CLAY — The National Hockey League’s lockout isn’t doing one Central New York entrepreneur any favors.
Rich Settembre, the founder of Way Cool Product Co., was hoping his products would be adopted by ice rinks that host NHL games, giving them visibility. But even with the top professional hockey league making no progress toward resuming play, he feels he has plenty of avenues for increasing sales.
“The San Jose Sharks and Carolina Hurricanes already have these,” Settembre says. “The NHL schedule has been screwed up this year. Meanwhile, I’ll still put them out there.”
Way Cool Product Co. makes products it calls Blasters, rubber-bladed tools that can push materials like snow, water, sludge, oil, or sediment. Blasters come in a range of sizes, typically from 24 inches to 48 inches, and Way Cool Product Co. puts together versions for clearing ice rinks, sidewalks, roofs, and waste.
Settembre developed the product in 2009 as a way to clear snow from his roof quickly and easily. Then he tried it for pushing snow from his driveway and decided it might be commercially viable. After patenting the product, he took it to the National Hardware Show in Las Vegas in 2010 to see if it would draw any interest from companies.
“The thing I learned was that there isn’t an easy way to get a product into the market,” Settembre says. “The shovel industry is basically shovels they make in China or an injection-molding house for a couple dollars. I didn’t think at the time it would be wise to pursue a consumer-type product. It would make more sense to pursue a commercial, high-margin, well-made product.”
Syracuse SCORE counseling led Settembre to try to market the product to hockey and ice skating rinks. And it generated interest.
“The speed is important to them,” Settembre says. “If they’re in a tournament, they have to clean the ice very quickly. There seemed to be a need for it in terms of safety and efficiency.”
From there, Settembre moved on to market the product for clearing sidewalks and other applications. He says he received positive feedback and orders after offering Blasters for trial at the wastewater-treatment plant in Syracuse, and an environmental company purchased some to clear oil from the inside of tankers. The product is also useful for companies that clear snow, he adds.
Marketing the Blasters to ice-skating rinks can be done in a targeted manner because they have a trade magazine, Rink Magazine, and a trade association, according to Settembre. The War Memorial Arena in downtown Syracuse, where the minor-league American Hockey League’s Syracuse Crunch play home games, will be purchasing some of the products, he says. Still, he was hoping rink managers would see Blasters at nationally televised NHL games and inquire about them.
Not that interest from the skating industry has been waning. The Blasters are distributed by 10 different companies, including two in Canada, according to Settembre. That’s after Way Cool Product Co. gained four distributors in September.
“We’re reaching that critical mass where people are calling in to distributors and ordering it,” Settembre says. “Right now, I’m designing special squeegees for the prison system.”
Settembre declined to share revenue totals for Way Cool Product Co. The company increased revenue by 30 percent year-over-year in the first quarter of 2012, he says. For the whole of 2012, it will likely grow revenue by 20 percent.
Way Cool Product Co. has one employee — Settembre. He runs the company from his home at 4305 Luna Course in Clay and contracts with local manufacturers to produce Blaster components. Then he assembles and packs small orders himself. He can contract larger orders out for packing.
Settembre created computer-aided design (CAD) drawings to ensure the components meet specifications and fit properly. Parts are manufactured more precisely than they could have been a few decades ago, he says.
“There were no CAD drawings 15, 20 years ago,” he says. “I would have done my own mechanical drawings. But there was no laser cutting, there was no water-jet cutting.”
The Blasters aren’t the first products Settembre developed. In the late 1970s he created a safety binding for cross-country skiers. He called the binding the Avant 1 and sold it through another company he started, Sett Nordic Systems. But the market moved away from the binding, which could fit a variety of boots.
“What happened was, every manufacturer of cross-country ski boots decided to make their own dedicated ski binding that only fit their boot,” he says.
Settembre says he was retired from Welch Allyn when he developed the Blasters. He still considers himself retired from being an employee, but not retired from being productive.
And he’s enjoying promoting his product.
“They have them now at Cornell University, Syracuse University, a list of rinks around the country,” he says. “We just had an order from Busch Gardens in Tampa, Florida for one of our 48-inch models. We’ve sold hundreds of these around the country and around the world.”