Wanaka rural innovator TJ Irvin slams his way into US hardware market
Lake Hawea inventer TJ Irvin believes he is possibly Wanaka's most unlikely rural champion.
Ten years ago, Irvin invented a simple rural tool, The Slammer, which are made by Garry and Sue Templeton's engineering business at Albert Town.
In July, the Lake Hawea father-of-two is off to the United States to finalise manufacturing agreements with the Great Lakes Knife Company, and the Caterpillar earthmoving company.
Because Irvin was raised in India and the Philippines and has lived in the United States he believed he might not immediately win over Kiwi farmers.
"No one here in farming suffers fools. So if you present a $250 digging tool to them with an American accent you have to step it up a bit," he said.
After 10 years in a "start up phase", Irvin believes his efforts are now being noted.
"I am getting that finger wave you get from farmers when they are driving . . . They say to me, "You're still selling those things? I've got two of them"."
Irvin had been keen to secure a US-based manufacturer for some time.
He achieved that goal after winning best marketing award in a competition run by the United Inventers Association of America at the 2016 National Hardware Show in Las Vegas in May.
While in the US, he will also liaise with the Discovery Channel, which is keen to shoot a film by late July so it can screen about February next year.
What he'd really like now is investment partners and business support so he can get outside, "keep slamming" and enjoy more time on the West Coast.
Irvin borrowed about $20,000 to attend the National Hardware Show.
"I'd been waiting eight years to go to this one . . . I was told to have my patents not just filed but granted. So I got that done over Christmas-New Year and all those things fell into line . . . Black and Dekker and other major US companies were involved [in the competition] and our little company from Wanaka - it won," Irvin said.
So far, Irvin has sent about 1000 Albert Town-made Slammers from Wanaka to the US, with most sales done online.
He estimates the US market is about 500 million. He is now getting orders for a pallet of Slammers.
Shipping a single unit costs him about $200 a pop so sending a pallet made sense, he said.
The Slammer will be stocked in 47 different home depot stores - shops similar to a Mitre 10 store - "and as the dollar goes up, it doesn't make sense to make them here and ship them".
Irvin credited the Templetons for helping him start up when no bank would touch him.
Templetons and Sons will continue making The Slammer for the New Zealand market, he said.