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Home Fires Burning

Spark nationwide success for your product with some sales fuel from your local neighborhood stores.

Plenty of inventors start their companies without the experience or financial resources they need to market their products. That can make it hard to land major accounts. The best approach for many new inventors is to start selling their products locally, where hometown ties can be a big selling point, and then expand into national distribution.

That's how Dale Carsel and Bob Schneider did it. In 1995, the two partners got a job painting a large home in Beachwood, Ohio. When they discovered the owner planned to decorate much of the house with wallpaper, they suggested achieving the same effect with faux finishing, the art of painting with a sponge, rag or other applicator to make the painted space look as though it had been decorated in another medium. To handle the job, Carsel, 49, and Schneider, 47, made 6-by-6-inch pattern sponges that could finish a room at one-third the cost of wallpapering.

Charles Zuchowski, 49, a building contractor and the owner of the house, loved the look-and the tool. Together, the three considered marketing the sponges under the name SpongePrince. After getting rave reviews from a patent attorney and some local interior decorators, they formed Wall Concepts Plus Inc. Their first strategy? Focus on the local market.

Since then, they've introduced the SpongePrince nationwide, despite having no experience marketing a consumer product. Sales have also been exceptional, rising more than 300 percent yearly since the SpongePrince's introduction in 1996. This year, the partners expect to sell more than 1 million units at $19.99 apiece.

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This article was originally published in the July 2001 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Home Fires Burning.

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