Rick Kellow didn't mind that the home theater in the basement doubled as a kid cave with video games played on the big screen and surround sound blaring in the dark for full effect.
But the father of six did get tired of the open chip bags, crumbs on the floor and furniture, and cans of soda teetering on arm chairs and couch cushions. One day, four years ago, he had enough.
“There were spills and messes everywhere,” Kellow, a resident of Slinger, Wis., said in a telephone interview.
He went upstairs and told his wife, Beth Kuehl, they needed to buy some plates that hold cups, pronto. The couple went to Wal-Mart and some other stores but returned empty handed. Then, they looked online.
“It didn't exist, and you know how necessity is the mother of invention,” Kellow, 53, said.
Inspiration struck and it was game-on to fill the void.
With help from nearby West Bend Plastics Inc., Kellow is producing The Great Plate — a 10-inch, polypropylene plate with a center beverage holder for cans of soda, glasses of milk and bottles of beer. Snacks or an entrée surround the beverage, making it easy to balance food and drink with one hand. The plates come in a variety of colors and fit in standard kitchen cabinets for storage.
Kellow made his first big sale in August when Menard's placed an order for its 300 stores. CVS Pharmacy, which has 7,600 outlets, followed. About 250,000 of The Great Plates, which go for $15 for a stackable set of four, have sold since January. Customers are using them for picnics, tailgates, camping, in the pool — they float — and at the beach.
On March 16, Kellow's creation really catapulted into the public's eye when he and Kuehl appeared on an episode of “Food Fortune” — a new Food Network show that's similar to “Shark Tank” with contestants pitching business ideas to investors. The couple left with $250,000 from three of the four panelists in exchange for 20 percent of their company.
Now it's time to ramp up production to stock displays and shelves for Amazon and Canadian Tire Corp., which also sells housewares, in addition to their early accounts.
“On May 1 we will have our own end cap at Menard's. That's huge,” Kellow said. “They've been great to us. They're all about innovation. We also just met with Canadian Tire and they're putting it in their stores. Their claim to fame is that 80 percent of Canada is within 15 minutes of one of their 483 locations.”