Local man's invention gains national attention

By Megan R. Harrell

STAR STAFF
mharrell@starhq.com

  
A local businessman's invention will be on shelves in stores nationwide at the beginning of 2003. Keith Renfro's experience as a contract painter gave him the idea for his color caulk mixer.
   Renfro has owned and operated Volunteer Painting and Sandblasting, Volunteer Drive, Elizabethton for 17 years. He began developing the mixing system over two years ago. It is the first caulk mixing system that can be used to establish custom colors, mixing caulk within the tube itself.
   "You cannot buy custom color caulking," Renfro said. "If you go to Lowe's or Home Depot you can buy maybe four or five colors at the most."
   The color caulk mixer first gained national attention at a trade show in Chicago. Out of 1,000 new inventions at the show, the caulk mixer won the Retailer's Choice Award for best product.
   Since the trade show, representatives from several companies have approached Renfro asking him if they can manufacture his patented product overseas. Although Renfro could mass produce the mixer at a much lower cost in another country, he wanted his product to benefit the local economy.
   "I wanted to keep everything local that I could with our economy in such bad shape," Renfro said.
   The caulk mixer is being manufactured at Mountain View Specialties, Hanover Road, Johnson City. Renfro teamed up with the local company's president, Steven Treadway, over a year ago, and together they have sought after a sales contract.
   Renfro and Treadway have signed a 15-year contract with the third largest caulk manufacturer in the world, Red Devil. Red Devil will be responsible for the sales, promotion and distribution of the caulk mixer. The company is also developing a specialized acrylic caulk designed especially to receive coloring.
   The color caulk mixer comes with colorants and a color chart to help consumers mix the exact color they desire. Renfro stated that, after the color is added and mixed, it will maintain its color.
   The product will be available in two models. Consumers will be able to choose between a residential mixer made from high impact plastic, and an industrial mixer made from aircraft aluminum and mild steel. An automatic unit will be available to large paint stores wanting to mix large volumes of caulk.
   Renfro said other methods of coloring caulk can take up to 30 minutes per tube and cause air pockets.
   "With this process it takes less than four minutes from start to finish, and if there is any air pockets in there from the manufacturer, it actually eliminates those. You can take a tube of caulk and make it virtually any color that you can get from a gallon of paint," Renfro said.
   The process of getting his invention in stores has been a learning experience for Renfro.
   "I had always thought when you had a patent that people would be knocking on your door and trying to give you money. That is not true," he said.
   Renfro has sold rental properties and borrowed money in order to finance his business endeavor.