Mon, Apr 19 2010 01:58 | Inventor, Mail Tribune, Invention, Handle with care, Our Valley, finger fatigue
"Handle with care for finger fatigue"
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April 14, 2010
By Sam Wheeler
Ken Becker says he has been perfecting the design of the CANGUN1 for the past 30 years.
Becker, president of SafeWorld International, introduced the snap-on, spray-can handle to the U.S. market in 1983, after he saw a prototype for the product at a design convention in London.
"When I saw this product my jaw dropped," Becker says.
The invention that caught his eye so long ago was the original CANGUN, a pistol grip sprayer that snapped onto standard aerosol spray cans — transforming them into professional-style spray guns and relieving users of the all-too-familiar finger fatigue that sets in after using a conventional spray can.
The handle was originally developed in the late 1970s by two Englishmen, Paul Hutchinson and Allen Surgenson. Becker contacted the primary inventor, Hutchinson, and they struck a deal. Becker helped to get the CANGUN trademarked and patented in the U.S., and SafeWorld has been in charge of its production and marketing in the U.S. ever since.
Becker has never met Hutchinson or Surgenson in person; they initiated their business partnership over the phone and speak about once a year, to wish each other a Merry Christmas.
Since the partnership began, Becker has sold more than 25 million CANGUNs in the U.S.
"I feel like I've been really fortunate throughout my entire business career," says Becker, who graduated from San Francisco State University with a business degree in design and industry.
During 2001, the patent expired on the original CANGUN and Hutchinson agreed to sell the trademark to Becker for $1.
"I suppose it was for all the work I put into the product," Becker says.
Becker continues to sell the original CANGUN, but his newest invention, the CANGUN1, is attracting favorable reviews from critics.
Becker introduced the improved product in May 2009, after a $100,000 investment and two years of rigorous development and testing at his workshop in Talent. It was an instant hit and quickly became the top seller on Amazon.com.
"To develop this product involved me spending all the money in my bank account," Becker says. He listens to what he calls "the little voice in my head" and says it hasn't steered him wrong yet.
The CANGUN1 has been picked up by leading retailer Ace Hardware and paint supply giant Valspar, as well as a slew of other businesses and catalogs. Like the original CANGUN, the new product is manufactured in the U.S. and made out of 100 percent non-toxic, recycled plastic.
Recycling and using environmentally sustainable business practices have been a priority for Becker, he says. Since production of the original CANGUN began in the U.S., SafeWorld has used about 7 tons of recycled plastic.
Becker attributes the success of his new product to its superior ergonomic design. The CANGUN1, which fits 90 percent of aerosol cans, is designed to make spraying as convenient as possible. It takes about 2.5 pounds of pressure to pull the full-grip trigger of the CANGUN1, compared to about 10 pounds of pressure to pull the single-finger trigger on the CANGUN.
Like the original CANGUN, Becker molds the instructions to the CANGUN1 into the product along with his personal contact information.
"I do it because I want to know if there is a problem," he says.
Of all the CANGUNs Becker has sold, he says fewer than 15 have made it back to him because of consumer dissatisfaction.
Becker sold about 30,000 CANGUN1s in 2009, and still sells between 250,000 and a million original CANGUNs each year.
"It's been quite a ride," he says.
Sam Wheeler is a Mail Tribune intern. E-mail him at email@example.com