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By Laura Smith
David Fussell can’t sit still. Lean and organized, armed with a sleek laptop and a quietly-buzzing cell phone, he’s drumming his fingers on the tabletop and nodding his head — engaged, friendly, pleasant…but a little restless. You get the sense, while talking with him, that there are multiple departments at work in his brain at the same time. One department may be wholeheartedly plugged into the matter at hand, which in this case is giving an interview about his long career as an inventor. But others are focusing their efforts elsewhere: on new sales ideas for one of his many inventions on the market, for example. Or on solving a production problem on a product currently in manufacturing. Or — and this might be the busiest of Fussell’s cerebral departments of them all — on conceiving and cultivating brand-new inventions that the world has never seen. He’s an idea man, see. And the ideas just keep coming.
The Flagler County resident is a self-taught engineer and manufacturing expert. He’s also an author and an insightful marketer who knows how to identify a product’s niche and bring it successfully to its target audience. He holds more than 30 patents for new inventions and his products have resulted in sales surpassing $500 million worldwide. From the OrnaMotion® Christmas ornament motor to the AirShot® portable air compressor to the Revolve Chair® swiveling camping chair, his inventions and those of his clients are carried worldwide by leading retailers including Bed Bath & Beyond, Wal- Mart, Sears, Sharper Image, and many others. His latest focus, a maternity gift that helps expectant families count down days to a new baby’s arrival, is finding thriving success via webbased and social media marketing, a new territory for Fussell. And there’s more — new products on the horizon to be stewarded into development, new partnerships with smart young inventors who have caught David’s eye with sharp, focused ideas. At 76, Fussell shows no sign of slowing down any time soon.
OUT OF THE GARAGE
Where did it come from— this cohesive and focused career, this unwavering energy for identifying and developing worthwhile new inventions? “It was a long road,”Fussell says, laughing. “And it took some different turns from time to time.” His first job, he says, was working as an assistant, installing piping systems in hospitals, and this position helped him gain proficiency in air compression and compressor manufacturing. He found firm footing with Masco Industries, eventually becoming a divisional vice president and an expert in compressors. At one point, Masco asked him to travel to Germany to examine a particular type of compressor system in a factory and determine whether the system could be Americanized and brought stateside. He did, it could, and the resulting product development led to Fussell’s creation of a division of Masco called Alup Compressors. For several years, Fussell served as Alup’s president, enjoying the steady employment and consistent benefits of the corporate world.
But Fussell’s individualist voice couldn’t be silenced. By day he worked diligently at Alup. By night he was at home in the garage, developing new ideas and testing new inventions. At one point, Fussell recalls, his wife Alice came out to the garage, saw the potential for a project he was working on, and announced, “You’re going to end up quitting your job.” “Nonsense,” Fussell said, “I love my job,” he told her. “I love the stability and the benefits.” But, two months later, when he successfully developed the prototype of what would later become the AirShot® portable compressor, he knew it was time to branch out on his own and follow his dream of becoming a self-directed inventor. He moved his full-time focus to the garage, but not for long. When a helper’s wiring mishap led to a fire in the garage that spread soot throughout the entire house, Alice spoke up again: “Move the shop,” she said, and Fussell agreed. He relocated his manufacturing operations, started full-time inventing and manufacturing, and has never looked back.
PREGEGG®, VIVI-FLEX, AND BEYOND
These days, Fussell is primarily focused on two things. The first is the continued success of a recent invention – the “Pregegg®, a clever nine-month countdown to a baby’s expected birth day with the display indicating the number of days remaining. The egg slowly hatches until, on the expected day, it opens to reveal a tiny chick.
The second focus of Fussell’s professional life these days is a new collaboration with an inventor named Kyler Bakey who saw Fussell’s name in a previous issue of Inventors Digest and contacted him to pitch his idea. The resulting product, Vivi-Flex 756 by LumaFlex Innovations, is a flexible, durable lighting solution for work and play. The soft pad puts out 1260 lumens that can be flexed to spread the light in a 360-degree pattern or focused to a specific area. The waterproof lighting pad can be powered via wall outlets, car outlets, or with a handheld battery pack.
“This is the real deal,” Fussell said. “I’m passionate about helping Kyler with his idea. He has something very unique and marketable here, and I’m very impressed with the heart and soul he is putting into product development. That’s rare. I’m committed to helping him bring this unique invention to the market and watching it become very successful.”
WORDS OF WISDOM
Fussell has some advice for would-be inventors, and he says his counsel hasn’t changed much over his five decades in the inventing gig. “I learned two important principles early on, and they’ve never changed,” he says. “These are the two questions you must ask yourself before you put time, energy, or money into an idea for an invention. One, is there a real need for your idea? And two, can it be manufactured at the right price? If both answers to these questions are ‘yes,’ then you can be successful. A lot of inventors run into trouble when it comes to manufacturing. Their idea might be great, but if it can’t be manufactured for the right price, it won’t be successful.”
Fussell pauses to let the words sink in, and then sits back and resumes the finger drumming. He’s ready to move. He’s enjoying the interview, but there are ideas beckoning him to action now — you can almost see them ricocheting around his brain. He gathers his laptop and notes, grins, and strides purposefully away. There are things to be made…and David Fussell can’t wait to make them.