Emerald Coast inventors

Great ideas can come from anyone — young or old, male or female. The Emerald Coast has some residents who have come up with ways to enhance our lives. Meet a few who turned their creative ideas into reality — and a successful business.

Necessity’s Children From a fisherman’s twist on a portable grill to an outdoor table cloth that won’t blow away, the ideas for some hot new products were conceived on the Emerald Coast By Wendy O. Dixon and Zandra Wolfgram Originally published in the Dec 2010/Jan 2011 issue of 850 Business Magazine


Do you ever look at a neat invention that enhances your life and ask yourself, “Why didn’t I think of that?” Of course there are the obvious ones — the telephone, computer, microwave oven and automobile. And, lest we forget, the beloved central air conditioning. But what about your toothbrush, pencil or toilet paper? Even these low-tech inventions were once ideas that we now can’t envision living without.

Great ideas can come from anyone — young or old, male or female. The Emerald Coast has some residents who have come up with ways to enhance our lives. Meet a few who turned their creative ideas into reality — and a successful business.

A Fly for Every Fish

He spent much of his Air Force career as an interrogator, skillfully extracting information from Vietnamese war prisoners and deserters. But it doesn’t take much grilling to get Greg Miheve, 68, to talk about his passion — fly-fish fly tying.

After enduring bitterly cold winters in Michigan as a child, Miheve (Mah-hay-vee) looked forward to the first sign of spring, when he could spend the warmer afternoons fishing in a nearby lake. He got a fly-tying kit for his 11th birthday and quickly discovered he had a knack for tying fish flies.

When he was 14, Miheve was on a segment of “The Rocky Teller Show,” a fishing television show based in Duluth, Minn., where he demonstrated his self-taught fly-tying skills. He was later featured in Pickands Mather Iron Ore magazine, a regional publication focused on the Lake Superior part of the state. That brought him notoriety — and a budding business.

“I was getting knocks on my door at 4 a.m. from fishermen who wanted some good flies to go fishing,” he says.

Tying flies was just a hobby throughout his Air Force career, during which Miheve served as “chief of exploitation” while interrogating Vietnamese POWs and deserters. (In a stark contrast to how movies portray POWs being brutally tortured for information, Miheve said he and the other American soldiers gave the prisoners soap and toothpaste for their personal use.)

After retiring from the Air Force, Miheve and his family moved to Fort Walton Beach.

He made flies for Orvis, a mail-order sporting goods company, tying 30 dozen flies per week, and then focused on fishing resorts and individual sales. Now Miheve keeps busy with enough orders to work strictly retail as a fly designer, making flies for various clients nationwide, including fly manufacturing company Umpqua. Most of the flies retail for less than $10.

“I get 2 cents per dozen flies (from Umpqua),” he says. “You get a royalty, but you’re never gonna live off that. You just do it for the notoriety.”

Always one to tinker, Miheve says it’s impossible to be a fly-tier and not muck about.

“I tried so many projects I’m up to my nose in them,” he says. “Fly-tiers and fly fishermen are notorious gadget people.”

Miheve says fishing flies have undergone many significant breakthroughs over the past several years, using new materials that didn’t even exist two or three years ago.

“It used to be all feathers and the fur from animals,” he says. “Now you’ve got all kinds of synthetic things. Aerospace engineers are designing special adhesives. Dentists and chemistry guys are using their tools to make new flies. It’s almost impossible to keep up with the new materials.”

Miheve started the first local fly-fishing club, Emerald Coast Flyrodders, in 1985, which was succeeded by Panhandle Flyfishers of Destin.

Now he is satisfied tinkering in his garage and has enough to keep him busy for years.

“I don’t dare advertise,” he says. “I’d get swamped.

Chic Coverage

As co-owner of Pensacola-based advertising agency Birdwell Photography and Multimedia with her husband, Thomas, Jane Biremerald-birdwelldwell, 46, has a roster of local, regional and national clients.

She had years of experience in marketing and branding her clients’ products, but a downward economy was a motivating force that caused her to want a product she could really get behind. Birdwell never thought she’d be the one to invent it.

“We saw a lot of our contacts come to a screeching halt due to the economy,” she says. “I thought we needed to invest in ourselves.”

Coincidently, after years of frustration with standard table coverings that exposed table legs or blew off the table in a strong wind, Birdwell discovered she had an idea that might prove to be a lucrative problem-solver. And so was born the Tablevogue.

“When using tablecloths for hosting events at home, at church and at work, you could never find anything to cover the legs,” she says. “I used to take big bunches of fabric and tie them at the feet, which is not what you want.”

Even though some hostesses have had this complaint since tablecloths were first used, table coverings have not undergone many significant breakthroughs over the past century.

“We think that’s the reason we were successful in securing the patent,” she says. “The last time a patent was applied for was in the 1950s.”

