LAS VEGAS — A year ago, inventor Jeremy Smith of Utah took his idea for an electrical outlet cover plate with LED lights on the bottom edge to the International Builders' Show to drum up support for a Kickstarter project he was about to launch.
Last week, he returned with the product — the SnapRays Guidelight — and it was as a big a hit with the building community as it was with the online community that had surpassed his $12,000 crowd-funding goal with $480,411 of pledges to get him started back in April 2014.
What's not to like about an ABS cover plate that installs in seconds, has a built-in nightlight that will last 25 years, leaves both outlets free, uses 10 cents of energy per year, and costs about $12?
At a convention with a total of 3,750 exhibitors, Smith's innovative cover plate was named Best Indoor Living Product and then it won the overall Best in Show award from the National Association of Home Builders.
“We were thrilled,” said Smith's business partner, Sean Watkins. “We had just finished eating dinner at a hotel and we were all together when I got a call from the NAHB with the news. We went crazy. We started whooping and hollering and giving each other high fives.”
The panel of judges, which was made up of attending reporters and building professionals, looked at 400 entries submitted in eight categories before naming SnapRays as their top pick.
The judges also awarded the Center Redi Trench — a polyurethane shower pan — as the “best bath product.”
Made by Tile Redi, which is based in Coral Springs, Fla., this winning product is the industry's first one-piece, ready-to-tile shower pan with an integrated linear trench drain, according to Farrell Gerber, the company's vice president.
Smith, whose company is called Snap Power, apparently overcame some mystery hurdle to go to market with a product where many others before him had failed. He said he wasn't able to glean much information from Underwriters Laboratories.
“They said people have thought of this but it has never been executed,” Smith said. “I don't know what it is but I did something they didn't do, I guess. We're lucky.”
Persistent, too. Smith said he worked 16 years on the guide light product, which has prongs made of beryllium copper that “provide a great spring memory.” In addition to solid brass and nickel-plated rivets, he also used a few other plastic parts, including nylon ramps, an insulating material made from DuPont's Nomex aramid fiber, and clear plastic light pipes made of a newer polycarbonate from Sabic Innovative Plastics.
“It was a long haul to get things going,” Smith said. “I even tried something else and then went back to this in 2008. I went through a lot of stuff, including bankruptcy, and did what I could to keep going.”
The IBS award winners were announced about 90 minutes after the show closed on Jan. 22. SnapRays sales then started climbing, Watkins said Jan. 26 in an emailed update.
“I'm not sure exactly how big of a boost we got because of the analytics challenge to track it all but I would say we have at least doubled in sales the last day or so,” he said. “Hopefully, we can use the award wisely in our marketing and keep sales going. We have also noticed increased confidence with builders because of the award.”
Smith isn't resting on his laurels either. Later this year Snap Power will come out with a light switch cover that has LED lights and he is planning another Kickstarter project to raise money to manufacture an electrical outlet cover with a USB plug for mobile devices.
“We understand the prongs more and that's helping us build a foundation for the next product,” Smith said. “Eventually, these things will start to communicate with each other and gather information to help the customer with their house. Everyone sees it happening.”
About 125,000 housing industry professionals attended IBS and the co-located events that make up Design & Construction Week. Official attendance for IBS was 55,237, which was up 8 percent from 2014.
“This has been the best show we have experienced since the economic downturn,” Jerry Konter, chair of the NAHB Convention and Meetings Committee, said in a news release. “You felt a great energy the moment you hit the show floor, as builders and exhibitors continue to benefit from the recovering economy.”
Attendees filled the show aisles and almost overwhelmed taxis, hotels, and restaurants in what the Las Vegas Conventions and Visitors Authority believe to be a record-setting week for visits, according to the release.