BY CANDICE REED
Anthony Calvert, a San Diego County Sheriff’s Department SWAT sniper with an entrepreneurial spirit and a little time on his hands, has found a way to make relaxing around the pool or beach a lot more comfortable.
Calvert, an 18-year veteran of the SWAT team , a special weapons and tactics unit , was nursing an injury last April at his Santee home when he decided to spend some time sunning beside his pool. As he listened to music on his iPod he tried unsuccessfully to find a comfortable way to relax and tan while lying on his stomach.
He finally gave up on the tanning and started browsing the Internet to find a pillow to make sunbathing more comfortable. When his search didn’t pan out, he began brainstorming. Months later, he invented a pillow he named the PODillow, which is both comfortable on the neck and back and protects sun-worshippers’ electronic accessories in a storage compartment under the pillow.
“It’s the classic example that I had too much time on my hands,” said Calvert, 38. “First I couldn’t get comfortable and the next thing you know I’m in my garage with foam, an Exacto knife and a Dremel (rotary) tool with my arm in a sling. After awhile I was convinced I had lost my mind.”
Calvert created more than a few prototypes in his garage until he was satisfied with a product, but then he was stumped about how to proceed.
“I read a book on how to license the product and talked to my friends and family, but I really didn’t know where to go from there,” he said. “The book I read mentioned an organization called SCORE, so I gave them a call.”
SCORE, a nonprofit that serves as counselors to small business, has a San Diego chapter which provides low-cost workshops and free counseling to local entrepreneurs. The organization partners with the U.S. Small Business Administration and is run by more than 100 active and retired business executives.
Calvert met with SCORE counselor Mark Thompson who advised him to participate in Web site marketing and personal branding workshops. He also helped the inventor find a company in China to produce the PODillows, as well as a broker in the United States to help sell the product. All in all, Calvert and his wife, Tina, have invested about $100,000 in the invention, which they raised by refinancing their home.
“Mark gave me piece of mind and helped me not get in over my head,” Calvert said. “He helped me keep the financial part to a minimum and really was instrumental every step of the way.”
Thompson, vice president of marketing for SCORE in downtown San Diego, said that he liked Calvert’s idea and attitude from the start.
“He wasn’t out to make a quick buck, which so many people today try to do,” Thompson said. “Anthony had a great idea and I saw the commercial value in it and gave him unbiased, unfettered counseling and ideas to move forward.”
Calvert and Thompson decided to unveil the PODillow at the San Diego County Fair this past summer, and over the course of the event sold more than $20,000 in merchandise.
“I was sweating bullets because I didn’t receive my first shipment until four days prior to the fair opening,” said Calvert, who has since returned to the SWAT team.
“I was freaked out that I wouldn’t have anything to sell at the fair,” he added. “Luckily, four days before the fair opened I got my first shipment. It was down to the wire, but it really showed us that people are interested in the product.”
The comfortable tanning pillow retails for about $29.95 and can be purchased on the PODillow Web site, www.PODillow.com, as well as at about a dozen stores and tanning salons around the country.
During the Labor Day holiday weekend, Jewel Page of Coronado took her PODillow poolside to Laguna Beach and was besieged with questions.
“Everyone wanted to know where I got it,” said Page, 28. “It’s really comfortable and I can hide my cell phone under the pillow. I had no idea I was starting a trend, but everyone who saw it this weekend said they were going to buy one.”
The Calvert’s are the only sales team the company has and the sheriff’s officer said he would like to eventually deal exclusively with wholesalers or a distributor. With three teenage children he would eventually like to see enough revenue from the product to pay for college and possibly achieve financial freedom for his retirement.
“I love what I do. I always wanted to be a sheriff and that’s first and foremost,” he said. “This is something that I had to do, but I was afraid. My biggest fear is that that it wouldn’t work, that I would end up spending tens of thousands of dollars and it will all be a waste. The only thing that got me over the fear was knowing that if I didn’t go for it, it would eat at me the rest of my life and then, God forbid, I would see it on a shelf one day.”
Candice Reed is a freelance writer based in Vista.