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Dream of plowing your driveway in a minute flat? Nordic Plow may make it possible
Rich and Paulette Behan are preparing for a new future as growth entrepreneurs now that Rich’s dream invention — a snap-on plastic plow — is finding unexpected markets ranging from dairy farms to golf courses.
“We’re hanging on to the tail end of a rocketship,” Rich says.
Here’s how it works: The Nordic Auto Plow, ranging in price from $390 to $650 depending on size, comes in 15-inch panels that snap together and clip onto cars, riding mowers, utility vehicles, all terrain vehicles and zero-turn mowers.
The plow, which weighs 50 to 60 pounds at full length, attaches with straps and adjustable bungee cords to a car’s hood and door, and has a universal mounting system for other vehicles.
The demand is so great, the Behans are expanding the plow’s “made-in-the-USA” business by partnering with downstate Agri-Fab, a designer and manufacturer of lawn-and-garden equipment. The plow, which launched online at retailers such as Sears, Home Depot, Menard’s and Bolingbrook-based Power Equipment Direct in November 2012, has grown into a projected $2.5 million seller this year, both online and in stores.
The plow is sold at eight major websites and in 12 retail outlets, including Ace and True Value hardware stores.
The improbable success followed Rich Behan’s idea 34 years ago as a newly graduated alumnus of Northern Illinois University to make his snow-shoveling job easier. He shoveled both his father’s and his own driveways when Chicago was known for harsh winters, and each driveway would take 45 minutes to an hour to clear.
“I figured it would take only 45 seconds with two or three passes of a plow,” Rich says.
He made a steel prototype in 1982, but it fell off of his car. He rolled over it, slid down the driveway, took out the mailbox and got stuck in the snow-piled street.
After he got married in 1990, he kept working on improvements to the plow, changing it to a plastic model that required the easiest possible hookup.
“Three years ago, my wife said, ‘Let’s not talk about this for another 20 years. Let’s just do it,’” Rich says.
The couple met with mechanical engineers to make a prototype. The project took more than two years and $250,000 to come to life.
“My question was, ‘Why hasn’t anyone done this yet? Afterward, I thought maybe it’s because of the $250,000 (investment),” Rich says.
Stelised, an injection molding and plastics manufacturer in Simponville, Ky., engineered the tooling and ships the parts to the Behans’ warehouse for shipping. The Behans ship with boxes from Aurora-based International Paper.
The Behans, who employ five people at Nordic Auto Plow, will announce Thursday the transfer of the distribution and shipping to Agri-Fab starting this summer, on the heels of a True Value Hardware order for 500 car plows and 500 riding mower plows for the lawn-and-garden season.
Behan’s sister, Dr. Diane Wallis, former president and governor of the Illinois chapter of the American College of Cardiology, spotted articles in the New England Journal of Medicine and other medical publications showing that shoveling snow raised the risk of heart attacks among men who aren’t physically active.
The idea that the plow could save lives has won Nordic investors from among Chicago-area physicians, who make up the majority of the company’s 15 financial backers.
Dr. Neal Edelson, an emergency room doctor at Presence-St. Joseph Hospital in Elgin, said he was jealous and beside himself with excitement at the same time when he first saw the plow.
“You could hardly not smile at this thing,” Edelson says. “It was one of the coolest little things.”
Todd Harris, sales and marketing representative for Agri-Fab, says the Nordic auto plow complements the privately owned Agri-Fab’s existing line of products, while Agri-Fab can expand Nordic’s customer service capabilities.
“We will be able to get (Nordic) a part within 24 hours, and we can take care of warranty and other customer concerns,” he says.
Photo by Rich Hein