John Scherer, the Video Professor, has nearly faded into obscurity since selling his computer tutorial company a couple years ago.
He was such a regular on cable TV commercials, I had long considered him Colorado's second-biggest celebrity after John Elway. With the commercials gone, Scherer's star power has been fading. But during his hiatus from public view, he's been developing a new product that could make him famous all over again.
Now, I am not easily sold. I wish I had a dollar for every PR pitch I've suffered about a "revolutionary" new product. You should see the marketing hype I endure when I open my email: "New paradigm," "game-changer," "market-disrupting technology," blah, blah and blah. Scherer spared me such blather and told me his story.
About a year ago, the 65-year-old entrepreneur received an email from a 72-year-old tinkerer in Tucson, Ariz., asking him to be the spokesman for an invention he called "The Blower Buddy."
This unfortunately named device was designed to replace canned air. You know, those toxic blasters with the little red straws used to dust off everything from computer keyboards to factory equipment. The ones that freeze up in your hands from the propellant inside, and too often spew a mysterious chemical residue on whatever you're so meticulously dusting?
"It got my attention," Scherer concedes. "But I wasn't going to sell The Blower Buddy."
Despite its name, Scherer liked the product so much, he bought the company. He renamed it the O2 Hurricane Canless Air System. "It's like a Category 5 hurricane in your hand," he explained.
With the Hurricane, a rechargeable battery does what canned air can do without creating more hazardous waste for the landfill.
I was immediately sold. Earlier this year, my wife's computer tech came to our home and chewed me out for the case of canned air I bought from Costco. The tech got my wife to scream at me, too.
We have a son approaching his teenage years, and teenagers, well, they've been known to huff this stuff. It is generally harmful and sometimes fatal to do this, the computer tech warned. Indeed, warnings printed on the can range from frostbite to flammability, and when you're cleaning your computer, you are breathing this stuff.
I found the Hurricane didn't provide quite the initial blast you can get from a fresh can of toxically compressed air. But the Hurricane's airflow was constant, while cans quickly freeze, lose power and then underperform. Also, guess what? With the Hurricane, you don't need the straw. Scherer said he only provides it because that's what people are used to.
I loaned the Hurricane to Mike Butler, an engineer I work with at Fox News, because Butler is always blowing off cameras and electronic equipment. "I put it through the paces," he said, going so far as to blow out his car interior. "I found it to be awesome...Then I found out it is very useful for my grandson to blow up balloons...I give it two thumbs up."
It is one of those things you can't believe hasn't been invented until now, particularly given the costs and hazards of the product it is designed to replace. You can use it to stoke a campfire. Or even to train your dog with a harmless, yet startling, blast of air to the face.
Scherer began marketing the Hurricane six weeks ago, after spending more than a year refining the device, bringing it down to the size of a can and increasing its airspeed.
It is quite the solution: It's green, it cuts costs, and it's made in America.
Scherer insisted on making the O2 Hurricane here to create jobs. "It was part of the deal," he said. "If it cost me twice what it cost overseas, I'll do it."
Still, it was so daunting trying to find U.S. manufacturers, he almost lost heart. He could not, for instance, find one U.S. company capable of providing the battery or the motor. But everything else is now proudly made and assembled in Tucson, he said.
The Hurricane, available online, costs $79.95. Scherer says one unit replaces at least 500 air cans that typically sell for nearly $6 apiece.
When you do the math on a large scale, there are millions of dollars to be saved. Scherer says he's been talking to the U.S. Postal Service, which uses cans to blow paper dust from mail handling systems. He's also been talking to the U.S. Department of Defense, which has some dusty equipment of its own. And he's been talking to big companies that probably don't know what they're wasting on this stuff.
"CFOs need to check the line item on canned air and see how much they spend on it," Scherer said. "It will stagger them. And when they look at that number, they should try our product."
(Al's Emporium, written by Dow Jones Newswires columnist Al Lewis, offers commentary and analysis on a wide range of business subjects through an unconventional perspective. Contact Al at firstname.lastname@example.org or tellittoal.com)