For years, Bryan Nooner and his wife, Mari-Beth, struggled with the same problem around the holidays: keeping the outdoor decorative lights on.
It seemed every time it rained or the snow melted, water would seep in between the light-cord connections and trip the circuit, shutting off the power to most of the outdoor lights.
“We used electrical tape, duct tape, waterproof tape, plastic bags and plastic bottles,” says Mr. Nooner. But nothing worked.
On a rainy day in December 2010, the Nooners were getting ready to entertain a large family gathering at their home in Mokena, Ill. But as they were getting close to start time, the outside lights went out again.
“We grabbed an umbrella, a towel and some tape and proceeded to unwrap, dry off and retape what seemed to be an unending number of holiday-light electrical connections,” Mr. Nooner says.
So, Mr. Nooner spent most of that evening locked in his office, drawing designs of what would eventually become Twist and Seal—a shell that covers and protects cord connections.
He says that his background—he studied biology and previously worked as a high-school teacher—helped him understand how to test various designs in controlled experiments. Meanwhile, the slowdown in the economy had brought Mr. Nooner’s home-building business to a standstill—which gave him the time he needed for those tests.
“Thousands of man-hours were spent in 2011 drawing, carving, designing, modeling and testing various sizes, shapes and materials,” he says.
A prototype of the first Twist and Seal product was completed in the fall of 2011. By February 2012, Mr. Nooner had a fully tested production piece in hand and a patent filed. He took a friend’s advice to set up a booth at the National Hardware Show that May. “I packed up the Suburban and was off to a glorified science fair,” says Mr. Nooner.
Then came a big break: Twist and Seal won the prize for Most Innovative Product of the Year, according to Mr. Nooner. (The National Hardware Show says it doesn’t have records on winners that far back.) The victory was such a surprise, Mr. Nooner says, he didn’t go to the awards ceremony because the team was busy with customers. Someone had to find him to present the award.
The product took off from there. It landed on the shelves of Home Depot, among other retailers, and sold about 30,000 units in 2012. Since 2013, the company has sold more than six million units in the product line—with prices ranging from $4.99 to $29.95—and it can be found in more than 20,000 retail locations in the U.S., Canada, Mexico and Brazil.
“The Twist and Seal story is an American story,” says Mr. Nooner. “How awesome is it that you can be free to innovate and develop your ideas and have the freedom to turn your dreams into reality?”
Ms. Haislip is a writer in Chatham, N.J. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.