CLEVELAND — Garret Fortune's success might just be in the bag. Not just any bag, though. To paraphrase Fortune, a smell-proof poop bag.
"Not even a dog can smell through my bags," said the colorful Fortune, between laughs and smiles as he demonstrated his product's effectiveness.
His tactic would have been worthy of the late, great TV pitchman Billy Mays, except that instead of selling to consumers, Fortune is pitching a product he invented called OdorNo bags to buyers for distributorships, supermarkets and big retailers.
It's a simple demonstration.
Fortune hands his prospects a bag and asks them take a sniff. When they smell nothing, he tells them to open the bag, at which point they get the strong aroma of coffee from what turns out to be a bag full of beans.
Then, he hands them another bag and asks them to sniff again, then open it. The same thing happens, except the second bag does not just contain coffee — it contains one of his competitor's "odor-proof" bags with the coffee beans sealed inside it, though their aroma is not.
"I'm on board," said Jon McMillen, who got the demo and is a buyer for E&H Family Group, a Wooster, Ohio-based company that owns and operates 13 Buehler's supermarkets, as well as four Ace Hardware stores.
"Our first order just hit the docks, and we're in the process of sending them to stores now," McMillen said.
The poop factor
Why does a grocer or hardware store want to carry odor-proof bags? A few simple factors, according to Fortune and his wholesale customers. One is that more Americans are living longer, becoming incontinent and using adult diapers, which tend to smell. Odor-proof bags enable those people to dispose of diapers discreetly and to keep their homes odor-free.
There also are stinky baby diapers to be dealt with and smelly dog poop to be picked up. And no one wants to get a whiff of any of it.
"If you go into stores today and look in the incontinence section, or in the baby diaper section … you don't see a product like this on the shelves," said Tom Finnegan, a buyer for Gurnee, Ill.-based Veridian Healthcare LLC, which distributes blood-pressure monitors, thermometers, hot/cold packs and other items to pharmacies, grocers and other retailers around the country.
Finnegan's wife is a first cousin of Fortune — but that's not why he agreed to carry OdorNo products, Finnegan said.
"That doesn't work," Finnegan said. "I've been doing this for 24 years and I'm too smart for that."
He's carrying the bags because he thinks they'll sell. They're not cheap, at about $10 for a box of 25 bags. But they're still selling, according to Finnegan.
"Amazon.com has already begun to order them from us," he said.
Fortune's current challenge is not so much selling the bags, but making them fast enough to keep up with demand.
His plant in Cleveland has only one production line running so far, though a second is on order. He said he'll begin operating two shifts, probably by the end of April, which would double his plant headcount to 24 workers.
Demo reaps dollars
Fortune's main backer is happy with the progress so far. That's Miguel Zubizarreta, chief technology officer and a minority shareholder of Hyland Software Inc. in Westlake, Ohio, where he was the third employee to join the burgeoning software company and led its early development efforts.
Zubizarreta knows Fortune through Hyland Software founder Packy Hyland, for whom Fortune was once a salesman. But as with Finnegan, the personal connection is not why Fortune won him over.
"I saw that demo, and I invested," Zubizarreta said.
Zubizarreta said he's a minority shareholder, but he's prepared to put more money into the company. He said he'll soon invest about $1 million to buy inventory and increase production, which might make him the company's majority shareholder.
"I will be a couple million dollars into it," Zubizarreta predicted.
But he isn't worried about his investment, he said, because he's seen the order flow so far, including one order for 200,000 boxes of OdorNo bags from a major retailer that the company wouldn't identify.
"I would expect this to be generating profits on a monthly basis before the end of this year, but I see this as a long-term company because there are so many other uses for these technologies," Zubizarreta said. "I'll expect all capital to be returned by the end of 2015."
Fortune expresses similar optimism.
"We'll be making 'sold' product for quite a while now," Fortune said.
Fortune is planning to grow rapidly.
OdorNo's operation is about 15,000 square feet, and can hold up to 24 of its current production lines, Fortune said. As it grows, it has another 100,000 square feet available in attached space, which it will begin using as a warehouse and distribution center as the production floor fills up with machines.
He's starting with adult diaper bags, baby diaper bags, pet waste bags and odor-proof garbage bags, all with market-specific packaging. But that's probably not the end of it. McMillen, for instance, thinks there's a market for fishermen who don't want to smell their catch, or their bait, either on the road or once they get home.
And Fortune sees even more ways to market his product.
"I'm going to work on something like an adult Diaper Genie next," he said.