Earl Washington’s daily 4 a.m. walks were the inspiration he needed to ignite a rival to the Mississippi summer heat.
“You know how when you’re walking, and start sweating and pull your hat off, and a breeze hits you?” asks the Jackson resident. “I thought, ‘If only there was a way I could keep that breeze all the time.'”
He couldn’t find a way, so he invented one: the StayCool Cap, which hit the market in December 2017.
The process of designing the cool caps took six to eight months. His focus during that time, he says, was “making sure it stayed together. Making sure everything tied in correctly. Making sure it still works even in the rain.”
A year later and with minimal marketing, he’s sold more than 3,000 products, updated the design, and is poised to sign a licensing deal that will allow him to cut costs, increase production, enhance marketing, and catapult sales to the next level.
Washington’s brainchild features four key components: a baseball cap, pouch, miniature fan, and USB-cable power bank that guarantees 14 hours of cordless operation.
The 73-year-old entrepreneur had an in-house advantage in getting his idea to market. As president and CEO of U.S. Coating Specialties and Supplies LLC, a company he founded 42 years ago that primarily installs decorative liquid-pour concrete floors and equipment, he has a group of technicians on staff who built the prototype and refined it, realizing his vision. In designing the pouch, his team devised a system that forces air from the neck to the top of the head.
While they don’t have engineering degrees, they are good with their hands, he says.
As a successful small businessman with an existing client base, he knew the importance of targeting potential customers who are exposed to uncomfortably warm elements. Clients include those who buy the caps for business use, such as transportation companies, roofing and construction companies, those in the warehouse industries, and landscapers.
Fishermen, gardeners and sports spectators are among those who buy the caps for leisure. Ace Hardware, Golden Moon and Silver Star casinos in Philadelphia, Miss., comprise the retail outlets.
And of course, U.S. Coating was the first customer. “My employees use it daily in and outdoors,” Washington says. “You can dehydrate even inside. I don’t care where you are, if you get too hot. You know, the neck and the head are the hottest parts of the body, and if you keep the head cool, you can keep the rest of the body cool.”
The original StayCool Cap, which is patented, features a cord that goes down to a power pack that hooks onto a belt loop. The updated design, available March 1, 2019, is based on employee and customer feedback. “Even the large clients that we wanted to do business with said, ‘We want it if you can achieve this for us.’ They helped up out by telling us exactly what they wanted.”
More than four decades running a small business has taught Washington the importance of listening to his customers. That attentiveness, coupled with the fact that he had searched in vain for something to take the sting out of his morning routine, gave him confidence that his caps would be well received. “The closest competition I found was a sweatband that you have to wet, and it lasts about 30 minutes to an hour, and then you have to rewet it.”
The updated version is equipped with a shorter cord that gives customers an option. “We’re making some changes so you won’t have the long cord coming down the belt,” explains the Yazoo County native. “The design is the same. You’ll still have the 14-hour runtime on one charge. The only thing different will be the way you operate it, turning it on and off. If you didn’t want to reach down to your belt loop to turn it off or on, you can just reach up to the bib of the cap.”
Washington says that even though he holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Jackson State University, business certificates from Dartmouth University and Harvard University—along with a plethora of other prestigious awards—he has learned quite a bit from the mentors at Innovate Mississippi.
“They’ve been great,” he says. “They’re concerned about it. They have the knowledge to help you. They look at the product, make sure you are going in the right direction. The things that you don’t see, they see. When they help you, they know it’s a benefit for you and them. The business plan, they helped with that. I run things by them first before I give it to my attorneys. I consult with them every step of the way.”
StayCool Caps, available in blue, green, and khaki, retail for $49.50. For more information, visit http://consumerproducts.us/.