Business

Tied to the home-based economy

"A promising business venture started with a stubbed toe. It seems that when Mark Adams was living on his sailboat, he ran forward to secure a sail. He caught his toe on the horn of a cleat, and instead of just cursing, he thought, there must be a better way.So with his fine-artist's eye, a design background and his knowledge of sailing, Adams sat down in front of his computer and designed a new-age cleat. He whittled a prototype out of epoxy, rounded up investors and advisors, and now hopes to be in production by fall.It's great for novice sailors, Adams said, because if you just wrap the line around the cleathead, it will hold temporarily. You don't need to know how to tie the proper knot.And it's home-based, one-person ventures like Adams' that are turning Bainbridge Island into an economic dynamo, according to city finance Director Ralph Eells. Sales and use tax receipts for Bainbridge have almost tripled in the past decade, a rate of increase almost three and a half times that of the state as a whole.Tax receipts are not precise indicators, but they are a reasonable proxy for retail sales, Eells said.The puzzling thing to Eells, at least initially, is that retail infrastructure has not grown significantly on the island during the 90s - newer areas such as Winslow Green and the Village were already in place. And while Eells believes that the existing enterprises are doing a better business now than in 1990, he does not think that accounts for all of the increased tax receipts.Two other factors are coming into play, Eells believes. The first, he said, is the construction boom. Construction pays about 20 percent of our sales tax through the taxes paid on materials, Eells said. But I think the biggest single factor is the home-based businesses.In Adams' case, it was a matter of using new computer technology to solve a problem that likely goes back to the ancient Phoenicians - the ease with which a T-shaped cleat can snag feet, clothing and equipment as well as secure lines.The first step was to design a rounded, tapered shield for each end. Then Adams realized that if he made the head somewhat wedge-shaped, he could overlap the shield and the horn, thereby creating a chock that will keep a line from flying away.Another bonus from his design is ease of tying. Once he envisioned the concept, Adams took to the computer for the design. My father worked for Boeing, Adams said. He said that if you had to do the design by hand, it would have taken 50 people to do what I could do on the computer.With his plastic prototype, Adams began approaching people with the necessary business knowledge to turn the concept into a product. Retired island accountant Lee Keuckelhan and manufacturer Chuck Loomis signed on. With other investors and experts, they put together the Karlyn Group, named for Adams' daughter.The first step was to protect Adams' invention. That was accomplished in 1999, when the Karlyn Cleat received a patent. Then the group's focus was marketing.We have to educate the public that it's a functional cleat, not just an attractive piece of metal, Adams said.The effort received a boost in April, when the Industrial Designers Society of America gave the cleat an Award of Merit at its Northwest Industrial Design Invitational in Seattle.We've had contacts since then from four national and international distributors, Adams said. The group plans to market the cleat to individuals through its internet site, www.karlyncleat.com. It also hopes to land deals with boat manufacturers.Originally from Seattle, Adams has worked as a carpenter, marina manager, graphic designer, fine artist and art teacher. Fine art has been the driving force behind my creative efforts, he said. It's been a long haul trying to plug that ability into something commercial.Adams agrees with Eells' assessment that home-based businesses are the wave of the future, at least among the sort of highly educated labor pool found on Bainbridge.With the power the computer gives to people like me, the economy is going to be fine, he said."

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