If you’ve ever waited for the water to go down the bathroom sink or stood ankle-deep in water while showering, then Scott Turner may have solved your problem with a material you probably already have in your home right now—Velcro.
A graduate of Chillicothe High School, Turner is the owner of FlexiSnake Distributing, founded in March 2006, and the inventor of the FlexiSnake, a disposable, Velcro-tipped drain snake that is small enough to fit in a shirt pocket and will retrieve a typical bathroom drain hair clog in just a couple minutes. When drains become clogged, most people reach for a bottle of chemical drain cleaner, but Turner explains why these cleaners are a waste of time and money when dealing with hair clogs.
“Approximately one out of two households will buy chemical drain cleaners in an attempt to open a clogged drain,” Turner said. “The problem is that most of the major chemical drain cleaners are not effective at removing hair clogs. I read an article in which one of these major drain cleaner companies stated that their foaming drain cleaner product removes only 38 percent of hanging hair clogs. In fact, what happens when you use liquid drain cleaner on one of these types of clogs is that most of it just washes right by the clog, so you are literally pouring money down the drain. FlexiSnake was invented to meet this ill-met need in the marketplace.”
Using the FlexiSnake is simple. You don’t have to take the drain apart—just slide the hook-and-eye end past the sink or tub drain pop-up stopper and twist it around—if there is any hair in the drain, it will entangle it almost every time, making for easy retrieval. “The result is that the drain starts running freely immediately,” Turner said. “Chemical drain cleaners require you to wait 30 to 60 minutes after application, and sometimes even then there is no visible relief.”
Turner became focused on septic problems through his interest in Di-San, a chemical drain cleaner produced by Chillicothe’s Western Yeast Company. He wanted to find a way to help Di-San expand its sales when he discovered that hair clog problems were inhibiting the Di-San from doing its job further down the drain. One day about four years ago, Turner was testing Di-San at his father’s house and couldn’t understand why it wasn’t working on his bathtub drain. He disassembled the drain and found a wad of hair that was catching much of the material.
“There definitely was an ‘a-ha’ moment that day,” Turner said. “I left my father’s house thinking about the problem, and when I got about a half-mile down the road, Velcro popped into my head. It just came from that place where inspiration dwells, because I wasn’t running any material analysis or doing any research that required logic. I was just thinking about the problem and how I might solve it. Admittedly, there must be something a little different going on between my ears because the average Joe probably would think about more traditional solutions like wires or spring metal or such things common to drain snakes. You don’t typically think of textile material when you think of a drain clog.”
Turner initially approached one of the major drain cleaner companies in late 2005, thinking that they would have an interest in packaging FlexiSnake with their chemical products, perhaps coiled inside a plastic cap cover of a chemical drain cleaner product. After several failed attempts, Turner decided to set out on the business path by himself. “I found out that these companies are made mostly of tape, and the color is red,” he said. “After losing valuable time in the marketplace I decided that I would get FlexiSnake out in front of people myself to validate its marketability and then see what opportunities presented themselves.”
FlexiSnake is not in retail stores at this time, with the exception of a few local test stores, including the Geiger’s True Value retail store in Chillicothe. “[Geiger’s] has provided me with a wealth of information about customer reaction to FlexiSnake at the retail level,” Turner said. “The folks at Geiger’s have bent over backwards to help me test different product positions within the store and provide me with detailed sales data. I purposely did not promote FlexiSnake locally to avoid any ‘hometown skew’ in the sales. So I was able to glean some valuable real-life data versus the consumer surveys and focus groups that the big boys run.”
Oddly enough, FlexiSnake is probably closer to retail overseas than it is here in the U.S. Turner has made bulk sales to distributors in Korea and Israel, with other distributors lined up in the U.K. and the Netherlands. “The ‘Benelux’ dealer [Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg] had a chain store client wanting 200 units each for 300 stores by their spring rush,” Turner said. “I had to tell them we could not meet that timetable in our current production situation. I’ve also had distributor requests from India, Australia, Canada, Turkey and other countries. To date we have filed patent applications in the U.S., Japan, Europe and others. The international opportunities for FlexiSnake are very significant.”
FlexiSnake isn’t Turner’s first entrepreneurial venture. In the early 1980s, Turner became interested in personal computers and used his skills to write a program called E-Manual that could put paper manuals on disk, allowing companies to distribute them electronically. At the time, the idea did not radiate very well in the insurance industry, even though it is now common practice. He also used his programming skills to write a program that could calculate insurance quotes in minutes. He took this program and, along with his brother Kevin, set up a kiosk in Northwoods Mall called AutoQuote Insurance Center.
“We could generate a car insurance quote with 20 different insurance plans in a matter of minutes,” Turner said. “There were lots of people walking around the mall and you pretty much knew that they all had car insurance which they quite often thought had gone up in price too much. We did a lot of quotes and wrote quite a bit of business but eventually it wore us down manning two locations and keeping mall hours, so we decided to close it down.”
Turner received much of his business inspiration from his father Keith. “My father was self-educated in business and never afraid to take a business risk,” Turner said. “This, and the grace of God, enabled him and my mother to go from running a gas station as newlyweds, where my mother repaired tires, to being involved in a number of real estate ventures, the purchase of a local manufacturing facility and of course the insurance agency where my brother and I eventually ended up working.”
Besides working at their family-owned insurance agency, Turner-Hicks Insurance, Scott and Kevin Turner, along with Kevin’s wife, Kat, started Visual Synergy Website Development, which has produced websites for national companies such as Plochman’s Mustard and Boca Burger, along with local companies such as Maloof Realty, Hunter’s View, Hawk Insurance and others.
So far, with the help of the people at Western Yeast Company and Turner-Hicks, Turner has been able to keep FlexiSnake Distributing a family-owned company without involving a major corporation. Turner has also had help from Dr. Phil Horvath, a professor at Bradley University who consults with businesses and has helped Turner become aware of resources available through the government and at Bradley University. “I was able to sit down with a panel of folks from the U.S. Commercial Service, the Illinois Small Business Development Center and The Turner Center for Entrepreneurship to receive counseling on entrepreneurial endeavors and international trade issues,” Turner said. “Other than that, my help has come from my family and family businesses. I have not received any government loans or grants.”
While there are the disadvantages of limited finances, he enjoys the freedom and control of owning his own business. “I have a characteristic inventor trait called self-control,” Turner said. “I want to control things myself. As such, I have not sought out financial partners or venture capital money, in order to keep control. The downside is, of course, that you are under-funded and inadequate to perform all of these tasks well. All that you have is your wits and what creativity and inspiration God has given you to try to get some of that huge market share away from the big guys. It’s a real David and Goliath syndrome. But remember that David did prevail over Goliath, so you have to have faith.”
To obtain more information about the Flexisnake, visit www.flexisnake.com. FlexiSnakes are also available at Geiger’s True Value in Chillicothe, the only local retail store carrying the product. IBI