COLUMBIA FALLS — Gary Byers became an inventor for a rather old-fashioned reason: he would see a need and come up with a simple solution. Small trees or plants slumping over? He created a brace. Laptop computers overheating and uncomfortable to type on? He developed a stand. Knives, scissors or pruners becoming dull? He invented an all-in-one sharpener.
In Byers’ mind, where there’s a need, there’s an inventive solution.
These ideas come to fruition at Creative Sales Company. With a staff of 20 working inside an expansive 25,000-square-foot building on U.S. Highway 2 near Columbia Falls, Byers’ business is an all-in-one inventor’s workshop.
Byers works with his staff to come up with and create retail products that are built locally and sold globally.
The process starts, as Byers says, with necessity.
“You have to have a need,” he said.
From there, an idea is put on paper. Then, using three giant plastic molding machines, a prototype is created and assembled by staff. Before the product is finalized and marketed, everything is inspected and simplified according to the Byers’ brand.
“People know it’s a quality made product, made in Montana and in the U.S.A,” he said. “They’re just real simple and unique products. That’s on all our products. A lot of people send us letters that say the reason we bought it was because you said this really works and it really does. That’s been our slogan since we started.”
Not everything to come out of Creative Sales Company is a brainchild of Byers. The company’s most prominent product is the Big Bobber Floating Cooler, an insulated, lightweight, red and white cooler shaped like a fishing bobber. A small group of Whitefish residents wanted a better, more fun way to carry refreshments on the river and came up with the idea. With no way to actually make the product, the group approached Byers about five years ago and the Big Bobber was created and put on the market.
Today, Byers has a hard time estimating exactly how many floating coolers have been shipped, but it’s a lot. They are sold in Bass Pro Shops and Bed, Bath & Beyond across the country and can be found locally at Western Building Center and Army-Navy Surplus.
“Everybody that sees it gets a grin on their face,” Byers said of the Big Bobber.
That appears to be another part of the Byers’ brand: having fun through the act of invention.
“They’re all fun products,” said Tracy Pagel, who has been with the company for about 10 years and works in sales and graphics.
“You show people something like the cooler and they smile thinking back to the time they were a kid fishing with their dad or grandpa.”
Creative Sales began in 1980 as a small family business in a shop in Whitefish. The first real invention was a knife sharpener, and the sharpeners have been the foundation and top-selling products at the company ever since. A new custom all-in-one sharpener was recently developed that can work with a variety of tools.
The difficulty of inventing is not just coming up with the idea, Byers says. It’s the burdensome marketing and selling of products that tires out the local inventor. Year round he travels to trade shows from coast to coast showcasing his products and company.
In many ways, Byers is fighting against current trends. He has a strong conviction when it comes to keeping jobs and business local, even though more is built in and bought from China.
“A lot of companies are doing their stuff in China,” he said. “We want to get them brought over here again. We like to keep everything in Montana. That’s what puts more people to work.”
With that mindset, Byers has been able to grow and continue to bring ideas to life.
“It’s exciting to see it growing,” he said. “When you’re trying to compete with overseas, it’s tough. Everybody wants to go over there but a lot of people are coming back to manufacturing here in the U.S.”
The company’s latest product — the Cool Stand — was a collaborative effort between Byers and Kalispell resident Gary Jenks. The two worked together to create a small stand that sits underneath a laptop and props it up, improving the computer’s air circulation while positioning the keyboard for comfortable typing.
It’s a simple idea, and a simple solution. That’s exactly how Byers would have it.