SW Lake Co. features many creative men, many of whom make really interesting stuff. Meet five of our favorites here.
Owner & Craftsman, Lucky Savage Leather Goods, Lake Barrington
SWL: How did you start this business?
Russ: I started Lucky Savage Leather Goods in 2016 after the Cubs won the World Series. I wrote a book titled: The Big Swing: What the Chicago Cubs are teaching business leaders about capitalism, commitment & culture (Eyecatcher Press, 2016 Amazon Kindle). I would send/give away copies of the book and use the leather pieces I create as a great conversation starter and fun way to send and protect a thumb drive file of the eBook. Most of my day is running my executive search practice, New Frontier Search Company; Lucky Savage is a fun hobby that allows me to work with my hands and make things that people can relate to.
SWL: Where do you find the old baseball gloves that you repurpose into wallets, card holders, cell phone cases, and more?
Russ: Goodwill, flea markets, and garage sales mostly; now some people send me their old gloves to make into a special present or keepsake.
SWL: What has the reception been like?
Russ: Today’s young people enjoy buying repurposed/recycled products to save the environment and to save money too. Customers love the uniqueness of each item. I created an informative video explaining how I create them, and show the nostalgic connection that is so important. As of last year, the pieces are now being sold at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.
SWL: Who should use your product?
Russ: Lucky Savage Leather Goods like to be seen. They are fun pieces as gifts for graduates of any age, grandparents, as a holder for gift cards, business cards, wallets—anybody that likes handmade leather items will start some great conversations with these pieces.
SWL: Where do you go from here?
Russ: I’m looking to connect with more online retailers that may have a need for these as a companion piece for other products. We are also looking to expand into more specialty retailers and gift shops online.
Lucky Savage Leather Goods like to be seen… they show a nostalgic connection that’s so important. They’re now being sold at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.
Gary Stern, Founder & Partner
Dave Peterson, Partner
Stern Pinball, Inc., Elk Grove Village
SWL: What challenges have you worked through at Stern Pinball?
Dave: When first introduced to Stern Pinball in 2010, it was working hard to recover from the Great Recession, and we joined as investors. Stern has over 100 suppliers and over 100 distribution partners around the globe. In 2012, we worked with founder Gary Stern to craft a new strategy to evolve the company into a global lifestyle brand. We helped recruit talent, update game technology, and create new game models that better fit our diverse customer base. We introduced complementary business lines such as accessories, merchandise and apparel, and began offering digital versions of the games through partnerships with FarSight Studios and Oculus (Facebook). Today Stern is leading a global resurgence in pinball, a game that has been around in various forms for more than 350 years… since the reign of Louis XIV in France.
SWL: Who are your customers?
Dave: Today Stern serves three markets: commercial, consumer and corporate. The commercial market includes beercades, local bars and cafes, and family entertainment centers. The consumer market includes collectors, enthusiasts and for-the-rec-room buyers. The corporate market includes companies such as Supreme, Ford, Harley Davidson and Pabst Blue Ribbon that are interested in linking their brands to pinball.
SWL: What has the marketplace reception been like?
Dave: Stern Pinball has been growing rapidly for several years, with positive reception across demographics and around the globe. Pinball is FUN! The growth of competitive pinball as an eSport is one example: there are now almost 70,000 registered competitive players around the globe. Last March, eBay sponsored the first Stern Pro Circuit World Championship in Chicago. More than 18,000 people viewed that inaugural event on-line.
SWL: Where do you go from here?
Dave: We’re very excited about the future; we’re expanding in North America and internationally, with roughly 40% of volume going offshore. We’re developing new markets in China, Japan, South America and the Middle East. Pinball is global.
Today Stern is leading a global resurgence in pinball, a game that has been around in various forms for more than 350 years… since the reign of Louis XIV in France.
Brian Blasey & Chuck Miller
Owners, C & B Products (makers of NeverMeasure)
SWL: Who needs your product?
Brian: NeverMeasure is a new, incredibly easy way to perfectly mount anything on your wall, straight and true the first time. If you have trouble deciphering the tiny marks on tape measures or trying to divide 29 5/8 in half to get a center point, then this is the product for you! It’s useful to all do-it-yourselfers as a valuable addition to your tool box.
SWL: How did you get into this business?
Brian: NeverMeasure was originally inspired out of frustration. Chuck tried hanging a ceramic elephant head with blind key hold fasteners on his office wall, with a catastrophic result. After staring at the mangled wall, he began searching for an easier way, approached me with the challenge to develop a product to make it happen, and our adventure began.
SWL: What did you do prior to NeverMeasure?
Brian: We initially met at Motorola. Over the past few years, I’ve owned a couple of businesses and Chuck has been working in sales.
SWL: What sort of challenges did you overcome to bring NeverMeasure to market?
Brian: The first challenge was to come up with a design that not only was effective but also cost efficient. The next was to design a product that had a variety of uses instead of just focusing on one use case. Last was financing. Developing a new product is not cheap. Not including the costs to bring it to market and develop inventory, there were significant expenses in tooling for both the product and its packaging. Without outside investment, you have to really believe in your product to risk your savings and retirement.
SWL: How has marketplace reception been?
Brian: The reception has been fantastic. Once customers understand the ease of use and versatility, they often buy additional units as gifts for friends and family. Typically the only suggestion we get is that they would like either a smaller and/or a larger version.
SWL: Where do you go from here?
Brian: We are currently available online at NeverMeasure.com, at Berland’s House of Tools and select Ace Hardware stores. We continue to work to expand our availability with Ace nationally and are in discussions with other major retailers. We also plan to build the “NeverMeasure” brand with additional products.
Developing a new product is not cheap… without outside investment, you have to really believe in your product to risk your savings and retirement.