Shop Talk

Two Triangle trumpet players take the GRIP to the market

Rich Tapper, left, and Don Eagle play trumpet at Eagle's Raleigh home Sept. 19. The two have invented the GRIP, a niche product that they are trying to introduce to the marketplace, something that only a few inventors are successful at doing.
Rich Tapper, left, and Don Eagle play trumpet at Eagle's Raleigh home Sept. 19. The two have invented the GRIP, a niche product that they are trying to introduce to the marketplace, something that only a few inventors are successful at doing. vbridges@newsobserver.com

When Don Eagle met Rich Tapper, they shared a passion for the trumpet and weaknesses that limited their talents.

Eagle of Raleigh had been hit in the mouth with a brick by a mugger. Tapper of Chapel Hill started as a prodigy in the sixth grade, but strained his gift through bad habits and overuse.

To reach higher notes on the trumpet, ideally, players tighten their mouth and lip muscles. Some, who have developed bad habits or have damaged mouth muscles, try to achieve the same result by jamming the horn into their lips. The practice limits performance and can leave lips bruised for days after playing.

In 2009, Tapper, who had for years wanted to recapture the ease he once had with playing the trumpet, sought help from Eagle.

That relationship evolved into a business partnership centered on their invention called the GRIP, a niche product designed to force players to reduce the pressure put on their lips with the instrument. It’s slipped onto the trumpet’s valves, helping players to hold the instrument differently and in a position that limits pressure on the lips.

“If you are holding something the same way,” for 30-something years, all the bad habits come with that, said Tapper, who owns Chapel Hill-based A Student Mind, which provides courses and private lessons to improve learning and test scores.

Tapper and Eagle founded Perfect Practice Solutions, manufactured the GRIP and launched a website. Now, they are on the verge of deciding how they will market their products with limited time and resources.

Introducing a new product to the market is a process that only a few inventors successfully navigate, small-business owners and new product consultants said.

“It’s not going to sell itself,” said Allen Moore, owner of TouchStone 3D Services, a Cary company that helps inventors design and develop parts and prototypes. “It’s all in the marketing.”

The steps to success include developing effective marketing and distribution strategies that a first-time inventor can afford and manage, along with realistically evaluating revenue options, such as licensing versus manufacturing.

Research, trade shows, time and hustle are key tools for inventors to use as they try to transform their gadget into a viable product.

Trade shows help exposure

Inventors should do research to find trade shows that are selling similar products, said Kevin Armstrong, owner of Armstrong Value Add, a Wendell consulting company that focuses on manufacturing processes and new product development.

Participating in trade shows could expose inventors to opportunities in which someone wants to license the product, which could lead to an inventor getting a percentage of sales and possibly an up-front fee.

“You make the least amount of money,” but you have less risk, Armstrong said.

Another option is looking at how other companies are operating, where they are sourcing from and their strategy for selling.

“And you try to replicate that,” he said.

Those strategies might include distributing your products through online platforms such as Amazon and eBay, and reaching out to other outlets and distributors in that product’s industry, he said.

Jon Bos, 53, started his Wilmington company MZL Creations in 2012 to manufacture the Balloon Fisher King, which attaches a balloon to a fishing line to create a bobber that stays afloat with large bait.

Bos’ marketing included creating a website with keyword search terms and information and videos showing how the product works.

The large players in the fishing accessories industry want to see a proven record of success, Bos said, so he started by targeting independent shops and distributors.

Bos won shelf space in Wilmington after visiting local shops. He also participated in distributor trade shows, where he connected with Big Rocks Sports, a Graham-based shooting, fishing and taxidermy distributor that he started working with in the fall 2012.

Bos participates in six to eight distributor and consumer trade shows a year. When deciding which ones to go to, Bos looks at attendance, cost, proximity and timing, he said.

“You have to pick and choose the ones that make the best sense for your business,” he said.

Bos product is now in about 175 tackle stores across the U.S., but mostly in the Southeast.

His relationship with domestic distributors has enabled his product to be offered in places such as Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, and he is shipping orders to his first international distributor in New Zealand, where fishing season is just gearing up as the one in the Southeast fades out.

Need for a product

Eagle, 61, started playing the trumpet in fifth grade. He went on to play in his high school marching band and in the 82nd Airborne Division Band at Fort Bragg.

He later spent three years at UNC-Chapel Hill before he left to chase freelance gigs full time. In 1981, he started working for the N.C. Symphony Orchestra, where he still sometimes plays.

On the first day of spring in 1991, Eagle was on his porch when a man ran by with a purse he had stolen. Eagle pursued and confronted the man, who swung a brick at Eagle and hit in him middle of his upper lip. He ended up with seven stitches in his mouth.

Once the stitches came out, he picked up his trumpet.

“It was horrifying,” he said. “I could not get the sound to come out.”

Since then, his playing has improved, but there are limitations, such as not being able to sustain weeklong Broadway shows.

“I find myself pressing the mouth too hard to keep the air sealed up,” said Eagle, who also teaches trumpet classes at Duke University, N.C. State University and gives private lessons.

Tapper, 50, started playing trumpet as a young kid. By the time he was 19, injuries and bad habits had hindered his playing.

After reaching out to Eagle in 2009, Tapper started experimenting with solutions by putting a cardboard paper towel tube on the bottom of his trumpet’s valve casings.

Tapper and Eagle experimented with clay and then rubber molds. They went to RubberMill in Liberty, developed a prototype and eventually manufactured 2,000 GRIPs.

Eagle has sold about 30 of them to students and others. The owners have established a website and are sending out and seeking feedback from teachers and players in the trumpet community.

“At this point we are just getting the word out and letting people try it,” Tapper said.

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