Made in America – if it were only that easy!

September 14, 2012

Made in America – if it were only that easy!

When I decided to manufacture the ComfortVu motorized TV mount in the United States, I knew there would be challenges that a lot of the multinational TV mount manufacturers do not have to contend with.

With so much production being done offshore these days, one of the goals of my mount design was that the parts, fabrication, and final assembly be done in the USA. It was not only a sensible decision from a quality control perspective, it was a darn patriotic goal to aspire to. You see, I believe it’s of vital importance to support local businesses, labor, and the communities and municipalities that support me.

I knew that the cost would be higher than units produced overseas, but I had no idea that the parts sourced in the USA and my made by hand “boutique style” manufacturing would lead to astronomical production costs – read that as an unrealistically low profit margin for ComfortVu and its dealers.

Another design goal was to make a mount that was fully assembled for ease of mounting, but still within the capabilities of one installer to lift into position. Having been the owner of a custom design and installation business for the last 33 years, I had plenty of experience installing TV mounts and wanted to make a product that would be totally “installer friendly”.

I use T 6061 aircraft-grade aluminum for the structure of the wall mount and TV plates, and steel for the radial arms, motor brackets, and spring carriers.
The aluminum is lightweight but it’s very costly. Although the Simu-Somfy motors I use are also expensive, they have a decades long history of robust, reliable service, a design specification I would not sacrifice under any circumstance. Contributing further to the initial parts cost is the “Swiss Army knife” of control networks I include so the ComfortVu mount can be operated by all the electronic industry remote control platforms. Adding to the initial materials cost is the fabrication of the parts in Los Angeles by American workers paid a living wage, and when we factor in the additional labor costs of the final skilled hand assembly in Pasadena, California, my head spins and the bottom line sags even further.

Because most TV mount manufacturers use inexpensive steel plate for their mount parts, and produce relatively large quantities of mounts in Asia, few, if any, can claim the “Made in America” moniker. ComfortVu can, but I sure hope my commitment to this ideal doesn’t lead to a change in verb tense from IS “made in America” to WAS “made in America.”

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Kevin Jonas of the Jonas Bothers thanks ComfortVu for his new above the fireplace motorized TV mount. But things get funny quickly.

Kevin Jonas, the eldest of the Jonas Brothers, purchased a ComfortVu motorized TV mount. Kevin and his wife appreciate high tech gadgets, so he was eager to receive his new discovery. He was so thrilled that he tweeted a thank you video to his 1.7 million followers. He was saying “From my friends at ComfortVu, thank you very much; the thing is amazing”, “Absolutely awesome”, and “Totally cool”, while he was standing in his living room in front of his TV going down from above his fireplace on my mount.

When my wife and I were sent his tweet we were exhilarated. We thought 1.7 million followers; with so much exposure for our mount we would see a tremendous avalanche of orders. We started to look at the re-tweets and realized OOPS! Things don’t always work out like we want them to.

Kevin was getting hundreds of re-tweets, mostly from 13-year old girls, saying “We love you Kevin”, “You look so cute Kevin”, and “I love your new TV”. A lot of the re-tweeters also said “Thank you, ComfortVu”, but we don’t think they knew what ComfortVu was. The exposure fell largely on deaf ears.

So, next time you think you’re going to cash in on something, remember my experience with ComfortVu; the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.

Here is the link to Kevin Jonas’ tweet:

My next Blog post will explore how hard it is to manufacture the ComfortVu motorized TV mount is the USA.

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Birth of a new business: ComfortVu motorized fireplace TV mount

August 30, 2012

Two years ago, shortly after my 62nd birthday, my wife posed a question to me about what I would regret not having experienced were I at the end of my life. I carefully considered this question and realized that for the three decades I had been the owner of a home theater design and installation business, I’d always wanted to take the time to work on some of the inventions I had conceived of, but never had the time because I was always engaged in keeping the business going and making a living.

So I made a decision that I was going to go in a totally new direction: shut down my business, refer my clients, and reinvent myself as the inventor that I’d always thought I was.

The first project, something that I didn’t know whether or not I was going to be successful creating, was a device to address a problem that had driven me crazy in my home theater business. People always had to put their TV above the fireplace, which makes sense from a design standpoint in that it’s the focal point of the room, and that’s the way the furniture is facing. But the idea of having to watch television looking up at a thirty-degree angle just made me crazy. I would even try to talk my clients out of placing the TV above the fireplace because I knew how uncomfortable they would be watching a show or movie in that position. Play video games….forget about it!

I had no experience being an inventor. But I really enjoyed problem solving around engineering issues, especially if it involved motorization. I had extensive experience designing, engineering, and fabricating but I had never designed anything that could be patented and manufactured in quantities.

So I got to work. In my shop, where I had done the custom fabrication for my business, I made a quick sketch. I went to a large metal supplier to purchase metal to build a prototype. The next day, I went to a very good independent hardware store and purchased hardware to assemble everything. Later that afternoon, I started to fabricate the prototype.

I put an order in to purchase a motor, but I had run into an unforeseen problem; the mount would stall after just a few of inches of downward travel. The radial arms were locking-up. The solution took a lot of trial and error because I couldn’t find the appropriate hardware in the retail stores.

Along the way, I purchased a high-end 58” Plasma TV to use as a “real world” model to hang on my mount. Horror of horrors; while I was lifting the TV onto my TV mount, the cart I was using to support the TV rolled-out form under, the TV slipped back, and the screen shattered. I didn’t even have the chance to plug it in, and now, it was lost! I was in shock. I use that broken Plasma TV to this day….I can’t bring myself to replace it.

I eventually produced a working prototype to do exactly do what I had imagined it could do. The battle was just beginning, however.

I engaged a patent agent and thought that I would sell or license the device to a major mount manufacturer. Basically, the response I got was “not interested – people are not asking for such a thing” or “come back when you’re selling 500 of them a month”. But I continued to believe in this. You’re supposed to work on what you know, and I knew that this was a problem for which there had been no solution. I decided that I was going to manufacture it myself. Not knowing anything about manufacturing, I figured, I’ll figure it out.

The blog that you are reading is the story of how I have taken this step by step, made lots of mistakes, learned from them, recovered and am still engaged in this roller coaster ride of bring a new product to market. I began using the Internet and social media, vehicles with which I’d had little experience except for email or to visit web sites. Suddenly I had to have a website of my own design. And now, what do I do with it, how do I get the word out.

This is my story; this is how I did it, this is how I’m doing it, and this is how I plan to do it in the future.

Some funny things have happened along the way and some challenges I still wrestle with. In this blog, I’m going to share my challenges, my successes, frustrations, triumphs, and get the word out that this mount exists and every family room in America should have one.

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Welcome to the ComfortVu blog

Welcome to the new ComfortVu blog. We will be posting news about our innovative over-the-fireplace motorized TV mount as well as stories from our dealers and customers, lay-out and mounting instructions for our mount, and general custom electronics industry news.

Stay Tuned!

Joseph Lee
President, ComfortVu

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