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The inventor and the invention

01/07/2015 05:19PM ● Published by Kerigan Butt

The Air-Brella attaches quickly and easily to the tree. It is also environmentally friendly and does no harm to the tree.

By Steven Hoffman

Staff Writer

The Eureka moment came on a sunny day in August of 2006.

Olen Grimes, Gary Scott, and Tom Kule were on their way home from a bear hunting trip in Lake Elliott, Ontario. They had spent the first half hour of the long trip back to Pennsylvania talking about how much they had enjoyed their stay at the Wilderness Lodge, and how they'd have to plan another trip in the future. They talked about hunting, and how they wished they could spend more time pursuing the hobby.

“We were on a bear hunt in Canada,” Grimes recalled. “We didn't get a bear, but everything else clicked. We just had a great time. And if you're a hunter, you always think about what could make a great hunting product so that you can hunt full-time.”

On that day, Grimes, Scott, and Kule agreed to think about a new invention that would be useful for hunters, and if one of the men ever came up with an idea for a hunting product that made it to market, they would all be partners in the project. Grimes remembers the pact well, and the idea that came so effortlessly to him as they drove back toward their families and work in Pennsylvania.

“It couldn't have been five minutes later that the idea came to me,” Grimes said. “The idea was for the Air-Brella.”

The Air-Brella is a personal rain cover that uses compressed air in order to achieve and hold its shape. There are five parts to the product, including water-repellent fabric and two valves—one for inflating it and another to release when there is too much pressure. The center of the Air-Brella mounts to a base, such as a tree trunk for hunters or a dock-piling for fishermen. Once it’s attached to the base, the Air-Brella can be inflated within 60 seconds. It is designed with camouflage colors and when it’s not in use it can fold down into a pocket-sized package that is easy to carry around.

Grimes likened inflating the Air-Brella to how someone would use a blood pressure pump. An environmentally friendly strap fits snugly around the tree to secure the cover and will not harm the tree.

“It’s very simple,” Grimes said.  “It's lightweight and extremely compact. It's easy to inflate and easy to take down. And this is the only product on the market that doesn't harm the tree at all.”

Grimes, a longtime Kennett Square resident who owns Artworks & Metalworks, has been a hunter for almost 40 years and is very familiar with the various products that are on the market to help hunters enjoy the experience. He knew right away that the Air-Brella was a significant improvement over the old-fashioned screw-mounted umbrellas that are time-consuming to set up and illegal to use in some states. Those umbrellas, like traditional umbrellas, have limited usefulness against anything but light wind and rain because they bend and break so easily.

The Air-Brella’s flexibility will allow it to stand up to heavier rain and wind and, as a hunter who has seen his share of hunting days lost because of the weather, Grimes believes that hunters will find it very useful.

“The Air-Brella is not only a necessity, but truly an outdoorsman’s friend,” he said. “Not only is this a convenient and ‘squishable’ protective product for outdoorsmen, it has no parts that bend or break from strong winds like those that cause a traditional umbrella to be useless after such damage.”

After Grimes returned to Pennsylvania, he continued to think about the Air-Brella. He explained that the first thing he wanted to do was make sure that there wasn't a similar product already on the market. The concept was so simple that he couldn't believe that it hadn't been thought of by someone else already. Grimes was very plugged into the hunting community already, and he painstakingly researched all the umbrellas that are available. Once he knew that he had a viable product that didn't infringe on another company's design, he started working on plans about how to manufacture the product and get it on the market.

Five had passed since he came up with the initial idea when Grimes went back to Scott and Kule and told them that he thought there was a real possibility that the Air-Brella might work out. They were enthusiastic and pleased that Grimes was honoring the initial pact. Grimes said that he never considered not including them in the project.

“Mom and dad raised me right,” he said. “If you tell somebody you’re going to do something, be a man of your word.”

The Air-Brella that he is about to take to market is remarkably similar to his initial vision.

“What you see is what I thought of that day,” Grimes explained. He loves the fact that he came up with the idea of the Air-Brella on a sunny day, the exact opposite of what everyone expects.

Grimes knew that he needed help to make the Air-Brella a reality, but he was reluctant to share the idea with too many people.

“I had never done this before,” he explained. “I knew I had to find a businessman who could take the product to market.

That's where Steve Burkes comes in.

Burkes, also a Kennett Square resident, has an extensive background in technology and business, and he has launched five companies since leaving the corporate world. Grimes met Burkes at a Longwood Rotary meeting and eventually told him about the product and his goal of getting it on the market.

“When I met Olen it had been six years since he came up with the idea,” Burkes recalled. He was impressed with the product, but he wanted to research other umbrellas available to hunters to determine if there was really a need for the product.

“I had to do research on hunting,” Burkes explained. “I had to understand what the products on the market are.”

It was during this time that Grimes and Burkes began to realize that the Air-Brella isn't just potentially beneficial to hunters. Hikers, backpackers, or fishermen could also use it. Grimes and Burkes told a professional photographer about the product and she said that she would like to use the Air-Brella because she spends a lot of time outside waiting in one spot for just the right conditions to photograph wildlife.

Convinced that the product was going to be a hit, they formed a company called GOTS4—the name is derived from the men's names—Gary, Olen, Tom, and Steve. GOTS4 was founded in July 2012, and they now have an office on Union Street in Kennett Square, just a short distance from the art gallery that Grimes owns.

They have secured a provisional patent on the Air-Brella and they have put considerable time into analyzing the costs of manufacturing the product and working simultaneously on several different aspects of the project to get the Air-Brella to market. Word has spread about the product through several newspaper articles and the company also utilizes social media to connect with hunters and outdoorsmen. Everyone involved wants to take the time necessary to make sure that the product is manufactured and marketed properly.

“We’re right on track to where we should be to get it to market,” Burkes said. “We want to do this right. We’re building a real organization here. We’re solidifying where we want to be in the next three or four years.”

Negotiations with stores will be an important part of the process of getting the Air-Brella to market because some of the larger stores will likely push for exclusivity, and Grimes and Burkes want to be careful about such an important decision. Grimes said that the product needs to be available to hunters when they get to the hunting site after driving hundreds of miles only to realize that they have forgotten the raincoat.

“You want to have it available at local shops, too,” Grimes said, explaining that he believes that the Air-Brella will fit right in to a hunting market that is a $35 billion to $40 billion market.

Grimes is looking forward to the day, which will come soon, when they are satisfied with the prototype and can enlist a test group to try out the product.

“You want to get the proper test data,” Burkes said.

Grimes said that he is confident that the Air-Brella can be produced at a cost that will give it a competitive edge on the market.

Combine the price with the effectiveness of the product and he expects it to be very successful. He envisions a time when GOTS4 will be hiring a lot of local talent to work for the company.

Grimes said that updates about the Air-Brella, are available on the company's website at www.gots4.com.   

“Every week now something exciting is happening,” Grimes said. “I don’t have a single hunting friend who has not loved the concept. They wouldn’t all buy it, but they all love it.”

To contact Staff Writer Steven Hoffman, email editor@chestercounty.com.

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