By GREGORY ZELLER //
“Snow hurts,” says Mary Putre.
And it’s not just because she has two surgically repaired shoulders. Every Long Island home and business owner knows clearing snow and ice is backbreaking stuff. For Putre – a veteran inventor with a garage full of successful products – one snowstorm too many finally triggered her “has to be a better way” moment.
The problem isn’t just the ice and snow, according to the New Hyde Park resident, who blames a lack of any significant snow-shovel innovation since the late 1970s, when handles were bent to spread weight distribution and spare the user’s spine. While uniquely handled products like the BackSaver shovel line do what they promise, they miss what Putre considers the real reason snow removal is such a pain in the neck. And shoulders and hamstrings and glutes: The residual, half-frozen slush clings to the shovel blade, making each scoop-and-toss a weightier challenge.
Users can – and do – bang the shovel blade on the ground to remove the wintry muck, but anyone who’s tried this knows you can’t get it all. And the continuous pounding, Putre noted, damages the edge of the shovel blade, ultimately making the tool less effective.
Calling on her inventive history, Putre retreated to her garage and got busy.
Specifically, she stuck a shovel blade on her work table and “started drilling the hell out of it.” What was needed, the inventor realized, was something to “break the suction of the snow to the shovel.”
An early effort included a diamond-shaped pattern of small holes – about a dozen total, each smaller than a dime – drilled into the shovel blade. It was an improvement, according to Putre, but the augmented shovel still didn’t meet her “perfect standard.”
The next incarnation increased the number of holes, lining the entire shovel blade in neat rows. Again, Putre recorded improved ability to toss off the residual slush with no reduction in the shovel’s strength or efficiency – but again, it was not quite good enough.
Her final version replaced the holes with one dozen symmetrical slits, each about 8 inches long and a half-inch wide, cutting through a slick metal shovel blade. Featuring “less wear and tear on the shovel and my back,” according to Putre, the product – now dubbed the EZ Throw Snow Shovel – is ready to dig in, with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office expected to issue a utility patent on Dec. 15.
Which brings Putre to manufacturing and marketing, two subjects she knows something about. The forthcoming utility patent is the inventor’s first, but Putre already holds a number of copyrights and trademarks, and since 1989 has peddled her homespun wares through her startup company, Eyecatcher Gifts.
Among her popular products: stretchable, customizable Tea Bands, which fit around a mug and keep a teabag from sinking, and the Look No Hands, a dog leash that – you guessed it – requires no hands. Many of Putre’s creations are available through Amazon and eBay and on her company website, which also features interesting tools and knickknacks from other inventors and companies.
Her first-ever product, the still-selling novelty Revenge Toilet Paper that won’t tear or rip, was lampooned by Johnny Carson, while other Putre products found an audience on Rosie O’Donnell’s long-running talk show.
But manufacturing the EZ Throw Snow Shovel is her main focus now. Putre said she took the extra step this time and applied for a patent because of the shovel’s market potential. Her research determined that as many as 12 million snow shovels are purchased in the United States every year between September and March.
“So you figure $240 million in the United States, not including other countries,” she said. “That’s why I patented it, and that’s why it’s in Round Three of Shark Tank.”
The producers of the ABC Network product-pitch program have promised to get back to her with a filming date, according to Putre, though that “could take up to a year” and she isn’t waiting. The inventor has also pitched the shovel to the producers of CNBC’s Make Me a Millionaire Inventor and other fund-me shows and, with the patent imminent, she’s also approached multiple national manufacturers to gauge their interest.
“I threw out the darts,” Putre said. “We’ll see where it lands.”
One way or another, the EZ Throw Snow Shovel is going to be manufactured on a large scale, according to its inventor. After 26 years and thousands of dollars invested in her inventing, Putre sees the EZ Throw as her best shot at product immortality.
“If not Shark Tank or a licensing deal, then a Kickstarter or an angel investor,” Putre told Innovate LI. “There’s absolutely no doubt. Every state in the United States gets some kind of snow … the potential here is unlimited.
“I’m still going and I’ve got plenty more to go,” she added. “But you’re here a short time and I want my life to matter, so I need to get this stuff out.”