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Hamilton Economic Development

A Hamilton gadget that keeps Apple earbuds on

Kirk Mosna, foreground, holds up "Spring" a clip created by Hamilton design firm OHM, that attaches to the latest Apple earbuds preventing them from dropping out of the ear while running or working out.

Three-person Hamilton business OHM introduces $10 clips and makes hundreds of sales — without advertising.

A small Canadian industrial design firm has come up with a solution for ill-fitting Apple EarPods. Consumers have long lamented that the earbuds supplied with their iPhones and iPods are prone to falling out, particularly during activities like running and cycling.Many replace them with bulkier, over-ear headphones, but Hamilton-based OHM has devised Sprngclip, adjustable, plastic snap-ons that hold EarPods in place.

The three-person firm introduced the $10 clips online this month, with no advertising — they reached out to gadget and design blogs — and has already sold hundreds.

“It’s not viral like if you had some celebrities endorse it, but so far, it’s very surprising for us,” said OHM co-founder Steve Orzel, who has been up past midnight printing labels and stuffing envelopes with partners Graham Hills and Kirk Mosna.

“We had actually talked to a fulfilment house to help us with this, but it’s such a small-ticket item and there was no reason to think it would do well, so we weren’t able to get their attention.

“If this thing keeps going the way it is, I think it will not be a problem to call them back and say, ‘Can you take it over now because we’ve got some sizeable orders.’ We’re getting interest in resellers as well.”

It’s a satisfying launch into mass merchandising for OHM, which operates largely as product design consultants for electronics, recreations, housewares and wearables. Their portfolio includes award-winning work for Fox40 whistles.

They’d previously initiated a stylish line of kitchenware called Modenn, but stumbled over the capital required to assemble enough inventory to fill orders. Another challenge was coming up with a well-designed product that could be marked up enough to make it profitable.

“We’re attracted to the Fox40 model: take a minimum amount of material, something that’s in the pennies, and figure out a way to make it worth $7 to people,” Orzel said.

“What made (Sprngclip) so attractive is that we could buy inventory for the tens of thousands of dollars, rather than the hundreds of thousands of dollars. It allowed us to do something we could finance ourselves.”

The clips evolved from a make-work project for Dundas high school student Dave Mackie, who interned at OHM last summer.

“He was the reason we started the project,” Orzel said. “He struggled with it and lucky enough for him, Kirk didn’t have any real big jobs, so he spent a lot of time with him and, between the two of them, they came up with this idea.”

After Mackie’s tenure, the partners kept plugging away on the clips, in between jobs. But last fall, about the time they’d come up with a good prototype for the estimated 500 million Apple earphones in use, Apple introduced a new model.

OHM forged ahead, making an addendum to their patent and shelling out a modest sum for a first run of 10,000 China-manufactured clips.

“We did not take on investors; we would like to have,” Orzel said. “Some of our friends that are in the moulding business; they wanted like $75,000 for the tooling, and that’s fair, but that’s just not the kind of money we had.

“If they were going to take a partnership role, they would have swamped us; it would have been like 85-per-cent shareholders. We couldn’t do that, so we had to figure out a way to do it ourselves.

“We’re very risk averse. In terms of startups, it’s not like what you see on the Dragons’ Den where everybody’s mortgaged their homes, or anything like that. As a rule, we never borrow money and that’s why we’re so small. We do everything with the money we have. We have gone to the bank to borrow, when we need new hardware or software, but it’s minimal, like car-loan scale.”

They figure to break even on Sprngclip in a few months.

“It’s going in the right direction, but it’s still a gamble,” Orzel said. “However, it’s probably the best promotion we’ve ever had. We toil away and we count on our clients for coming back. That’s sort of a double-edge sword: when we get clients, they stick with us, so we don’t have to do much sales, but we don’t grow.”

Article courtesy of Ashante Infantry, Torstar News

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