Gaining Traction in the Snow

Diana Pistolis

Diana Pitsolis

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.

BIO

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.”®

pitsolis@argobiz.ca

 

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