Article By: Jean Munier
Originally Published In The July 2012 Issue Of Cycle Source Magazine
Back in January of this year, I was getting ready for my usual Friday night ritual. No, I wasn’t going out clubbing, I was going to watch ABC’s Shark Tank. For those of you that don’t know what it’s about, I’ll give you a quick run-down. Basically the show is about giving budding entrepreneurs a chance to make a deal with some very successful business people. The five “Sharks” are: Real Estate Tycoon – Barbara Corcoran; Media Mogul and Dallas Mavericks owner – Mark Cuban; Technology Innovator – Robert Herjavec; Founder of FUBU clothing and fashion expert – Daymond John; and Venture Capitalist – Kevin O’Leary. These five billionaires are presented with a person’s invention or business model and are given the opportunity to invest in the product or company using their own money. Some are offered amazing deals and some are turned away. The reason I like the show so much is that it gives the little guy a chance to take their business or idea to new heights and it also gives them an opportunity to possibly make millions with their idea. But, sometimes making a deal with a Shark can come at a price. Would you change your values in order to make a deal of a lifetime; a deal that could potentially make you a millionaire? Enter Donny McCall. As I sat and watched some people get the deal they dreamed of, while others walked out empty handed, a man by the name of Donny McCall entered the Shark Tank. He was a nice looking man with a southern drawl, and his invention was the Invis-A-Rack.
Now I know that this is a motorcycle magazine and this product has nothing to do with that, but that’s not the point of this article. This article is about a man who had a great product and a good business model, but walked away without a deal from the B Sharks. Now this wasn’t because they didn’t like his product, and it wasn’t because he was asking too much money. It all came done to one detail that Donny was not willing to give in to. Donny wanted his Invis- A-Rack to be made in America, and for the Sharks, that was the deal breaker. After watching the show, I was so upset that they were all so hell-bent on convincing him into taking his manufacturing overseas, that I knew I had to talk to him. So, I did, and here’s what he had to say about himself, his product and his experience on the Shark Tank.
CS: Donny, can you tell us a little about yourself?
DM: I’m 40 years old, married for 15 years this May 24, and the father of a 10 year old son. I grew up in Sparta, a town of 3,000 people, in the mountains of North Carolina. My mother was a teacher and my father worked several different jobs. My parents were divorced when I was very young and I was raised with my three older brothers by my mother. I graduated high school and went to college for a couple of years (mainly to play football). I joined the Navy in 1991 and served during the first Gulf War as an Avionics Technician aboard aircraft carriers. I was honorably discharged from the Navy in 1995 and went back to college. I graduated in 1999 and moved to Los Angeles, where I lived for nearly a year. I moved back to Sparta in late 2000 and started a handyman business. It has grown over the years to full scale residential remodeling. I am an active member in my community. We are one of the founding families that started Blue Ridge Christian School here in Sparta. We believe a life of service to God is important and want to be able to instill that in a community and country that has too long lived with the belief that they “deserve” something for nothing.
CS: Are you committing all your time to Invis-A-Rack now or are you still doing construction?
DM: I am still doing that while I search hard to get my Invis-A-Rack off the ground.
CS: Can you tell our readers what your product does?
DM: Invis-A-Rack is a truck rack. It carries stuff just like any other truck rack…except… Invis-A-Rack is the only rack that can fold down completely out of the way when you don’t need it. It mounts on the bedrails of trucks, and when folded down, only has a height of 3 inches above the bedrail. Invis- A-Rack is the 4 wheel drive of truck racks because it is always there, but you only see it and use it when you need it.
CS: How did you come up with the idea?
DM: I was driving down the road when the Lord inspired it in me. I could see exactly how it would work, how it would mount, everything in about two seconds. And I said, ‘If I could find that, I would pay $1000.’ I looked everywhere I could think of to try and find something like it, but it didn’t exist. I told my wife about it. We prayed about it. And we decided that it could be something that could build a life for us instead of just making a living. CS: What made you decide to go on Shark Tank and what did you have to do to get on? DM: The main reason I submitted for Shark Tank was because Jeff Foxworthy was a guest Shark last season. During that season, I submitted the idea because I thought if I could get in front of Mr. Foxworthy, he would see the worth of made in the USA. And, of course, I could use the exposure on national television. When I found out that I’d been selected but Mr. Foxworthy wasn’t going to be on the show, I had to think hard about doing it or not. I finally decided that the exposure alone was going to be worth it. To get on the show is a process. I submitted an application online and then they contacted me with all kinds of paperwork to sign. I made it to the final round but had to pitch in front of the television executives. The only contact I had with the Sharks was when I walked in the doors and haven’t spoken a word to them since.
CS: When you went in, I believe you had $50,000 in sales but no profit due to the fact that it was a start-up company. You were asking for a $100,000 for a 10% stake in your company which would have valued your company at one-million dollars. Now that you have been doing this for awhile, do you feel that was a fair asking amount?
