While trimming shrubs in his backyard, Tom Robbins found it infuriating that the plugs from the extension cord and edge trimmer kept getting snagged on lawn furniture and disconnecting.
“I was spending more time putting these plugs back together than trimming the shrubs, and I wanted to invent something that would fix that,” said Robbins, 46, of Smithtown.
So in 2003, Robbins invented the Plug-Tector, which was designed to secure extension cords with a yellow plastic casing that has cone edges. He patented it about three years later.
“Most people tie the cords in a knot,” Robbins said. “That will work, but the only problem is when the cords gets pulled on, it can damage the extension cord and the tool. This product solves that problem and keeps them connected safely and securely.”
Robbins’ invention was selected out of thousands of submissions, and is being voted on until noon Friday at QVC.com, as part of the TV network’s Sprouts program, designed to give promising inventors exposure.
“I have a passion for mechanical things and inventing, and that’s what got me on this path,” said Robbins, who is a vice president at First Data Merchant Services.
Years before Robbins submitted his invention to QVC, he felt that his product wasn’t ready for mass production and that he needed input from more experienced entrepreneurs.
He reached out to the Small Business Development Center at Farmingdale State College and later met Brian Fried, an inventor and head of the Inventors & Entrepreneurs Club of Suffolk County, who also founded the Nassau County Inventors & Entrepreneurs Club.
“We find that a lot of people are in different stages of their process,” said Fried, 38. “It’s about networking and building resources and keeping whatever you’re doing moving forward. Having a good product like Tom’s that’s practical and a problem-solving solution makes it a good opportunity for success.”
If Robbins wins, his product will go up for sale on QVC.
“They’ll see how the orders come in and what reviews the product receives, then the inventor will go on air with the product,” Fried said.
His wife, Alaine Robbins, and their children Alexis, 14, and Thomas, 12, supported and inspired him along the way.
“He has a very creative and different type of a mind,” said Alaine Robbins, 48. “He sees things differently, and he’s always coming up with ideas.”
As a coach of competitive baton twirling, she said her team could use her husband’s invention.
“We’re forever having to tape down extension cords, and the last thing you want is to have an athlete trip over a cord,” she said. “When my husband came up with this invention I thought, ‘wow,’ how great would this be to use in the baton-twirling world.”
Tom Robbins said people can come up with some crazy ideas, but that there’s a strong enough need and a big enough market for his product to be successful.
“I have always wanted to have a patent, to be recognized for my inventions and to take it a step forward to see the product on the shelves,” he said. “More people are doing things around the house, rather than hiring someone.”
The Plug-Tector and this week’s other QVC Sprouts products can be voted on here.