Article Provided by Southern Maryland Newspapers Online
with Permission of Kayleigh Kulp
National market for local invention could mean big payoff
Friday, March 7, 2008
By KAYLEIGH KULP
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Rick Bolton just might have caught onto something that could bring in $10 million in sales for him during the next seven years.
The Waldorf resident and master waterfowl hunting guide has mixed his creative spark with practicality to invent a decoy most hunters will appreciate, he says.
It’s called Real Illusion Corn Kernels — plastic rings of corn kernel look-alikes that can be linked together and used to attract ducks, geese, turkey or deer.
Because luring waterfowl with real food or bait is illegal, Bolton said his product, which he has used on his own hunts by burying it under straw next to goose decoys in fields, is the next best thing.
So do sporting goods and outdoor stores.
Bolton’s been in contact with small, local stores and large chains such as Cabela’s, Wal-Mart, Bass Pro Shops and Gander Mountain to get the patent-pending product on their shelves by the fall.
While there are fake ears of corn on the market, the decoys are unnatural to geese and ducks, who, historically, are attracted to it from as many as 100 yards when the kernels are piled on farms or on the backs of trucks, Bolton said.
‘‘It was one of the neatest, simplest, hunting products they had seen in a 20-year time,” Bolton said of stores’ responses to his product. ‘‘The simpler things are what everyone needs. When you can get a simple ‘wow’ and it’s affordable, that’s all you need.”
Before pitching his product to local store owners and the ‘‘Big Four” purchasing departments in the last six months, Bolton bought a UPC code for the product on the Internet, and purchased a $1 million liability insurance policy, which is required by most companies’ purchasing departments. He’s been using his own prototype, which cost about $5,000 and was made by Chesapeake Plastics Manufacturing in Lusby, for about eight years, but he began working on a patent only two years ago.
‘‘It’s a simplified process but you gotta push the envelope. But there’s another saying, you can’t quit your day job,” Bolton said.
Bolton said the product’s packaging will contain 15 links and will retail for $39.95. Part of its appeal is convenience and affordability, he added.
‘‘I knew what would work for me, and I applied that to the general public,” he said. ‘‘When the hunter leaves, he can take it with him easily. He will buy them one time, reuse them and save money.”
Bolton has tapped into a pretty lucrative industry — 87 million Americans spent $120 billion dollars in 2006 hunting, fishing or observing wildlife, according to survey data from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. That amount’s roughly equal to Americans’ total spending at all spectator sports, casinos, motion pictures, golf courses and country clubs, amusement parks and arcades combined, the survey reported.
At 10, Bolton began hunting and rode his first mini-bike when he was 11, both of which became his passions. His interest in mini-bikes led to a decade-long career as an automotive technician, and in 2003, he opened the only state-licensed ATV park in Southern Maryland, located at Budds Creek, he said.
Bolton started Magnum Fields Outfitters — a waterfowl hunting guide business that has attracted clients such as professional football players, golfers and government officials — five years ago. He was booked 39 of 45 waterfowl season days this past year and is almost fully booked this coming season, he said.
But Bolton said his latest product is the result of extensive research and refusing to take no for an answer. A competitive drive mixed with a solid idea have allowed him to make his passion his profession, and what his business and legal advisers believe to be a profitable one, he said.
Bolton plans to trademark the product’s name and his own name for a future line of outdoor products that are in research and development, such as a custom waterfowl shirt, a goose call, a hunter comfort cushion and a type of hunting blind.
‘‘I’ve been experimenting with his idea and design for a while,” said Mechanicsville deer and turkey hunter Tom Paul, who’s been on Bolton’s guided hunts. ‘‘You gotta know your times to use it and when not to, just like any other hunting product out there. But it works.”
Although one can bait deer with real corn, it’s getting expensive, so the fake corn is a good substitute if the real thing isn’t available.
‘‘Along the lines of deer hunting, of course, they can’t eat it, so you have to use it at times as an attraction. They will walk around and go to every piece and look at it, which sometimes buys yourself some time. Unless you lose them, they will last a lifetime.”
Bolton already has an order list from about 175 small businesses, outfitters and individual hunters in Virginia and Maryland and will manufacturer almost 14,000 pieces — nearly 1,000 packages — in the next month.
Assistant manager of Gander Mountain in Fredericksburg, John Mueller, said he saw Bolton’s product at an outdoor show about a month ago and wants to put a sample size of 20 to 50 units on store shelves by fall to see how it sells.
‘‘It’s not an expensive thing. It seemed like there was a lot of interest in it,” he said.
On the other hand, Bay Pro Shop will purchase as much as they can of the corn kernel product when it becomes available, said Paul O’Donnell, a waterfowl section manager at the Lusby store.
‘‘I got my own goose and duck guide service, and I’ve been through the years and seen the corn they come out with the cob, and it’s too much of the hassle. The illusion that he has with the links is good because it makes it look more lifelike and watching the video [Bolton made of him using his product] and seeing that it works, looks like a good product,” O’Donnell said. ‘‘I think it’s going to sell great once people get a taste for it and see it works. They’re going to buy it. I know they will. The guys that don’t hunt [a lot] are going to see that and it will build up the confidence to go out and kill birds. We’ll be getting the stuff first, the local stores, when it comes out. And then he’ll start supplying the bigger stores after us.”
That’s Bolton’s motto — taking away the threat while building confidence, he said, because it’s the key to successful gaming. And maybe also to successful business planning — Bolton said he will not stop until his products are sold everywhere and he becomes a household name.
‘‘It’s going to work or I’m going to die trying,” he said.