VIRGINIA BEACH — Like most inventors, Dan Eifes saw a problem and came up with a solution.
In 2011, while on active duty as a naval officer, Eifes created the Safety Nailer, a multi-tool that protects your fingers when hammering nails and provides more control and precision when nailing or starting screws.
The idea came to him after he noticed a chisel with a handguard during military safety training.
He drew sketches, made a crude prototype and filed for a utility patent. In 2014, he received the patent, but by then he was having serious medical trouble.
As he battled a variety of ailments, including a heart condition that required surgery, the father of two was medically retired in 2015 and Safety Nailer was put on hold.
In 2017, Drew Zirkle, a fellow civil engineering major and 2009 alumni of Old Dominion University, touched base with his friend and drove from his Virginia Beach home to visit Eifes in Yorktown.
He learned about Eifes’ condition and that Safety Nailer was stalled.
The product launched on Kickstarter in April 2018, and within three months, ACE Hardware, Amazon and Shark Tank reached out.
“We weren’t ready for Shark Tank, so we tabled that opportunity for the future,” Zirkle said. “This was fun, yet a challenging time for us. We were gaining sales, struggling to make them by hand, didn’t understand how to run a business, trying to prepare the product for retail with packaging and burning through cash, which was our money.”
With both their wives pregnant, they worked late into the night to make the product, but couldn’t keep up with sales, so they bought tooling overseas for injection molding.
In the fall of 2018, a pitch to Start Peninsula landed them in the top three and netted a $5,000 prize package. “That was such a critical point for us, because we didn’t have the money to purchase tooling for our second product, the Finish Nailer, and it paid off because we increased our sales,” Zirkle said.
In March 2019, they contacted “Shark Tank,” the popular ABC business reality show, and were encouraged to apply.
They were happy to go through the six-month process of phone and video interviews.
And while they waited to make their appearance, they reinvested their profits into new products: Newton’s Spindle, toy that’s like a clacker but uses magnets that repel each other so the arms don’t hit and make noise; a carpenter-pencil sharpener and holder; and a self-draining sponge holder.
Zirkle landed a deal with three of the Sharks for the Safety Nailer, but it fell through in January 2020 when the investors decided to pass.
“It was disappointing, but luckily our segment aired in March 2020 and sales exploded,” he said.
Zirkle said they are in discussions with Mark Cuban about the Newton’s Spindle.
While Dan Eifes continues to battle health issues and the rest of the team works full-time jobs, they continue to invent and help other inventors.
The latest is a beach towel that doubles as a tote. It is set to launch next summer.
“Overall we’re one big team,” Zirkle said.
His wife, Cori Zirkle, is a physical therapy director. Drew Zirkle spends his days as an engineer with HDR, the Omaha-based engineering firm, and Kristen Eifes is a civilian budget analyst for the Air Force.
Kristen Eifes said her husband and Zirkle share great intuition to see the mechanical side in their minds, and talk often to come up with new products and ideas.
“It’s kind of a good hobby for Dan because it takes his mind off his chronic conditions,” Kristen Eifes said. And whatever ideas they concoct, the four vote on them.
“So long as we keep making money, Drew and I will keep putting products in Amazon,” she said. “Our goal is to get one of our product lines selling in a major retailer like Lowes, Home Depot or Target. That would be a rewarding feat, really allowing us the financial freedom to blow our business out of the water.”
Sandra J. Pennecke, 757-652-5836, firstname.lastname@example.org