A good idea gets served up the right way

December 15, 2009

The marriage between a moldmaker and an inventor is often a rocky one. But this entrepreneur had a passion and a plan, which gave the moldmaker confidence the product would fly.

Jonny Cannon claims he’s never been an inventor, but he’s hit the jackpot with his first product, the Freedom Tray. “I’ve been in the material handling and specialty door business for 24 years, so I knew sales, marketing, and distribution, but I didn’t know plastics,” says Cannon.

Freedom Trays make handling food away from home a snap.

For the mold and molding expertise, Cannon had a little help from his friends and business acquaintances. The molder, Moll Industries Inc. (Seagrove, NC), was a former customer of Cannon’s—he’d sold it some environmental control doors. His partner in this venture owns the packaging plant where Cannon is doing the assembly and packaging of the product. His best friend from childhood onward, Brad Forrest, president and lead industrial designer of Idea Logic (Cary, NC), was the tray’s design engineer.

And thanks to his mother-in-law, Nancy Harris, who knew moldmaker Steve Rotman of Ameritech Mold & Die (Mooresville, NC) through Rotman’s work with Apprenticeship 2000 (a program that recruits high school students into moldmaking careers), he found his moldbuilder.

“I had a bit of an idea of how to go about this. I’m a fairly resourceful guy and know how to get answers, and I really wanted to stay in the U.S. and not go offshore,” says Cannon. “I will say that from day one when I walked into Steve’s office, he was kind and patient, a real teacher who explained to me how the whole process works.”

Like most inventions, the Freedom Tray was an idea born of necessity. “I got tired of having french fries and ketchup all over my car from my kids eating fast food on the go,” says Cannon. The versatile Freedom Table works better than the paperboard drink/food holders at most stadiums or arenas, or from fast-food restaurants, explains Cannon, whose company is based in Greensboro, NC.

Rotman notes that typically when inventors come to him with a product, they have no idea how to market it. Cannon was different, and his dedication to getting the Freedom Tray manufactured and into the marketplace impressed Rotman. In December 2008, Cannon walked into Ameritech with a cardboard model of the Freedom Tray, a device that can be used in vehicles; while watching TV, boating, or camping; or at tailgate parties. Since its introduction to the market, demand has been so good that Rotman is building a second set of molds.

“I might have been a bit reticent about this idea, but the credibility came from knowing his mother-in-law and seeing his business plan, which included a marketing plan,” Rotman explains. “He’s also the booster club president at NC State, so he had good credentials with the tailgate crowd, too. He wasn’t your typical inventor off the street.”

“We started going live on the informercials and on the Web in November,” Cannon says. “We launched this week on USA and ESPN, and will start airing a different message with different offers periodically. We opened up the website the first week in November and got 150 hits the first day. Now we’re getting more than 15,000 hits a day.” Clare Goldsberry

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