Bright idea spreading fast

Leslie Wasem in the Trim-It-Quick headquarters.  Photo by Jeff Keeling

Leslie Wasem in the Trim-It-Quick headquarters.
Photo by Jeff Keeling

By Jeff Keeling

As strand after twisted strand of standard Christmas lights gave Suncrest Christian Church members fits while they prepared a Christmas season display nearly a decade ago, Leslie Wasem had a thought most people have shared about one thorny problem or another – “there has to be a better way.”

But unlike most of us, Wasem actually figured out a better way.

“We had decorated a couple of the regular trees and it was taking forever,” remembered Wasem, who lived in the Chicago suburb of Munster, Ind. at the time. “It’s the winding back and forth, you’re trying to get the lights onto each branch and go down to the next section – it’s what everybody gets frustrated about.”

Within a few years, Wasem – now back in Johnson City, where her husband John had attended Milligan College and Emmanuel Christian Seminary in the 1970s – had turned an idea into a product, gained a patent, started an LLC and received some national buzz. “Trim-It-Quick” had been born.

While there have been some fits and starts along the way, Wasem’s basic idea has held firm. Attached to a relatively simple-looking base that includes a hook shaped like the top of a coat hanger are multiple strands of lights (the company now offers everything from LED and incandescent to solar and battery operated varieties). Just above each level of branches, the hook secures to the trunk and the strands follow the contours of the branches outward.

When she first had the idea, Wasem, who had spent the bulk of her career as an illustrator, first in fashion and later in real estate, went to an acquaintance who was a VP for a huge national retailer.

“I was using a hanger and some masking tape, but I showed it to him and he said, ‘You need to move forward on it and do two things – find your engineer and get the patent started.”

She did both those things, and today, in a sizeable space at Borla Commerce Park in south Johnson City, promotional materials, computer equipment and sundry business items are squeezed in among boxes and boxes of product. Included in this year’s inventory is the small company’s current mother lode: thousands of small containers, each with a lighting kit designed for small holiday displays such as poinsettias, houseplants, etc.

“Lowe’s has ordered 45,000 of these and will have them in 1,400 stores around the country this Christmas season,” Wasem said. The junior versions each have 35 lights – colored and white are available – and retail for $12.98. They’re among numerous offshoots of Wasem’s original work, designed for traditional Christmas trees (real or artificial, of course).

The original concept for Harlan’s Trim-It-Quick lighting (named for her inventor father, Harlan Lanzer) caught an early publicity wave. Helped by some marketing spends and aid from her daughter Ashley, a designer who did the original branding, Wasem saw her creation come out of the gate strong.

The friend’s retailer said yes, and, “we were getting yesses from Home Shopping Network, True Value.” But Wasem had to say no to large customers until she raised enough funds to begin manufacturing on a large scale, something that occurs in China.

That done, Trim-It-Quick’s path took a short diversion along the infomercial trajectory, which turned out to be mostly a dead-end. Eventually, though, Wasem and her excess inventory from the infomercial misadventure landed at Borla, where Alex Borla, founder of Borla Industries and the commerce park’s owner, “gave us a chance to really get this moving.

“I cannot thank that man enough,” Wasem said.

With the help of her creative and operations director, Matt Chandley, Wasem has been able to take the company to the cusp of something big. She has hired a national sales director, and is having frequent phone and video conferences with additional big box retailers interested in jumping on board for the 2016 Christmas season.

Wasem said the sales of the smaller product at Lowe’s are going well, such that she hopes the retailer will consider carrying the larger tree kit next year. She reckons further growth is on the horizon, both online and in brick and mortar stores.

“We have people in the UK and Australia waiting. It’s just a matter of making a business plan march. We’ve tested it all and we know people want it. The rep group is very successful with taking products on Amazon, they get it and they’re very excited about it. I knew it would come to that at some point.”

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