President, Spongezz Inc.
Diana, tell us about Spongezz and what the company is all about.
First, I’d like to begin by saying “We’re North American!” We start every discussion on our company by making this declaration. We’re proud to be a viable business supporting business on this side of the pond. As far as what we do, we’re a quality manufacturing company specializing in products made of a non-woven or sponge material. We have a reputation as new product innovators, which is why we’re sitting here today, talking about The Argonaut Tire Traction Runners®. We opened our business in 1995, producing automotive appearance products including car wash sponges, applicators and synthetic chamois. Since that time, our product line and business have evolved to meet the changing market and we’re proud to be recognized within our category as taking a leadership role.
And how is that leading into the new product, The Argonaut®?
A couple of years ago, we identified through our research activities an opportunity for a product where we could utilize our expertise in manufacturing and materials. After three years of R&D work, hundreds of samples, dozens of in-market trials, and relentless user feedback, we have achieved a winning product, “The Argonaut Tire Traction Runners®”. Interestingly, The Argonaut® was created for both the Consumer and Commercial businesses, where each identified the same need, but for different reasons.
What are the differences between the Consumer and Commercial markets?
For The Argonaut®, interestingly, safety is #1 for each segment. Safety for the Consumer is “not feeling abandoned, not sitting in a cold car, not worrying about strangers approaching, not being exposed to cold weather, not worrying about a family member.” For the Commercial segment, safety is largely “not worrying about a metal or plastic traction device going airborne and hurting someone or something.”
For many commercial fleets, Tire Traction Aids are banned because of this reason. In all cases, when we presented The Argonaut Tire Traction Runners® to these same companies, all indicated we addressed the obstacle that prevented them from completing their fleet safety kits. Needless to say, the drivers are more than pleased.
And who are your end users right now?
In late 2010, we approached Costco Canada on a guaranteed sale basis to sell The Argonaut Tire Traction Runners®. We knew with Costco’s liberal return policy and their combination of consumer and business members, we’d have a very strong read on how well The Argonaut® would sell. We’d get instant feedback regarding the package and positioning of the product and most importantly, the overall “satisfaction” of The Argonaut®’s performance. This, of course, we measured by total returns, which were negligible. What we learned from this first year gave us confidence in offering The Argonaut® to both the Consumer and Commercial markets with the confidence that the end user understood the product and that it worked! Today, we sit with dozens of unsolicited testimonials sent to us relating to their use – consumer & commercial.
One of our favorite letters came from a customer in New Jersey, written the morning after a snow storm. The customer said the two lane street heading into town was blocked by a “plow” which was stuck in the snow. She remembered she had “The Argonaut® in her trunk, so pulled them out, gave them to the driver of the plow, who laughed. After she insisted he try them, he did and in her words “1, 2, 3, he was out of the way and back to plowing.”
We heard from customers who bought The Argonaut® in places like Costco for use in their own small fleets. There were bus companies, ambulance companies and a few school districts who wrote to let us know they work! This product is still new and awareness is still low, however it’s growing.
Get a little specific about exactly what the Argonaut® does.
The Argonaut® is made from a unique non-woven material, about an inch thick, and is infused with a commercial grade strengthener. The concept is simple: when you’re stuck in the snow, in an attempt to move, engines are revved and typically, tires spin. A spinning tire gets hot and melts the snow, creating an icy surface and the vehicle doesn’t move. With The Argonaut®, melting snow flows right through the “non-woven Traction Pad” without interfering with the traction surface. If the tire has a steady, non-slippery surface to move on, the vehicle will move. The Argonaut® is shaped like an arrow featuring a point on the front and wings at the back. Each end was designed to assist with the different positions a tire can be stuck in. The point on the front allows the user to secure the pad against the tire by slipping the tip under the tire and rocking the tire out of its buried position. The Argonaut® will permit snow from beneath to penetrate the underside of the Runner to give extra stability when the vehicle slowly accelerates. The material is flexible enough to contour to the tire as well. If you are in an environment where the snow is a little deeper and your tire is embedded, you can place The Argonaut® so its wings are against the tire. The Argonaut® will then encapsulate the bottom part of the tire and facilitate movement out of the snow.
What are you bringing to the fleet managers in the United States and Canada right now?
As indicated, safety is the #1 issue and keeping a fleet moving delivers the bottom line. We know The Argonaut® works and is a fleet director’s solution in snowy weather. We’ve had enough product experience and feedback from the commercial segment to know we’ve got a great new product. We’d like to make sure they know about it and give them a try.
Elaborate a little on how this product will really help fleet managers trim their costs, maybe reduce their fuel usage.
We started retailing The Argonaut® through a company called Tire Craft, which was supplying a number of fleets with their tires. Safety is #1, however keeping the fleet on the road without delay is equally as important. The Argonaut® is very inexpensive, quick to use, flexible, reusable and after use is shaken free of snow and back in the truck – 5 minutes and they can easily be on their way with virtually no downtime. We all know the cost of a load sitting idle waiting for a tow – not to mention the cost of the tow – it adds up quickly. With The Argonaut® this doesn’t happen. There will always be instances where a tow truck is needed, however greater than 90% are no longer required. Another thing, The Argonaut® is flexible and can be used as a floor liner to aerate loads not shipped on skids.
Sharing a common situation, most trucks don’t end up in the ditch, instead they start to break and end up half off the side of the curb. The next thing you know, the two back wheels are stuck. One of our largest fleet customers shared with us in their words “the driver just sticks The Argonaut® underneath the tire and they’re on their way – a happy driver with more cash in their pocket. This has helped us reduce towing costs and avoided our worrying about our drivers becoming injured by debris flying from spinning tires.”
I’d like to add, for a big rig you’re looking at two, three, six or seven hundred dollars a tow. Having a product like The Argonaut® onboard is paramount to keeping a fleet moving.
You created this product in Canada. Have you marketed it in the United States as of yet?
Distribution of The Argonaut Tire Traction Runners® is fairly scattered, with our customers spanning wide across the world. The U.S. represents our largest market; however The Argonaut® is being sold in Canada, Sweden, Korea in 2013, and even in Abu Dhabi where they’re commonly used in the desert for recreational dune bugging. Although we don’t endorse use in sand, there are still a few who believe.
Are you familiar with the fleet industry and how it has been evolving over the last few years?
Our experience with the fleet market has largely come from people who have approached us looking to buy The Argonaut® for use in their fleets. We certainly use every opportunity to learn from their feedback regarding what appeals to them, what didn’t work, what they are looking for, what their most concerning issues are. We have a vested interest in the businesses we cater to and learning what we can about the industry is important to us. We’ve learned a lot, specifically about the traction category which has enabled us to modify what we have brought to the market to assure it’s relevant and works.
How can fleet managers find out a little more about the Argonaut?
We invite any fleet manager to contact us to learn more about The Argonaut Tire Traction Runners®. We also have a website at www.argonaut-traction.com.
Diana Pitsolis, President of Argo Biz Inc., a sister company of Spongezz Inc. Ambition and creativity has been her lifelong motto, having suited her well over her 35 year career. Having spent 25 years in marketing and now in manufacturing, she brings her ideas and model for success to the forefront with their first patented product “The Argonaut Tire Traction Runners.”®