THE STORY: A local inventor started a nationwide drain cleaning sensation. It all began several years ago when Gene Luoma of Duluth got tired of his bathroom drains getting clogged. His daughter Kim liked long hair, and when he’d take a shower, her long hair blocked the drain, forcing water to slowly fill the tub.
“I’d try the liquid cleaners and plungers; bending up coat hangers. Finally one day I went into the garage and found a plastic sled hanging against the wall. I took it off and cut a thin strip maybe three eighths of an inch wide and a couple feet long and cut notches in it. Took it in the house, stuck it in the drain, pulled it out, and it was like a dead rat came out.
He never imagined that this would be such a big hit. There are even people competing on YouTube to see who can get the nastiest crud on his invention, called Zip-It.
“One day I was flying back from a trip in Florida. I was flying over all these large cities. I was looking out the window and said ‘there’s a drain in every one of those houses down there and every one of them could use a Zip-It.
It makes my life more convenient when you don’t have to call a professional or buy some chemical drain stuff. Anytime you need it, you can just insert into the drain and pull out the clog.
Gene manufactured his Zip-It until one of the nation’s largest drain cleaning product companies saw his invention at a
Large Big Box retail store.
It’s rewarding to come up with a simple idea and see it hit the market with such volume.
The Zip-It is far from his first invention.
“I developed a device for perforating pizzas. I have muscular dystrophy, so I invented a device for drawing back a bow so you can just squeeze a lever. Another device puts down traffic cones on the highway. A machine separates rims from tires; I invented a device that keeps solar panels facing to the sun,” he said.
Luoma believes he was born with a talent to invent.
“I remember when I was back on the farm in the 1950s. My job was to keep the grass and the weeds trimmed around the buildings. We had 13 buildings on our farm. You can only mow so close. I had to pull up grass and cut it with a pair of scissors. I took the open end of soup can and put wires in it. In the center of the can I put a bolt. I chucked it up into my electric drill. I turned the drill and walked around the edge of the building slapping all the weeds down. It wasn’t until the 1970s that the weed eater came out. I thought ‘if I would’ve just pursued it a little more,’” he said.
He says it’s common for people to come up with marketable ideas and never pursue them, even though companies are seeking out ideas today more than ever.
When Luoma’s not coming up with ideas for inventions, he helps inspire others to come up with their own. He gives people the plans for his own inventions to foster creativity. He also helps entrepreneurs’ market new ideas. He has lots of advice for emerging inventors.
“Don’t spend a lot of money, and don’t quit your day time job. Build a prototype. File a Provisional Patent Application. Find out where this product would sell. Find key manufacturers and just start cold calling them,” he said.
For Luoma, there isn’t a better feeling than knowing his products are effective.
It has to be a passion. You have to enjoy what you’re doing. It comes ingrained in you. I wake up in the middle of the night with ideas I constantly have a notepad by my bed to write new ideas down.