How To Turn Rotten Idea Into Profit
When victimized by workplace food thieves, some curse, others write threatening notes. Some might even contemplate surveillance cameras, if they’re hit often enough.
Being an inventor, Sherwood Forlee found another way to fight back when his sandwiches repeatedly went missing from the communal fridge at the SoHo ad agency where he worked.
“It kept happening, and one day I’d had it,” says Forlee, 29, a designer and mechanical engineer who worked in the firm’s product design division.
He considered stealth laxatives and sandwiches spiked with cat food. But the light-bulb moment came when he was scanning the fridge in the apartment he shares with three roommates in Brooklyn, and came across an unidentified food item crawling with mold.
Next stop: the “anti-theft lunch bag,” a plastic baggie customized with green splotches that make a fresh sandwich look like a spore factory, deterring all but the most desperate snack stealer. When he put it to work in the office, the theft stopped immediately.
“When people see something like that, they don’t even want to lay their hands on it,” he says.
Forlee conceived of the item for personal use. But “when I did a little research,” he says, “I found it’s a prevalent problem.”
So in February he began selling the bags on his own Web site (thinkofthe.com), alongside a handful of other items he’s designed, such as the “walls notebook,” whose pages depict New York City walls, ripe for adorning with noninvasive graffiti.
Charging $10 for a box of 25 bags, Forlee quickly sold out of his first run of 2,000 boxes. With a boost from Target, which briefly featured the product on its Web site, demand has held steady, and he’s currently on his fourth run.
Having since left the agency to pursue his own projects, Forlee no longer needs the bags himself. But customers report success, he says.
“People say they haven’t lost a lunch since,” he says, noting that others buy them as a gag gift or to use for pranks.
Forlee plans to continue selling the bags, although he has no current plans to “go mass market.” For one thing, he notes, “If everyone has one, they become ineffective.”
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