Two objectives motivated John Erlandson to form his own company, Solution Line Inc.
The first was to go into business for himself. ``God figured out I'm not doing any good working for other people,'' he said.
Second, Mr. Erlandson wanted to do something positive for the environment. Specifically, he wanted to help reduce the supply of 500 million scrap tires sitting in U.S. stockpiles-and the 270 million tires being discarded each year.
The 12-year tire sales veteran-he's worked with Goodyear, Firestone and some independent companies-looked around for a product that could utilize the excess rubber. Eventually, on a trip out West, he noticed someone selling pencils and, mentally putting his goals and the product together, thought: ``I can do that.''
Mr. Erlandson researched the market, and found that between 1950 and 1998, an average of 4 billion pencils were sold per year, with an increase virtually every year. In the ad specialty segment, writing products were second only to outerwear in total sales.
Four years later, Mr. Erlandson and his Lebanon-based Solution Line have a patent, a prototype and a manufacturing setup for a rubber pencil made from scrap tires.
The U.S. patent took 21/2 years to obtain, and Mr. Erlandson also has a patent pending with a European office which would give him a patent in 13 nations across the Atlantic. ``I'm told it could do better in Europe because there's a greater market demand,'' he said.
In its brochures, the firm claims each ``The Solution'' pencil is at minimum 50-percent composed of post-consumer scrap tire and provides a ``unique user touch and grip.''
``It's a nice product,'' Mr. Erlandson said. ``And the timing is good. It can be partial solution to a growing problem.''
He is partnering his concept with Carl Chiofolo, president of Akron-based Hydratecs Injection Equipment Inc., and Vernon Gidley, owner of Rubber Development Inc. in Waverly, Iowa. The pencils will be molded in Waverly on Hydratecs' equipment, with Messrs. Chiofolo and Gidley and their companies providing expertise, Mr. Erlandson said.
``I'm fortunate to have found good partners and a good production site,'' he said.
While showing off his pencil to get feedback on its sale potential, it didn't take long before one distributor said he liked the idea and committed to 6 million pieces, Mr. Erlandson said. That stopped his shopping around for the time being. But he said the company has potential sales opportunities with some ``recognizable names'' once its production is up and running. He wouldn't name the prospects.
Besides their primary use, the pencils are marketable because of the ease with which a company can put its name on the product and the fact they are recycled.
``Buyers can show they're concerned about the environment and meet the federal and state mandates for purchasing recycled products,'' Mr. Erlandson said.
While admitting that the pencil idea is not going to make a huge impact on the scrap-tire problem, Mr. Erlandson feels it's a good first step. He has a few more ideas about into the huge number but said he'll share them when they near fruition.
``We're not going to solve anything unless we address it,'' he said. ``If we're not going to use up the tires, eventually they'll end up putting a match to them.''
Mr. Erlandson feels good enough about this first idea that he's even altered his objectives a bit. Eventually he'd like to get 10 percent of the U.S. pencil industry.
``I think it's attainable,'' he said. ``But there's a lot to do before it happens.''