What do sheep farming and innovation have to do with one another?
Quite a lot, if North Kansas City-based Handy Camel is any indication. Since he was a boy, Handy Camel CEO Tom Gray has fostered an innovative ethos, creating a number of doodads to make his work easier as a sheep farmer in New Zealand.
Still a sheep farmer in the Kansas City area, Gray’s work eventually led him to create Handy Camel, which he operates with his wife, Amy Gray. The company creates home and garden products that are sold around the world, including its flagship product, the GiantCamel Bag Clip.
Handy Camel plans to expand its business with an anticipated $600,000 funding round that also will create a design and invention workshop to boost its product offering. Already offering a number of home and garden inventions, Handy Camel has raised $220,000 from Kansas City-area angel investors and will be closing the remaining $380,000 in August, Gray said.
Gray said Handy Camel’s invention program will evaluate inventors’ products for free with the hope to license the invention to make it a Handy Camel product.
“We’re always looking at the products first and foremost for our own business model,” he said. “It’s not for us, we look to see if we can point them in the right direction. … We’ve got a lot of contacts nationwide with big companies anyway, and if the product and person is ready then I’d happily introduce them to the right person.”
In addition to vetting and licensing the invention, Gray said Handy Camel’s in-house marketing staff will create a crowdfunding campaign for the product. If a product isn’t a proper fit, Gray said he’ll offer feedback on why it’s not ready for market. Handy Camel is specifically looking for products in the home, gardening and barbeque area, and the inventor must have a working prototype to be considered.
Gray said the new funds will allow Handy Camel to beef up its marketing efforts, hire new sales employees and augment the invention program with new staff. He plans to add up to eight new employees in the next year, bringing the company’s headcount to 15 people.
“There’s no one is Kansas City really doing this and active in the invention community like we are,” Gray said. “There are a lot of product scout companies that will charge you to look at your product and try to sell it to someone else. We don’t charge to do ours, and we’re a full-kit business, so we control manufacturing, we have our own distribution warehouse and we work with big box retailers directly. We try to keep it all in house.”
Founded in 2012, Handy Camel also makes such products as marshmallow roasting poles, aprons and propane bottle stabilizers. It plans to soon release new products such as a shop broom, dog washing accessories and a hair trimmer.