Doug Renfro is inventor of the Big Push, a plastic yard cleanup tool that both rakes and pushes leaves. The product is a contender in Walmart's Get on the Shelf social media contest through April 3. Renfro also co-owns Radiant Media with his wife, Bett McLean.
Did you ever invent things when you were a little kid?
When I was a 25-year-old little kid, I had the brilliant idea to create a new brand for Swatch: Swatchdog, products for dogs. I contacted the president of Swatch via a letter and he wrote back saying he wanted to meet with us in New York. We had mock-ups made of collars, bowls, and clothing—no one was doing dog products yet. But the president had an assistant, and she told us to meet with product development, and the woman there didn't get it at all, so we went away. Sad, but true. I learned from that if the president of the company wants to meet with you, don't accept any other invitations.
Does your media work help at all with this?
We produce commercials, promos for cable networks, and long-form television shows. The process for creating or designing anything at all is very similar, but in this case, having the communication skills from the media work really made it possible to get the attention of a big-box store.
Another one—that's how this really got going. To make a long story short, after meeting with its two major players, we have not made a deal. The biggest challenge in producing this product is the initial cost of the injection mold. The plastic piece that really comprises the head end is one big mold and it costs $150,000 to make it alone.
How'd you get selected for the Get on the Shelf competition?
Anyone could approach them. We were asked to submit the video describing the product, and they screened the videos for content. We're one of 4,000 entries in 20 categories. The challenge in that is no one person is going to sit down and look at them all, so what decides if we move to the next level, the top 10, is a social media campaign, and it's essentially a popularity contest. An example of why that's problematic: We're currently being beaten by a product that prevents saliva being sprayed on birthday cakes. And social media is, ah, interesting. After one woman voted for us, she commented that she'd had a dream she went to Walmart and bought one for her husband. I find that funny.
Is your video funny?
No. The video is a demonstration, because it's very, very helpful to see the product in action—it's a simple tool, one piece of plastic, that can prevent air pollution from leaf blowers, and can save people a lot of time and effort. I know this because I've tested it thoroughly. I've put hundreds of pounds of leaves on my lawn, and filmed myself getting them up—the neighbors are a little concerned. Another thing that's funny: I've had to acquire leaves at many points in the year when they're not falling from the trees. One time I discovered a giant pile in the middle of Cherokee Boulevard—and a number of marijuana plants had gotten into the pile. I was driving the leaves to a presentation for a potential manufacturer and I was concerned the whole way I'd be stopped and arrested. And it was 105 degrees, so I couldn't leave them in the car—I had to take five giant bags of leaves into a hotel room. But these are the things you do—crazy things—to bring a product to market.
Who came up with the name?
I think it was a collaboration between Bett and I. And it doesn't just describe what the product does—it's a description of our initiative to get this thing done.
To vote for the Big Push once a day (before April 3), go to getontheshelf.com or text 1753 to 383838.