The idea came to Michael Schutte in the middle of the night.
Hed recalled doing chores around the house and accidentally pulling electrical cords out of the wall. It kept happening. That night he thought of an answer.
He got out of bed and scribbled some notes on a piece of paper. Those scribbles would change his life.
Schuttes idea: an outlet cover that would hold the cords in place while he worked.
The outlet cover has two small doors, one to cover each outlet. The doors have hooks on them that users wrap their electrical cords around before connecting them to the socket.
Schuttes always had a mechanical mind. He studied aeronautical engineering technology at Purdue University with the dream of someday working in manufacturing.
But after graduating from college in the fall of 1992, Schutte didnt go into the manufacturing industry. Instead, he chose a family-oriented career path and took a job as a sales representative for his wifes familys vending company.
Now, 20 years later, the Cornelius resident is back to chasing the career aspirations he never let die. And its all thanks to the 3- by 5-inch plastic product he dreamed up that night in 2008.
Schutte, 42, quit his job in July as a regional manager for the vending company to focus his efforts on StayConnect Electrical Solutions, the fledgling company he founded in 2009 that sells the electrical outlet covers he invented.
My life has changed, he says. I see electrical outlets everywhere.
Schutte says hes come up with ideas for other inventions in the past but never pursued them because he wasnt sure if they were good. He even held onto his outlet cover idea for a while before developing it.
In 2008, Schutte began to do Internet research on how to turn his outlet cover idea into a reality. He got in touch with a product developer in Mooresville, Richard Turner, who helped him move from prototype to product.
Turner says Schutte is determined to push his product and make his company succeed.
Michael has a very solid knack for making things happen that Ive never seen, says Turner, vice president of design and manufacturing for StayConnect. In 30 years, Ive never seen a guy that could get into companies and get meetings with buyers and stuff like Mike can.
Turner had connections to a manufacturer in China that now makes the products for Schuttes company. In 2010, the two men took a trip abroad to tour the Chinese factory.
Schutte says he would like for the outlet covers to be made in the U.S., but he cant afford the higher costs associated with domestic manufacturing.
To raise money to get his company off the ground, Schutte says he refinanced his house, sold his boat for $23,500 and his Jet Ski. Overall, Schutte and his wife have invested more than $100,000. Schuttes parents and sisters have also helped him out financially, and hes in talks with a venture capitalist about additional funding. Everythings on the line, Schutte said.
The entrepreneur has made other sacrifices, too.
I have no life. Ive lost touch with all of our friends, and its really, its a different life for me and my wife now, he says.
I had to make a commitment
In the beginning, Schutte didnt understand how much work creating and running a company would be. For more than a year, he managed to work a full-time job and manage his company. But eventually, it became too much.
It was just difficult juggling the two jobs, and I felt like I had to make a commitment, he says.
A major event that influenced his decision came in May at the National Hardware Show in Las Vegas. His outdoor outlet cover beat out more than 400 other new products to win the award for best in class from the DIY Network and the hardware show.
The award nearly moved the inventor to tears. He says he realized he had to make a change in his life after seeing his companys potential. Schutte left the vending company to devote himself to StayConnect.
Today, Schuttes wife, Tracey, is operations director for StayConnect. And their 10-year-old daughter, Victoria, helps out with tasks such as packing sample boxes.
The companys products are already available at Ace Hardware, Sears, True Value Hardware and on Amazon.com. And last month, Schutte had a meeting with the worlds biggest retailer Walmart.
Dori Rice, whose family owns the Ace Hardware store on North Main Street in Cornelius, said the StayConnect covers arent flying off the shelves just yet. But she says some customers have told her they find them handy. At her store, the outlet cover with the hooks costs $5.99 and a decorative cover without the hooks costs $4.99, but prices vary by retailer.
A vision for expansion
Schutte has big plans for the future. He wants to add more products to his companys offerings. He also wants to make the jump from home office to an office building and hire several engineers and salespeople over the next year or so.
He said he feels like hes finally getting back to what hes always wanted to do, but hes not ungrateful for the experience he got from his sales job.
I went to college for manufacturing, and Im mixing it with retail, and it makes a perfect fit, and I am enjoying it, he says. Ive got a big extra spark in me now, and I get the best of both worlds.
Staff researcher Marion Paynter contributed.