Reinvented pillow brings sweet dreams for inventor

In predawn hours one morning six years ago, Tony Hightower's fiancee awoke to find Hightower, tape measure in hand, taking the dimensions of her head.

After numerous prototypes, several failed attempts at finding a manufacturer and long months awaiting for patent approval, Hightower these days is selling the results of those early morning measurements the Spacesleeper pillow.

"We've reinvented the pillow," he says of the Spacesleeper, which wraps around the head and closes with a Velcro strap. It's designed to allow a user to sleep without contact between the face and a mattress.

Hightower won a patent for the new-fangled pillow last month, and he's busy these days selling them at $59.95 each from a booth in Shoppers Square.

The staff of Reno-based Spacesleeper LLC six full- and part-time workers target a range of possible users.

Some dentists recommend the pillow to patients who grind their teeth at night. Chiropractors, Hightower says, are interested in use of the pillow to reduce neck and back pain in their patients.

The company's sales force also pitches the pillow to travelers it works better than neck pillows, they say as well as people who worry that sleep wrinkles could become permanent.

"It's going to give your face some space," says Hightower.

His goals are ambitious: Sale of 25 million Spacesleeper pillows in five years, even as Spacesleeper LLC develops other products for household and health markets.

His dream, Hightower says, is creation of another Ronco Products, the household products juggernaut created by TV pitchman Ron Popeil.

"And we're going to it," Hightower says.

The product had its genesis when Hightower began worrying about the potential for permanent wrinkles when his fiancee slept with her face squished against a pillow.

He began work on the first prototype the next morning, but it took 80 attempts to get it right. Magana Manufacturing was able to make the Spacesleeper after other contract manufacturers couldn't get the job done.

Hightower, who made his living as a food server while he developed the product, these days devotes fulltime to Spacesleeper LLC. He's one of eight private investors who are financing the company.


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