Too Close to Call

His phone, her phone--whose phone is it? Thanks to this family's bright idea, look-alike phones have a unique new accessory.

By James Park

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

What: Plastic antenna rings for cell phones

Who: John, Alison and Andrew Wagner of Mobile Bandits

Where: Denver

When: Started in 2004

Startup Costs: $1,500

Have you ever mistaken somebody else's cell phone for your own? It's not difficult to do with the proliferation of the handy little gadgets in our busy lives, which is why the Wagner family came up with Mobile Bandits.

"It's a great, simple concept," says John Wagner, 54, describing the small plastic bands that come in six different colors and fit neatly onto almost any cell phone antenna. In late 2004, his daughter, Alison, now 25, told him about the family plans she was selling while working at a Verizon retail store. "People kept asking her how they could tell the cell phones apart," John says. So she came up with the idea of putting tiny, easily recognizable and brightly colored bands on the phone antennas.

Using his own money, John hired a local plastic manufacturer in Denver who was able to produce their designs using parts available in the shop. "I just looked at whatever existing inventory he had," John says. While John was busy with the first batch of Mobile Bandits and filing a patent, his son, Andrew, 20, designed a logo and created a website ( By searching online, the Wagners were able to find a packaging company that fit their budget.

"It went really fast," John says. "I looked at is as we either go quickly with it or we don't go at all, because it could have easily been copied."

The Mobile Bandits are currently distributed in Phones Plus stores around Denver, with 2007 sales projected at $10,000. The Wagners have big plans for the little plastic bands and are looking to sell them wholesale to major phone companies like Cingular and Verizon to be packaged with family plans.

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