Indy Star: Screened In: Innovator Marketing Giant Shadelike Device that Coverts a Garage into a Shade Room
Indy Star's Eric Martin, featured Fresh Air Screens in an article titled "Screened In: Innovator Marketing Giant Shadelike Device that Converts a Garage into a Shade Room." Download full article (PDF). Martin highlighted the many uses of garage screens as a shade provider, bug barrier, or even a creative canvas for sports fans. The article also featured commentary for Lowe's spokeswoman Karen Cobb, who added that the garage is an extension of the home. See below for a copy of Eric Martin's article:
Ever since President Herbert Hoover suggested putting a car in every garage, the storage space has been defined by automobiles - as well as mounts of rakes, hoses and miscellaneous junk.
But local innovator Marvin Miller says he has a better idea: using pull-down screens to turn garages into open-air exercise rooms, workshops and entertainment spaces while keeping bugs and leaves out.
"I think we've got a heck of an idea here," Miller said, waving a hand toward a blue-tinted, translucent screen hanging on his garage. Printed on the screen, in white letters, is the phrase "Believe in Blue" - a homage to the NFL's Colts.
Miller's Fresh Air Screens are not available at all Menards stores and can be ordered through any of 1,252 Lowe's home centers, as well as through Brookstone catalogs, Amazon.com, the Home Shopping Network and Fresh Air Screen's website. He said he is in the final stages of getting a vendor agreement with Home Depot to sell the screens at its 1,900 stores.
Lowe's began selling the screens earlier this year, and spokeswoman Karen Cobb said they're helping to transform the way people think about their homes. "People are viewing their garage as an extension of their home, not just for storage but also for recreation," she said. "It's more than just a place to park a car."
Miller said the screens are popular among sports fans, and he knows people who have moved pool tables into their garages or set up workbenches for working with wood or on car engines. Many customers say the screens lower air temperature in the garage by 10 to 20 degrees.
Miller began selling the screens on the Internet in 2003, after first seeing similar products in Florida. "They've been big down there for 35 years," he said, but most of them are sliding doors, which require permanent installation. Miller's hook-and-loop rope system allows the screen to be attached to the garage and pulled up to still allow cars to pass through. "Now tell me that isn't sharp," Mille said, raising the screen with the ease of moving Venetian blinds.
Sound crazy? That was the first impression for Steve Beck, former director of the Indiana Venture Center, a firm that helps entrepreneurs grow their business. But a few meetings with Miller made him a believer. "This is a low tech-product with good market appeal and really significant sales potential, especially in the South where you have warmer climate most of the year," Beck said.
Beck was impressed by Miller's ability to negotiate agreements with major colleges and NASCAR teams, allowing him to print screens with all kind of major sports designs. "That's tough to do," he said, "but Marvin is persistent and tenacious. He's got the passion of a 30-year old."
At 71, Marvin still exudes energy and charisma of the pioneers who settled his native Kansas, with his scruffy grey mustache, blue jeans, thinning salt-and-pepper hair, well-trimmed beard and sky blue eyes. His mile-a-minute manner of speech barely lets him finish one thought before beginning the next.
It takes all of that vocal agility to rattle off the names of his six grown children: Marvin Jr, Michael, Mark, twins Marlin and Merlin, and daughter Mya, the baby of the family. Miller said the M-names were the idea of their mother - his ex-wife, Judy. Family also played a role in the branding of his screens: the company used to be called Kitty Mac - a combination of his mother's nickname, his own name and that of his present wife, Carolyn.
Now called Fresh Air Screens, the company sold 4,352 screens in 2004, generating $311,255 in revenue, Miller said. Screen sales grew 34 percent in 2005, and sales for the first half of 2006 exceeded total sales for last year, Miller said. At that rate, and with the addition of Home Depot as a retailer, Miller projects sales of at least 36,000 in 2007 for revenues of at least $2.6 million. Material for the screens comes from China, and they're manufactured at sewing facilities in Richmond, Ind., and Michigan.
Miller has licenses to produce screens with the logos of 32 colleges, including Indiana, Purdue, Notre Dame and Indiana State. Screens with prints, ranging from university symbols to sunsets, golf courses and American flags, sell for about double the price of blank screens, but Miller expects sports-oriented screens, especially those of NASCAR drivers, will become his most popular item.
So far he's made some wise picks for driver sponsorships. Although he claims to know nothing about racing, Miller knew enough to sign Jeff Gordon and the late Dale Earnhart Sr. His two other drivers - Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick - finished first and third in last weekend's All-State 400 at the Brickyard.
Owning a screen allowed Ralph Tolan, a delivery driver for Cardinal Health, to watch that race from the comfort of his garage. He moved a cable TV into the space and said it has become a second family room. "At night I can sit out there and watch TV with virtually no bugs or anything," Tolan said. "It's really enjoyable."
Miller hopes more people will be thinking the same thing.