Contractor Invents Magnetic Gauge Holder
HVAC Strap Sticks to Metal Surfaces for Hands-Free Operation
Dan VandeVoorde knows that HVAC field work takes time. Over the last 15 years, he has worked his way up from the role of apprentice to working for a supply house to eventually owning his own business. VandeVoorde has seen the business from all angles, and recognizes that in many situations, a technician may find himself stuck on pause.
|Dan VandeVoorde, right, created the HVAC Strap, and with the help of Clint Matthews, left, and Ray Troy, center, was able to get the new product to market. VandeVoorde, a building inspector by day and former HVAC contractor, is thankful he is able to get back into the industry.|
While VandeVoorde’s task at hand may have oftentimes experienced downtime, his mind certainly did not. During these delays, he’d often find himself contemplating ways to make his job easier. It was during one of these brainstorming sessions when he first came up with the HVAC Strap, a magnetic HVAC manifold gauge holder that allows contractors to temporarily affix their gauges directly to the machinery they are working on, eliminating any need to hold the device or wrangle with hooks.
“I was working on a rooftop unit one day, and over and over, the gauges kept ending up on the ground,” he said. “I had my Fieldpiece meter with me, which has a nice little magnetic strap on the back, and I flipped it up on the unit. While I was sitting there waiting for the charges to balance out, I started wondering why my gauges didn’t have a strap or some way to connect to these metal units.”
VandeVoorde began tinkering with magnetics, and eventually constructed a prototype, which was reviewed favorably by his brother, who is in the HVAC industry in Michigan. Armed with a blueprint and a rave review, he was unsure where to turn next.
A building inspector for the city of Columbia, Mo., by day, VandeVoorde nervously entered the concept in a handful of local entrepreneurial contests.
“I pitched it to a conference of about 100 people in February 2012 and was scared to death,” he said. “Just before giving my pitch I had to promise myself I wouldn’t pass out.”
That day, the judges shunned his invention, which VandeVoorde admits was due to the fact that he was clueless on how to properly pitch it. Despite his self-proclaimed ineptitude, the device did draw the attention of Clint Matthews and Ray Troy, who sat in on VandeVoorde’s nervous presentation.
“When I first got into this, you kind of have grand ideas of having this big company all to yourself, but, I’ll admit, I needed help getting the product to the market,” VandeVoorde said. “That’s where Clint and Ray came in. After seeing me do the pitch, they approached me and said, ‘we can get this to market.’ They helped get together the financials, the marketing, the business plan, and everything else that we needed to attract the necessary attention.”
The trio teamed to form AmiraLin Innovations and have reported great success ever since.
“Dan was a guy who worked on this for the last 15 years, and it was something that bothered him every day,” Troy said. “He looked for a solution, and when he couldn’t find one, he came up with one on his own. I think those are the best products, and I think that’s what Clint and I recognized right away. He’s a master HVAC mechanical technician. He knows the trade, and that’s what really sold us.”
The group utilized each other’s individual strengths to complete each necessary step to ignite the business, including designing a website, attaining LLC status, applying for provisional patents, crafting a business plan, and gaining funding. They even showed their product at the 2013 AHR Expo in Dallas, where it was a big hit with attendees.
“I’ll admit, we all had some reservations on our way to Dallas, but, it only took a few hours before we were all smiling at each other because every single person that stopped at our booth liked it,” VandeVoorde said. “It was like we invented the remote control for the TV.”
Matthews admits that while he and Troy take care of the business side of things, VandeVoorde brings the street cred.
“VandeVoorde is a professional, who has worked in the HVAC trade for a long time,” said Matthews. “He had a problem — one that’s ubiquitous with everyone in the trade — and came up with a creative solution for it. When you see something like that, it’s kind of exciting.”
Finding the right manufacturer, though, has been an issue. VandeVoorde called that the company’s biggest hang-up right now.
“We can find a lot of companies that can do the stamping and the sewing, but when you include the magnet in the process, that’s when it gets tricky,” he said. “We were able to connect with a manufacturer in Arkansas, but they’re a smaller company, so lead times are becoming a bit of an issue.”
Although the team would like to manufacture the HVAC Strap in the U.S., they admit the work might have to be outsourced to China if they can’t find the right fit domestically.
“My goal is to eventually take on the product full-time, but with that, you need sales,” he said.
In his job as a building inspector, he has shown the product off to several of the heating and cooling firms he deals with, and most have provided favorable reviews, he said, but he acknowledges there’s still work to be done.
“It’s a process,” he admitted. “It’s not an overnight sensation; it’s kind of a long journey, and, for us, we’re just getting started.”
Above all else, though, VandeVoorde is very happy to continue his HVAC work and his quest to better the industry he loves.
“HVAC is my passion,” he said. “I love the trade, and I enjoy interacting with the guys at trade shows and discussing the strap with product reps. After years of beating up my back, lugging furnaces back and forth, it is nice to be involved on a different level, and it is always a pleasure to still be able to say you’re in the trade.”
Publication date: 9/30/2013