ROCKINGHAM — Richmond County’s Ed O’Neal auditioned for ‘Shark Tank,’ ABC’s reality show for entrepreneurs with big ideas, last Wednesday.
His invention, the Carolina 2-Seat, began over bacon and eggs with a friend just four months ago.
“Back in mid-September, there’s a restaurant I go to each morning for breakfast,” O’Neal said. “I had just gotten into the boat business, and I sell a very unique round boat. I really wanted to create a two-seat design that was very functional, where you had plenty of room underneath and you could maneuver easily when you have two people sitting side-by-side on a boat.”
Teddy Smith, who has a background in building stock cars, listened as he described his concept.
“We started thinking about how to design a seat that would allow you to swivel, move your legs, and then with this space that separates the two seats we thought, ‘Why can’t you mount different items there?’” O’Neal said. “So we created a mount where you could mount shotguns. You can mount an ammunition box. You could mount rod holders. You could put a tackle box, you could put a cooler. So we went ahead and pre-drilled it, and we have nuts welded underneath to make it very easy so you could do everything above, and you never have to get below.”
His idea, he said, was an improvement on standard boat seats.
“The seat plate on your boat, and that seat plate has a small plug here,” he explained. “Normally you have a single-seat pedestal that sits in it. What we did was take this single pedestal mount, take four screws out, and place our pedestal on top of it and reinsert the four screws. Now, you have two seats instead of one. The beauty of it is now if you’re on this boat with your son or daughter, you have the ability to be close enough to them to coach them, maybe help them bait the hook or take the fish off or just guide them as to how to do that.”
O’Neal said the two men discussed several ideas.
“We talked about it, and Teddy said, ‘If you describe what you want, we’ll build it,’” he continued. “So we agreed at that point to be 50-50 partners in whatever we created. We designed this on a cocktail napkin and we started the whole concept of how to do it.”
Smith said the two were instantly on the same page.
“As soon as he described it, I saw it,” Smith recalled. “On a napkin, I just put pen to paper and drew it out the way I thought it should look, and we built a prototype. And he said, ‘Teddy, that’s pretty, but it looks like a Christmas tree stand.’”
That was the first design. After several tweaks and improvements, the partners finally created what O’Neal envisioned.
The plate at the base of the design is what gives it stability. The kind of pedestal most commonly used in boat seats has a rod that fits into a pipe connected to the base — something that would not support O’Neal’s two-seat.
“So we went from a table napkin with a little drawing with a pen to patent-pending and this display in four months,” Smith said. “It’s pretty incredible. God is good.”
O’Neal said the design unfolded from there.
“So we started and we said, ‘We have a seat frame, so you put seats on it,” he described. “You can put that on a boat. You can put it on a lot of different boats, but what more could you do with it? How can we give our customers more value for their money?’ So that’s when I came up with the idea to actually put this on a frame out of the back of a receiver hitch. We stuck a piece of pipe in the receiver hitch, then we put a piece of pipe across it and then put a seat frame on it.”
That’s when he said he knew there was more that could be done with the invention.
“We knew we could screw it to a boat dock, or you could put it on a boat — but what do you do when it’s not fishing season? You can put it in a deer blind or a deer stand. You could mount it to a hut from a duck blind. I said, ‘It would be really cool if you could put it behind your truck.’ So I got two pieces of pipe from Teddy and stuck one in the truck and one across and balanced the seat and then it was like, ‘Bingo!’
Smith developed the wheeled rack that the 2-seat could be mounted on for display, and he and Smith loaded it up for the journey to Texas and the chance to audition for “Shark Tank.”
O’Neal said the limited liability corporation began working with East Coast Graphics of Laurel Hill to develop eye-catching logo art for the fledgling brand. They also got help from Classic Apparel and Umbrella Factory.
“Here’s the other value proposition,” he continued. “You can put it on a boat. You can take the bare, naked rack and attach it to your truck or your car, and you can go to Lowe’s and put those bags of cement on the platform and then you wouldn’t have to get the back of your truck dirty, or your car or your SUV. You don’t need a trailer. It has no wheels, so you never have flat tires, you never have licence plates to register and renew.
“And if you want to go fishing, you can attach the 2-seat and pull it right behind you,” he continued. “And, you can take it out of the hitch and put it on the ground, and then you can put your blind up in front of it. You can actually hunt from it. You can also put a blind over it. You see, you have the safety with your shotguns pointed up and down.
O’Neal said there are countless other uses for the design, including tailgating, watching children’s or grandchildren’s sporting events on weekends, and even ice fishing for those in the northern climes.
“You can also put it in a UTV, a side-by-side,” O’Neal said. “So the concept was, you go out to the woods, you have a comfortable place to sit, you keep your feet up off the ground and your seats swivel. You’re comfortable. A lot of people take lawn furniture out there, but if it rains you’ve got the ground soft, and it’s sinking. The guns are in the rack here in the middle. They’re not on the ground, they’re not laying across your lap, and when you get ready to use them, they’re ready. And they’re safe. Putting theses gun racks on it is logical. So if you go out on your boat and you hunt from your boat, your weapons would be pointed properly while you navigate your way out.
O’Neal, a retired Lt. Colonel with the U.S. Airforce, said after spending 24 years in the military, safety is always on his mind as he imagines his designs.
“So for ‘Shark Tank,’ using Teddy’s rolling display, I took it all the way to Dallas, put it on a service elevator, rode it up,” he said.
Right now the partners are in the process of moving to large-scale manufacturing, and O’Neal plans for the production to be done within 50 miles of Rockingham.
“We really want to stay as local as possible,” he said. “We have our powder coater in Norwood. We’re trying to use a precision fabricator over near Monroe. We buy our materials either in Laurinburg, Maxton area, or we’re going out as far as Mooresville. We’re local guys, and we wanted to try to do something here local.”
Invention, according to O’Neal, is a creative process.
“You don’t necessarily have to be an expert, but you have to think differently,” he said. “The beauty of working with Teddy was he was willing to say, ‘OK, let’s try it.’ And then he can do in metal what I described or we came up with together. It’s his willingness to say, ‘OK, I hear you. Let’s try it.’”
As for whether the partners will make the cut for Shark Tank, no one will know unless a call comes. And if the call comes, he can’t tell anyone until the date the episode airs.
“I drove 1,100 miles to Dallas to have a 1 minute audition that lasted about three minutes with questions,” O’Neal said. “Now I just have to wait. They way it works is they basically say, ‘If we’re interested, we’ll call you.’ They gave us a general time frame, but they aren’t calling people who don’t get on. You only find out if you are chosen. We’re not staking 100 percent of our business on ‘Shark Tank.’ That’s just a way of getting out. But you can’t get on the show unless you try.
“Some people say, ‘Oh, it’s too early, you haven’t sold enough,” he continued. “You’re not well-known enough.’ But I decided I’m not going to wait a whole year before I can audition. I thought at least if I audition now and it doesn’t go well, I can learn from that and next year I’ll be even more prepared. But waiting another year? That’s not acceptable.”
O’Neal said the most important thing wants to impart to people with big ideas is not to give up just because you can’t do it by yourself.
“Get out and find someone who has the skills to do what you need done, and just talk to them about it and see what you can come up with,” he said. “Don’t wait.”
Reach reporter Melonie McLaurin at 910-817-2673 and follow her on Twitter @meloniemclaurin.