By GREGORY ZELLER // Joseph “J.J.” Valenti understands the ups and downs of the contracting industry.
As a 20-year veteran of painting and carpentry projects, the solopreneur has climbed and descended his trusty ladder more times than he can count. And he knows the importance of being steady on the top rung – and not just himself, but his trusty tools as well.
The lesson was driven home about three years ago, when the flimsy metal tray attached to his ladder broke off, leaving him without an elevated platform work. Trips to Home Depot, Lowe’s and the Sherwin-Williams store failed to produce a quality replacement – “Nothing was really suitable,” Valenti noted – but the problem did lead to the inventor’s lightbulb moment.
Behold: J.J.’s J-Tray, a super-strong, super-lightweight, patent-pending work platform for painters and other professional contractors, with obvious applications for the weekend do-it-yourselfer. The J-Tray fits snuggly atop most A-frame ladders and is formed with numerous surfaces and notches, providing a convenient workspace that can safely hold everything from hammers to paint cans.
Not only that, but the J-Tray – unlike most hinged flip-down trays – employs classic cantilever design, which uses the weight of the objects it supports to reinforce stability. The end result is a rock-steady work platform that dramatically reduces the need for ladder workers to climb up and down.
While he’s “always loved inventing,” Valenti thinks he’s hit the sweet spot with the J-Tray, and he’s been “pretty much obsessed” with getting it to market since earning a provisional patent in 2012.
“This is super-needed and the competition is not good,” the inventor said. “So I went full-out into it. It’s been my No. 1 priority for the past three years.”
His desire to commercialize quickly led Valenti into a deal with Quirky, the New York City-based “invention platform” that agreed to bring the J-Tray to market for a percentage. Unfortunately, the deal didn’t work out: Quirky provided tons of useful market data, but according to Valenti, made no significant progress with retailers during their nine-month contract.
They also attempted a J-Tray redesign that cut into the product’s core values, Valenti noted.
“They made it a three-piece mold and put a side tray on there, which I believe was a liability,” he said. “I see it as a godsend that they couldn’t get any retailers. When the nine months was up, I wanted to go in a different direction.”
That is, in the original direction: a single-piece unit with maximized stability. Back in full control of his product, Valenti is looking to move his wooden prototype into plastics.
“That’s the next step,” he said. “Once the measurements are triple-checked, we’ll get the first plastic ones made.”
That should happen sometime in July, according to Valenti’s timetable. He noted he’s “still educating myself about plastics,” but said the final model would be a “poly-resin single-cavity mold,” much more durable than Quirky’s “glued-together” redesign and even the inventor’s poplar prototype.
To this point, Valenti has raised about $1,000, enough to push him to the proof-of-concept stage; once he’s through that, he estimates he’ll need about $34,000 to produce and ship 3,000 units.
He’ll consider various sources for that fundraising round, including private investments and maybe a Kickstarter campaign. He’ll even consider a bank loan, if other options fail, though he knows “my wife will kill me.”
It might be worth the risk, according to the three-year member of the Inventors & Entrepreneurs Club of Suffolk County, who’s tinkered with other creations – among them, a toolbox designed specifically for spackling projects – but never anything with J-Tray’s commercial potential. He’s already talking with a new distributor and ultimately envisions a “three-way partnership” that would include financial backers.
“I know once I get the plastic ones made, there will be real interest,” Valenti said. “I really believe this will take off. As long as I retain the majority share, that’s all I really need. I just want to get it out there.”