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A straight line key to startup’s growth

Anne Knowles
aknowles@nnbw.biz

A Reno startup launched by a father-son team is working to solve a common household problem: keeping framed pictures straight.

The idea for Plumb2 Level Hangers, an adjustable wall bracket on which pictures are hung, came to Bob Wheeler a few years ago.

“It was three years ago this month that the first idea popped into his head,” says Brian Wheeler, Bob’s son and partner in NTI Products LLC, the product development company. “It took most of a year to get it to a point where we were working with prototypes. That was about the time we did Project Vesto and submitted the business model canvas for that.”

Project Vesto was a $100,000 entrepreneurial contest sponsored by the Nevada Institute for Renewable Energy Commercialization and the Nevada Governor’s Office of Economic Development.

Wheeler was already using the contest’s business plan form to organize the startup so he decided to enter. NTI didn’t win, but the company was one 12 finalists chosen from a field of 232 entrants.

By then, NTI had a prototype made by Advanced Plastics Molding Inc. in Sparks that the pair took to a couple of trade shows in Las Vegas. The first was a national hardware show and the second, a few months later, was a hobbies-and-crafts exhibit.

“That isn’t exactly our audience but buyers from QVC and the Home Shopping Network were there and we got feedback,” says Wheeler, whose day job is as district manager in Reno’s MassMutual Financial Services office.

At last year’s Startup Weekend in Reno, one of many such entrepreneurial events held worldwide, the Wheelers met Adryenn Ashley, owner of Reno marketing firm Wow is Me, who they’re now working with to formalize their marketing strategy.

Since then, the product has been repackaged and rebranded to target women as its biggest audience. And the business applied to become an Amazon retailer.

“We sent them a small quantity to inventory and put our ad up there. When you did a search we ended up on the 28th page,” says Wheeler. “We worked on that and now we end up on the second page.”

The product, which sells for $9.95 in a package of three on Amazon, has had a few sales but Wheeler says it’s more of a test bed for the company. The product is also available in a few custom frame shops in Reno and at the Buy Nevada First shop in the Reno Town Mall.

Plumb Squared LLC, the startup launched by Bob Wheeler to market and sell Plumb2 Level Hangers, is putting the finishing touches on an infomercial it plans to test in several small markets before the end of the year.

Then Wheeler says the pair plan to go after the TV shopping networks they met at the Las Vegas trade shows when the business was just getting on its feet.

“We haven’t gone after them, we wanted to do the infomercial test first,” says Wheeler. “Then we’ll go to them and demonstrate we’d be a good fit for their show.”