Local company has 'Simply Brilliant' ideas for outdoor fun

November 9, 2005

Question: What do your dog, your boat and your favorite sporting gear have in common?

If you are a typical outdoor enthusiast, you might have responded “Things more important than my job.”

But if you know anything about Simply Brilliant LLC, you might have answered that those precious goods can all benefit from the gadgets produced by the Hood River startup company.

Simply Brilliant has used a simple design — a multipurpose, stretchy shock absorber combined with rugged carabineers — to create a family of products for use by campers and boaters. The company first created the “SHOCKLE,” a device that takes the stress and tension out of boat lines to help keep them from stretching. Makers said the SHOCKLE also helps protect boat and dock hardware among other marine applications.

“It saves cleats, saves boats, saves handles and saves lines,” said Simply Brilliant President Eric Sanford.

The initial concept evolved into other items, such as the “PetKeeper” leash and the “Mini-SHOCKLE,” which can be used in place of a bungee cord to secure anything from bikes and kayaks to skis and surfboards.

“Eric is a tinkerer,” said Bill Irving, vice president and one of four partners, when asked how the company got its start. In 2003, Sanford was sailing from San Diego to Cabo San Lucas in Mexico when he found himself thinking about ways to improve his sailing gear.

“On the way down, Eric started saying, ‘You know, what? I could use something that could do this,’” said Dave Robinson, another vice president.

Sanford said he started experimenting with the SHOCKLE idea, asking for feedback from other boaters that he met along the way. By the time he got home, he was convinced that he was onto something. “I didn't want to run a company, so I made Bill run it,” he said.

The company was founded in 2003. The fourth partner is Bob Stadshaug, vice president of sales, who worked for Seattle-based Recreational Equipment Inc. (REI) for 25 years.

“He came out of retirement to join us,” said Sanford.

The SHOCKLES product line now includes the adjustable “ShockStrap,” the “RhinoClip,” the “FenderFriend,” the “ToolTether” and the "HandleHolster.” All designs are patented or patent-pending.

Wholesale customers comprise big name marine and outdoor companies like Patagonia, The North Face, REI, L.L. Bean, West Marine, Boaters World and Cabela’s. Retail business is handled through the Web site, but locals can also find Simply Brilliant products at the Kayak Shed, 2nd Wind Sports, Windance Sailboards and Mountain View Cycle.

While Simply Brilliant gets its carabineers from Omega Pacific in Spokane, Wash., most of the SHOCKLES product line is manufactured here in Hood River. Members of the Columbia Gorge Center — a nonprofit organization providing residential and community services to disabled adults — do a large part of the sewing at the center’s vocational center.

“They have been exceptional to work with,” said Patty Elkins, executive director of the Columbia Gorge Center (CGC).

“They are very supportive of our programs and the people we serve,” she said.

Tom Morgan, director of customer service for CGC, said the Simply Brilliant products offer a variety of work opportunities, which is valuable to his clients.

“They are helping us with our mission of helping people with disabilities,” he said.

Morgan said the CGC workers also benefit from a consistent flow of work from Simply Brilliant.

“They have been really steady. We seem to do a nice even flow with them.”

The company also rents warehouse space from CGC.

While Sanford, Irving and Robinson all have full-time careers outside of Simply Brilliant, they said the company has grown quickly because their enthusiasm keeps generating new ideas.

“What’s good about the business is the sky’s the limit. What's bad is that we keep going in different directions,” said Sanford.

But at least one of those different directions has proven worthy, leading to a second product line for Simply Brilliant: The SolLight division began with the “LightCap,” an unbreakable, one-liter water bottle equipped with a solar-powered LED light for use as a lantern. LightCap’s light lasts from 14 to 26 hours, and being solar powered, it eliminates the need for fuel and won't blow out in the wind. A product called “FirstLight” combines the water bottle/lantern with a first aid kit and a space blanket to create a compact emergency kit.

The newest addition to the SolLight product line, the “RailLight,” is a solar-powered lantern that can be clamped on to any boat, RV or deck railing or camp table. The partners said they hope the RailLight will help them break into the home and garden market.

SolLight products are manufactured in China. “That was just a much more intricate product,” said Robinson.

The partners said that the company, which has not received any outside investment since it started, is currently putting all of its profits back into the company.

“Our No. 1 goal is to increase cash flow to invest and to start doing profit sharing,” said Robinson.

In addition to the four partners, Simply Brilliant has 15 or so shareholders — ranging from lawyers to engineers to designers — who are putting in hours for the company in their areas of expertise in exchange for a potential profit in the future.

“We are giving local folks the opportunity to be involved in something that could be big,” said Robinson. “The talent pool in Hood River is pretty staggering.”

While Stadshaug remains in Seattle, the other three partners have 37 years among them in Hood River and intend to stay here.

“We all moved to Hood River as a lifestyle choice,” said Irving.

(Simply Brilliant) compliments what we do, said Sanford.

Robinson said the company, which has had a “virtual office” in Hood River for the last two years, is currently looking for office space. “It takes time to build a brand,” he said. “We are just on the cusp.”

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