Family firm launches knee-saving, dollar-saving carpet tool

Mario Garzanelli wants to save the next generation of carpet installers the crippling physical ailments suffered by guys his age who spent a lifetime in the business.

But to save their knees, hips and necks, Garzanelli has to convince workers in the slow-to-change carpet industry that his new tool is in its financial interest.

After installing carpets in Carson City, Virginia City and neighboring towns for more than 30 years, Garzanelli has endured four knee surgeries, innumerable sessions at which fluid was drained from a knee and much cluck-clucking from chiropractors who say his trade caused the neck pain that troubles him.

It's all from use of the carpet-stretching knee-kicker its name pretty much summarizes the technique for its use whose technology hasn't changed for at least 150 years.

Working around a room with a knee-kicker, an installer delivers a couple of solid whacks with his knee time and again into the cushioned end of a tool that stretches the carpet tight to a tack strip along the wall.

Working from a modest facility in Mound House, Garzanelli's family-owned Frog Tool Enterprises is beginning to manufacture and market a piece of gear that saves whacks-with-a-knee and the physical pain of stretching carpets during installation.

It's not much of a business yet.

Garzanelli's daughter, Christina Epley of Carson City, developed a Web site and YouTube video to sell the stretcher attachment that's branded as The Carpet Frog. A few orders have resulted.

But a big East Coast distributor took note and was testing The Carpet Frog last week. A trade magazine has shown interest in spotlighting the product.

The problem that Garzanelli set out to solve isn't new. Patents were issued in the 1860s for a couple of carpet stretchers that look something like The Carpet Frog, although the similarities end there.

Garzanelli set out five years ago to come up with something better. Early prototypes lean against the wall of the Frog Tool Enterprises shop.

"The landfill has the rest of them," says the inventor. "We spent a lot of time satisfying ourselves."

He also needed to satisfy the standards of the Carpet and Rug Institute, a trade organization that establishes detailed standards for products and installation. The institute says, for instance, that synthetic carpets should be stretched at least 1 percent in width and length during installation.

Garzanelli has a patent pending on the tool.

The version of The Carpet Frog that hit the market a few weeks ago may have been designed to protect the health of carpet installers, but it's being sold as a way for them to make more money.

The company's promotional video on YouTube shows Garzanelli, at nearly 70 years old, stretching a Berber carpet in a 12-foot by 16-foot room in less than five minutes about a third of the time that would be required with existing tools.

"With the amount of time they save, installers can make more money," says Epley.

The use of The Carpet Frog, its inventor says, can be learned quickly by an unskilled worker.

The Carpet Frog retails on the company's Web site for $279, and Epley is looking to sell it through home-improvement chains, carpet specialty stores and distributors who serve the carpets industry.

Garzanelli now is developing a stretcher head, which would allow Frog Tool Enterprises to market a complete unit. The current product attaches to other manufacturers' stretcher heads.

The family Garzanelli, Epley, and her husband, John have bootstrapped creation of the company, building it out of their own financial resources.

When they get an order for The Carpet Frog, the three of them retreat back to the shop to build them.

But Christina Epley doesn't want to business to stay family-only for long.

"We want to put a lot of people to work," she says.


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