Entrepreneur Tom Zurn, who's trying to make a buck off dog poop, says business is "picking up."
Zurn, 55, blames his partner, Wilson, a 6-year-old Tibetan terrier, for being the inspiration for what has been "a lot of work."
The kids were getting older and ready to head to college. And Zurn, who lives in Eden Prairie, wanted a companion for his occasional jogs.
"Wilson quickly became part of the family," Zurn said. The task of cleaning up after Wilson, however, fell to him. "And I am someone who always looks for a better way to do things.''
Zurn, tired of bending over to pick up after Wilson with old plastic newspaper bags, by late 2012, was noodling in his brain what kind of product he needed to invent.
Zurn is a creative sort who has worked in graphics arts and as a software tester.
His search for what was available turned up several solutions in the market that involved claws, scoops and rakes. They all fell short of his expectations.
"I needed a one-step solution that scoops directly into an attached bag," Zurn said, rather than "scooping up Wilson's 'land mines' and transferring them into a bag. In searching pet stores for a better solution, I found that there are "scoop and bucket" solutions and "claw" solutions.
"Both are inconvenient, messy and require that the waste be transferred into a bag for disposal. Transferring it to a bag might be the worst of the task. There is also the "bag in hand" solution, which requires handling squishy bags and allows for limited amounts of waste. "There had to be a better way to do this. What I needed was a one-step solution that scoops directly into an attached bag. Unsnaps the bag into the trash container."
By mid-2013, Zurn had quit his day job and was all in on his quest.
He was designing a long-handled tool that had "teeth" to get into grass, "a contoured edge for scooping, and that could fit a bag that is big enough so that I can scoop a few days' worth of 'product.' And I want to be able to use any plastic bag around the house and not a proprietary solution. I designed PooBagger to work with newspaper bags, household bags …"
Zurn thought he had a better idea.
He modeled his idea of cardboard, then of clay and then decided he would need to develop a computer-aided-design prototype that could be tested and, eventually, mass produced.
He turned to the Red Eye design group of Stratasys, the 3D-design firm based in Eden Prairie. Red Eye produced six iterations before Zurn was satisfied.
The long-handled PooBagger, for which Zurn has applied for a U.S. patent, means the owner doesn't have to bend over. It includes a machine PVC ring that locks just about any size plastic bag into position, and the tool has a flexible groove molded into the system that allows some movement so the plastic instrument won't break or get "gunked up," Zurn said.
Zurn sold his first unit in early 2014 through Total Dog in New Hope, an independent retailer.
Zurn sold 500 units at $29.95 a pop, $39.95 with the extended handle, through his website, www.poobagger.com, as well as through the website of Bed Bath & Beyond and other retailers and websites. He's received positive reviews in several pet publications.
The product got favorable publicity last month from Texas Dogs and Cats Magazine, which quickly made Texas the No. 1 customer state. And an appearance on the nationally syndicated "Talkin' Pets" radio show in Tampa, Fla., has boosted sales in the southeast.
All told, Zurn, who now works a part-time job for a medical device company, estimates that he's invested $75,000 in PooBagger.
It is manufactured by Modern Molding of Delano, Minn.
Meghan Petricka, an Eden Prairie resident, said she saw an ad for the product on a community bulletin board at a local bank last fall and placed an order.
"I ordered it on Sunday and Tom personally delivered it on Monday," Petricka said. "That's service.
"And this has made life easier for me. I've been looking for something like this for years. We have a dog and we baby-sit another dog. This makes cleaning up our yard a lot easier, a breeze. It works well in the snow. I have no more back problems."
Zurn said he has shipped PooBaggers to every state but Hawaii.
"I hope to sell 5,000 units in 2015," Zurn said. "I hope to get up to 15,000 a year. I'd need to take on lots of help to do that."
Neal St. Anthony • 612-673-7144