Now that she had conceived the idea of a tablecloth that covered every inch of the table, her next step was to come up with a workable design.

Birdwell asked Jenny Bailey, a seamstress, to design a tablecloth that fit her specifications. She then formed a partnership with Milliken & Co., an industry leader in textile manufacturing. Birdwell chose a fabric with a patented soil-release feature in a neutral shade that could complement any table setting while also being wrinkle-resistant and washable. Most importantly, the tablecloths needed to provide full-length coverage for standard 6- or 8-foot banquet tables and 34-inch folding card tables.

With her creation underway, Birdwell hired Virginia Bell to help her focus on branding Tablevogue, saying, “She makes the hard part about building the brand and business fun. There is no doubt in my mind that without her, Tablevogue would still be on the back burner.”

Birdwell also credits part of Tablevogue’s success to “mom blogs,” which are written by mothers and feature commentary, discussions and new products related to home life, family, parenting and entertaining. “They are a big part of today’s social fabric,” she says. “To underestimate the power of them is stupid.”

Partnerships between Birdwell and some nationally recognized brands are in the works. The table coverings are sold through the Plow & Hearth catalog and Bed Bath & Beyond. And Birdwell will sell the Tablevogue brand in Lowe’s stores and on QVC in the coming months. Prices are around $39.99 for a standard-size card table, $49.99 for a 6-foot banquet table and $59.99 for an 8-foot banquet table.

“To get that far is motivating as heck,” she says. “But it’s also nerve-wracking.”

Birdwell’s advice for potential inventors? Invest in yourself.

“We went into it with no room for failure,” she says. “You can’t do this and think about anything except success.”

A Shore Thing

For the Herrmann family, the Shore Surfer appears to be a sure thing.emerald-herrmann

The family was spending a day at the beach near its Destin home in May 2009. After a losing battle with the sand while riding his boogie board, Andy Herrmann, then 11 years old, dreamed of a skim-style surfboard with handles and knee pads to prevent injury to young kids and those new to the sport.

That evening over dinner, the entire Herrmann family — Joe, Linda, Joey, Katie and Andy — conceived the Shore Surfer.

Eventually, what began as a sketch on a napkin took shape as a prototype design, thanks to Aiello Designs of Maine. In April 2010, nearly a year since that day of dreaming on the beach, the Shore Surfer launched at a demo party at Henderson Beach State Park.

Not long after the product hit the local beach scene, national media attention followed, including recognition in the July 2010 issue of Coastal Living magazine, which named the Shore Surfer one of its “Best New Beach Products in 2010.”

“That article really launched us onto the national scene,” says Andy’s mother, Linda Herrmann.

From the get-go, two things were non-negotiable to the inventive family — that they give something back and that their product be American-made. The first one was easy. The Herrmanns adopted two national charities — Food for the Poor and Ride Nature, to which they donate 10 percent of their sales. The second goal was harder to achieve. With few affordable options available, the Herrmanns conceded and had their board made in China for the first year. This year, Linda Herrmann says they are proud to partner with a manufacturer in North Carolina.

“Producing the Shore Surfer in the States will give us better quality control, better shipping options and will allow us to give better service to our customers,” she says.

Now that the Shore Surfer name is trademarked, a patent for the design is pending. The product is available for $39.99 at local beach stores and online at Shore-Surfer.com. The Herrmanns are expanding their sales and marketing efforts based on customer demand to purchase the product at local beach shops.

With their marketing goals in mind, Joe and Linda Herrmann recently ventured to Orlando to attend one of the largest surf expos in the United States.

“They loved it,” Linda Herrmann says. “Professional skim boarders were saying they wished they had thought of it.”

The trip was a success, yielding the start-up business more than 100 independent retailers that would like to sell the Shore Surfer all over the world. Though this is a big win for the Herrmanns’ company, it’s all a part of their measured success.

“We have consciously decided to grow slowly. The market place can push you into places you aren’t ready to go,” Linda Herrmann says.

They are ready to go into the 2011 summer season. Splashy plans are in the works for color-coordinated rash-guard shirts, as well as two new incarnations of the board — a “disposable” one with a lower price targeted to vacationers, and a durable, long-lasting board suitable for rentals.

What does Andy Herrmann, now 13, think of the entire experience? “I guess it’s kind of cool, but it takes a lot of time and patience,” he says.

The Herrmanns hope their patience pays off in the end.

“We envision this will become a family business. We see this as a lifeline as our kids grow up,” Linda Herrmann says. “Our dream is that this hobby could become very valuable to our future.”



$0.02: The amount per dozen fishing flies Greg Miheve earns in royalty from Umpqua Feather Merchants. The inventor hand-ties the fishing gear in Fort Walton Beach and ships them worldwide.