By Jim Davis
The Herald Business Journal
GRANITE FALLS — Some inventors want to build a better mousetrap.
Not Tom Sharp.
He wants to skip the trap altogether. In doing so, he thinks he’s solved not only his own problem, but a bunch of other people’s problems, too.
The Granite Falls man adores his sports car, a 1991 Acura NSX, but he only drives it about 4,000 miles a year. The rest of the time, he keeps it buttoned up.
“So it’s parked in my barn and the mice have been attacking my car for 25 years,” Sharp said. “It’s been quite annoying, frustrating and costly. I’ve probably spent $2,500 just on cleaning to get the stink out and it’s never entirely out.”
He believes he came up with a way to protect his car: a 14-inch rodent barrier to surround it. He worked with a couple of manufacturers to build a prototype. He’s put it around the sports car and finally kept the mice away for several months.
Just to test his rodent wall, Sharp, 66, took it to Arlington Reptiles and put 40 mice — raised for food for the reptiles — inside the barrier, to see if they could escape. The mice poked and prodded, but hours later none of them got loose.
“When I got the picture of 40 of them sleeping, having given up, I thought, ‘This is it. This is going to work,’” Sharp said. “It’s not a rocket-science answer to the problem. It’s simple and straightforward. And once you see it, you go, ‘Why didn’t I think of that?’ That’s how I’m hoping people will react to it.”
He’s been working with a patent attorney on the product, which he’s calling Boxkat Rodent Barriers. He’s about ready to launch a Kickstarter campaign to try to get people to purchase 200 units at $250 apiece.
“I think my product and the videos and the story are pretty compelling, and compelling things have done extraordinarily well on Kickstarter,” he said.
Mice get into a car and can gnaw through wiring, especially soy-based, biodegradable wiring used in newer cars. It’s such a problem that Honda owners filed a class-action suit against the company last year. Mice can also build nests in cars.
Sharp has been kicking around the idea for a rodent barrier for a number of years, but the idea never went from concept to reality. His brother suggested that he make an electric wall. Sharp never liked that idea much.
“As soon as you throw electricity in there, you’ve got liabilities,” Sharp said. “You’ve got cats or babies bumping up against it. It’s not an elegant solution at all.”
The bigger obstacle was the realization that most garage floors aren’t entirely flat. There are bumps and dips in each floor. Putting down a flat wall would create gaps that mice could scurry under.
Sharp was watching a documentary on origami one day with the rodent barrier stuck in the back of his mind. He noticed how folded paper could flex up or down. Added to his product, he figured it could account for the imperfections of most garage or shop floors.
He and his dad made a prototype out of cardboard and it worked. The next step was to find a manufacturer. He met with a couple before settling on Lemac Manufacturing in Bellingham, who is lined up for the first run. They worked on the material to keep the costs at a price point that he thought could work.
Now it’s a product waiting for a market.
There are millions of people just like him who have their dream cars stored away in garages, shops and barns. And then, there’s people who store their RVs most of the year. He said that about 300,000 RVs are sold every year for more than $50,000 apiece.
He has a friend whose RV was infested by mice after the rodents climbed up the sewer line: “You have to be vigilant with mice,” Sharp said. “Mice are extraordinary.”
And it’s not just cars and RVs. He points to the combines and tractors in Eastern Washington. Those are vulnerable to mice as well. A friend told him about rabbits in Arizona that are eating away at the bottoms of golf carts.
“He said the rabbits are crawling underneath the golf carts and chewing on the wiring, because it’s that soy-based, bio plastics,” Sharp said. “It’s a great green idea, but bad for product, because everything that crawls around, like mice and bunnies, they love it. They think it’s M&Ms.”
He could make taller walls for rabbits, rats and squirrels. Another advantage of the wall is what it doesn’t use: poison. He’s not killing mice with his invention. And poisoned mice aren’t being picked up by cats and dogs or birds of prey in the neighborhood.
The more sales, the cheaper the product will be to manufacture. If he can get 10,000 units produced, he thinks he can get the cost down to $150. He said that’s a spontaneous purchase for a car owner.
“I think long-term we can get under $100,” Sharp said. “At a $100, this is a total no-brainer to give it a go in this mouse-infested universe.”
Jim Davis: 425-339-3097; firstname.lastname@example.org; @HBJnews.