Laid-off Birmingham man kicks-starts a new company

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 21, 2010

BIRMINGHAM (AP) — Birmingham native Paul Spivey didn’t sit idly by after being among 300 laid off a year ago by Marathon Data.

Spivey, a data specialist, recently opened Spivey Tech LLC, whose signature product is called Fandusters, an invention he created that can be put on ceiling fan blades to catch dust flying through the air.

He is seeking a patent for Fandusters, which was featured earlier this year as a top gift for the kitchen in a special collector’s issue of a popular magazine, Cooking With Paula Deen.

Spivey spent three years working at Marathon Data in Birmingham’s technical division until a year ago, when he got the word that his position was among 300 being eliminated. He was given the option of moving to Huntsville, but chose to stay in Birmingham so he can take his 87-year-old mother, who can’t drive, to church and on various errands.

“I knew it would be tough to find a job in this economy, so I tried to come up with something to do on my own,” Spivey said in an interview at his office on Gadsden Highway in Birmingham.

He hit upon the idea of Fandusters when visiting a friend and noticing how dusty one of his ceiling fans was.

“I said, ‘What if I put something on that to catch the dust instead of it flying through the air,” Spivey recalled.

A week later while in his home, Spivey came up with a prototype that resembles a cotton sock that he put on ceiling fan blades. Soon he noticed that the prototype gathered dust and there was less dirt on his furniture below the ceiling fan.

After tweaking the product, Spivey created what is now known as Fanduster. He recruited a former co-worker also laid off at Marathon, Billy Sherrill, who is his partner.

Fandusters, which are machine washable, have a static fabric that catches pollen and other allergens flying through the air or sticking to furniture. “It’s an air purifier and dust removal system that makes your ceiling fan work for you instead of against you, Spivey said.

Spivey and Sherrill have a contract with an apparel plant in Fort Payne, an area known for its sock factories, which manufactures Fandusters in 21 different colors. Available in packs of five for $21, Fandusters are available at or at 866-938-7837.

“I had some people tell me I could get them made cheaper in China, but I was determined that this product be made right here to protect jobs in Alabama,” he said.

Spivey said he has a lot on the line, with about $40,000 invested. He is in talks with potential investors, which Spivey hopes will provide the resources to take his product to the next level.

He hopes his story will encourage other laid-off workers to pursue their dream.

“My belief has always been anyone can do something with what everyone has — an imagination,” Spivey said. “I put mine to work. Instead of sitting at home feeling sorry for myself after losing my job, I did something about it.”

Franz Lohrke, chairman of the Brock School of Business Department of Entrepreneurship at Samford University, said Spivey has a product with potential.

“The key thing he has to do is promote the product’s benefits, such as keeping pollen out of the air and helping people who have allergies,” Lohrke said. “The fact that he has gotten exposure in Paula Deen’s magazine will help.”

Spivey said the most popular colors are brown. He also has versions of crimson and white for University of Alabama fans, and orange and blue for Auburn University fans.

Spivey wouldn’t say how many Fandusters have been sold, but said it has exceeded expectations. “The Paula Deen exposure was great for us. It allowed us to get some sales nationally,” he said.

This week, Spivey signed a deal with a company, Blue Water Marketing, that is getting Fandusters listed in five major national catalog publications starting in June. He has hired an agent who is working on a schedule to get the product sold within months on QVC, the television shopping network.

And an ad campaign on Birmingham television stations begins in May.

“I am currently setting up accounts with retail stores and negotiating with potential investors,” Spivey said. “I believe we are on the verge of taking off.”

Lohrke of Samford said Fandusters should go over well on QVC. He said Spivey, who copyrighted the word Fandusters, was smart to file for a patent, adding the exposure will lead to copycat products.

“The patent may not work so he needs to make sure he is protected,” Lohrke said.