Kiplinger's spoke with Cynthia Wark (pictured left), 55, of Houston, about how her invention the Personal Golf Fan -- a portable battery-operated fan that golfers can tote around in their carts to help beat the heat on warm days -- allowed her to start a new career. Here are excerpts from our interview:
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Why a golf fan? In 2009, I was golfing on a very warm winter day. I thought, If it’s hot today, what will it be like this summer? I visualized a fan blowing on me from the cup holder of my cart. I went home and Googled “to-go fan.” I found that the only option was to wire a fan to a cart’s battery, which only works if you own your own cart. Plus, those fans were inadequate, and I wanted something better.
How did you design your fan? I worked with my husband, Rick, who is chairman of his manufacturing business and is transitioning to retirement, and a friend who is a retired pilot with extensive knowledge of electronics and a home lab. We tried out components to create a fan that would be portable, durable and safe, with a battery that would last for a slow round of 18 holes.
What did you come up with? Our fan uses a brushless, ball-bearing motor, which is efficient and lasts much longer than the average motor. The ends of the fan blades have little winglets, like the wings of a modern airliner, which increase efficiency by reducing air resistance. The lithium-ion battery lasts about six and a half hours on normal speed and recharges in three. It has built-in safety circuits and comes with a charger and two cup adaptors, so you can use it on any course or cart.
Do you have a patent? Yes. My husband has 60 industrial patents of his own, so we were able to use his patent attorney. It was a laborious process. We would deliver specifications and drawings, then the attorney would question us, and we would submit more information. It took three years and cost about $25,000.
How did you fund the project? We were fortunate that we were able to pay cash. It takes money to make bright ideas happen.
Where do you make the fan? One of my husband’s employees found a company in China that makes products for Wal-Mart, which has a reputation for imposing strict quality guidelines for production. I wanted to make it in the U.S., but it would have cost twice as much and nobody would have paid that much.
What was your marketing strategy? I entered a contest called Inventor’s Spotlight, sponsored by the United Inventors Association of America, at the Professional Golf Association’s Merchandise Show in early 2013, and I won the highest award. We also ran ads in national and regional golf magazines.
Where do you sell your fan? It’s available for $199 on Amazon.com and on my Web site. This year, I’m exploring whether golf shops want to sell it, too.
Are you making money? Even though the fan is selling, absolutely not! It takes a lot in start-up costs to get a business up and running, and we still have major expenses every month.
Was it worth the effort? I worked in the airline industry for more than 30 years, and I never imagined that I could do something like this. Now, at 55, I have a new career that I think about 24/7. Even if the fan were a failure, I would never trade this experience. It’s an energizing, stimulating, awesome trip.
What’s next? We’ve come out with a push-cart adaptor for the golf fan, and this summer we’ll introduce a Personal Golf Tote that you can hang from a cart.
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