, www.mightymarkermount.com.
Doucette ships the markers from her basement, but she's looking for distribution partners so she can sell them through home improvement stores nationwide.
"We haven't done a lot of marketing, thus far. It's basically just been word of mouth and our website," says Doucette, 42, who balances her business with shuttling her three children to school and various activities.
Doucette is not looking for investment capital, so don't expect her just yet on "Shark Tank," the popular ABC show in which budding entrepreneurs pitch their products to celebrity millionaire investors. But she says she's a learned a lot so far.
"I worked with a company in Manchester early on when I started looking into the process of creating this product. I realized I didn't know much about plastic injection molding," Doucette says.
She connected with industrial design firm Redpoint Studios and worked with founding partners Scott Leonard and Matt Harris to create the Mighty Marker Mount, which is a featured project at redpointstudios.com.
"They have another product that was on 'Shark Tank' that did get funding so that that's not out of the question," Doucette says. (That would be SurfSET Fitness's Ripsurfer, an exercise device that was featured on the program in September.)
Redpoint worked on the project for about three months and is still involved in helping to promote it, Leonard says. He and Harris did not charge Doucette for the design work; instead they will receive a royalty on every marker sold.
"If the product is successful, we make money on it," Leonard says. "We rarely do that. It definitely speaks to our confidence in them being successful."
The simplicity of the product and how it solves a common problem is what sold the team on the idea: It was something he would buy, Leonard says.
"Those types of inventions that you can solve with a single part are becoming few and far between," says Leonard, who adds that a major goal was to make the design cost-effective enough so that the markers could be manufactured in the United States.
Orders for the Mighty Marker Mount have come primarily from New England, but Doucette says she has attracted interest from around the country, including Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Ohio and California. While the product's main attraction is for winter use, "it also works by itself in the spring and the summer as a low-profile driveway marker because it has a 360-degree reflector built into it."
Doucette wouldn't reveal how many of the markers she's sold so far, but said it's in the hundreds. Her initial investment paid for creating the mold and doing the testing to validate it. The mold was manufactured in China, where the initial batch of 1,000 markers was produced.
"I worked with a third party who had some manufacturing connections. It cost significantly less to make the mold in China," she says.
Doucette is having the mold shipped to the United States and expects to receive it this week.
"We made a conscious decision that we want to manufacture the product in the United States," she says. "The manufacturing of the product will likely take place in Massachusetts."
Just a year ago, Doucette incorporated as Property Markers Systems LLC, which she proudly notes is a woman-owned limited liability corporation. She's busy with the Mighty Marker Mount campaign for now, but doesn't rule out expanding into other products.
"I'm having a lot of fun doing this. It's exciting with the snow falling. We're getting lots of feedback," she says. "It further validates that there's a need out there."
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Mike Cote is business editor at the Union Leader. Contact him at 668-4321, ext. 324 or firstname.lastname@example.org.