DM: I do think it was a fair asking amount. The patent itself has been valued well over the million dollar mark.
CS: Was there any other Shark that you were more interested in investing in your company than any of the others and why?
DM: As I said, Mr. Foxworthy was who I wanted to pitch to. Since he wasn’t there, I felt Robert Herjavec was my next closest shot. Being the son of a factory worker, I felt he would see better than most that it was important for his immigrant father to have a factory to work in. If they had moved his father’s factory overseas, he wouldn’t have had the opportunities he did. I think he felt it, but it just somehow eluded him.
CS: In your opening presentation, it was clear that you wanted to keep making your product in the States. Why was that so important to you?
DM: It is important to make Invis-A-Rack here because it is invented by someone who cares greatly for this country. And the veil that has been put over the American consumers’ eyes needs to be ripped away. The consumer is actually paying more (in total) for something made overseas. They are buying stuff they don’t need that they know is going to break. Economically speaking (only my thoughts, I’m not an economist) it is less expensive to buy something once that will last for 10 years, than to buy something for half the price, but have to buy three or four over the next ten years. Plus, the manufacturing and corporate giants that say they are going overseas to bring the costs down has nothing to do with helping the consumer at the retail price. It is only to pad the bottom line of the company. Make a profit, but not by all means.
CS: The Sharks felt that you needed to bring down the cost of manufacturing which they said could have easily been done if you manufactured it in Asia. Why did you turn them down?
DM: That is another fallacy. I am teaming up with a manufacturer in Iowa that will beat, in quality and cost, anything that could come from overseas. It is just volume and expertise. I won’t have to make 25-30% more product overseas to cover the quality and workmanship returns that I would anticipate. Even with a Shark’s help, I don’t believe I would be getting the fairest shake for manufacturing. And if something goes wrong, there is no guarantee that I would get reimbursed for their poor quality. I believe the largest equity profit is being able to drive or fly (without a passport) to the facilities creating Invis-A-Rack, and having accountability if something goes wrong.
CS: They also explained that even though Invis-A-Rack would be manufactured overseas, you would still create jobs here in the way of sales reps, secretaries, etc. Did you not feel that was good enough?
DM: No. Because I don’t believe you have to wait to “make it” before you can matter. I don’t want a Rolex or a Rolls Royce to impress anyone. In the corporate infinite wisdom, I could just go over there and start making stuff for free. Problem is, I would have had to have five to seven times the amount of money I was asking for to get started overseas and put people to work here. If I made $20 less profit and sold 1 million Invis-A-Racks, the corporate world would say I was stupid and lost 20 million dollars. I look at that and say I put 20 million dollars into a local economy that can help itself compete with the global market.
CS: Do you think that the savings would have been that great if you went overseas?
DM: Invis-A-Rack is a very simple idea with a lot of complicated components. It is an engineering feat, with God getting the credit, for all the nooks and crannies to work just right. Our components are basic worldwide commodities that have a market price. Volume and automation will dictate the amortized labor costs. If anything, making Invis-A-Rack overseas may be an “on paper” cost savings of 5%. Again, once you start factoring in the real world costs of doing business, I don’t believe there would be a true savings at all.
CS: Do you feel there are hurdles you have to overcome by keeping everything here in the States and to be competitive with the Asian market?
DM: The only hurdle I have to overcome is protecting the patent and warding off any knockoffs.
CS: How many employees do you have and what other suppliers are you using?
DM: I currently have three employees. We do the final assembly only in Sparta. I have suppliers from Ohio, Wisconsin, Florida and North Carolina.
CS: You are so adamant about America made products. Do you try and “Buy American” in your everyday life and how?
DM: I try as much as I can. Electronics are a bust, but we look at everything. We changed our laundry detergent, fabric softener, toilet paper, etc. All the great “American” names I grew up on, I have abandoned because they abandoned me first. If you come in my house, there will be a lot of things made overseas. I “woke” up about 5 years ago and anything that needs replacing, I replace with American whenever possible.
CS: Though there was no deal made, would you consider your appearance on Shark Tank as a negative or positive experience and why?
DM: A definite positive. There are thousands of companies that have made and are still making products in the USA without any of the exposure I have been given. They are the heroes. Fighting an uphill battle with roller skates has been the plight of the American manufacturer for a long time now. I am not employing a great amount of people. I am not even in full scale production at the time. I may not be as long in the fight, but if I am handed the banner, I will hold it high and carry it proud. If Invis-A-Rack never makes it “mainstream,” but I have held the mirror up to society and helped tear the veil of lies off cheap overseas manufacturing, I will consider it a success.
CS: What has been happening with your company since the show aired?
DM: Numerous things have been happening since Shark Tank. Some I can’t talk about yet. But there has been a huge ground swell of support for my stance. We are going to be featured on a couple of television shows that market to truck owners. We’re sponsoring a racecar for the ARCA series race in Pocono, PA on June 9th. I have traveled the country so far looking at many different opportunities. Lots of great things on the horizon for Invis-A-Rack.