Golfer’s high standards, expert help led to successful cart fan
Houston’s average winter temperature is in the mid-50s, but this day in 2009 was a warm exception. Area resident Cynthia Wark, an avid golfer, felt the need for a strong fan to keep her cool.
Her search for that product yielded subpar results. “All of the cart fans had to be hard wired in the cart, which didn’t help people without a cart, and the battery-powered fans just didn’t put out the airflow I thought was needed,” she recalls.
Wark has addressed that market need, with some expert help. The inventor of the Personal Golf Fan and the Personal Go Fan has sold more than 4,500 of the fans at a suggested retail price of $149 through her company, Cynwark Corp., since 2014.
The fan has a rechargeable battery and sits in the cup holder of any golf cart. Wark’s road to success was fueled by a strong team that could handle many of the technical aspects of the invention and her dedication to providing the customer a top-notch product.
The planning begins
In planning her product, Wark had four design requirements. She wanted to keep the fans at a reasonable weight; create high-velocity airflow; feature an attractive design; and configure the product to fit into a golf cart’s cup holder.
She knew she first needed someone to find the right rechargeable batteries and fans to give the product the required airflow. “I had a friend, Mike Payne, who was into radio-controlled planes, big planes that required high-powered propellers to get into the air,” she says. “I contracted with Mike to find the right battery and motor to create the airflow we need.” Not only did Payne source the components, he designed little winglets on the fan blades to increase airflow.
For the actual design specifications, Wark chose Justin Bennett, who worked at the same industrial company as her husband, Rick Wark. Bennett, who did product design, graphic design and just about any other artwork at the company, came onboard as a contractor who worked on the project part time. “He is really responsible for the professional look of the product,” she says.
Waiting out production
To find a manufacturer for her product, Wark again relied on help from an acquaintance and found Stax Ltd., a Hong Kong sourcing company that specialized in sourcing products with rechargeable batteries. The specialist who worked with Wark’s company was Ken Kung.
The first step in the production process was to make an approved prototype on which to base the final design. The manufacturer started with temporary tooling to make rough prototypes to generate feedback, before moving on to what is known in the industry as a “looks like, acts like” prototype.
Not that the process was fast. Wark recalls that “It took about a year, as we had several changes in the product and it took approximately six months to finalize tooling.” But by the end of 2013, she was ready and placed her first order for delivery in mid-2014. Her husband helped her through the patent process, which she says took about three years.
Big marketing break
Now it was time to go full swing into marketing. “Once I had my prototype, I applied to be included in the PGA Show Inventor’s Showcase. My first big break was to win the show’s Pinnacle (first-place) award,” which helped generate press coverage from dozens of magazines that drove traffic to her company website.
In fact, Wark originally hired a public-relations team to get the word out to magazines, but the PGA show success that led to the articles—including a key spot in Kiplinger’s—helped her decide to drop the firm. The product continues to receive coverage.
Wark has always had a wholesale price that is about 35 percent of her retail price. She hasn’t pursued retail shop opportunities, though her product was in the Golfsmith catalog and she has sold her fans to cart companies and some golf courses.
“I just net more money with a direct sale,” she explains. “Word-of-mouth advertising has really worked for me, and sales are growing fast enough for me at this time.”
Exciting things coming
Wark’s first product was the Personal Golf Fan, which has since been replaced by a Personal Go Fan that still sits in a cup holder. The Go Fan also comes with a base so the product can be used in a lot of new applications. She says she started thinking about the new fan when the president of Yamaha told her that he would like a fan for his boat.
Recently, Wark introduced the Personal Golf Tote, originally designed for women, which can fit over the side rail of a golf cart. The product—which retails for $31.99 plus $12 if it comes with custom embroidery—is now starting to sell more units than the fan, thanks largely to promotional orders. She says a golf club in Florida recently ordered 460 units with custom embroidery for an upcoming event. Other upcoming products include the Golf Ball Tee Holder, which holds 12 tees.
Before that warm day in 2009, Wark had never worked on an invention. Her commitment to providing value to the customer drove her attention to detail, ensuring that every prototype and shipment met her standards. Those attributes would not have come into play if she hadn’t been willing to team with knowledgeable people at the right time.
A key protection
Cynthia Wark avoided confusion or complications in her invention process by contracting with many of her helpers, agreeing to compensate them for their work. This is an important step that allows inventors to stay in control of their product and company.
Typically, this is done with an engineering services agreement—which specifies that any intellectual property developed in part by the contractor is assigned to the inventor, or to the inventor’s company.
Legally, anyone who has contributed to the conception of an idea should be listed on the patent. But that doesn’t mean he or she necessarily owns part of the patent.
A clearly stipulated engineering services agreement can provide important clarity and peace of mind to everyone connected with an invention. You can find samples on the internet by searching “engineering services agreement IP ownership.”