February 10, 2012 by staff
Slanket Inventor, The slanket, a sleeved blanket made of soft polyester microfibers, was an idea hatched in a Maine dorm room more than 10 years ago.
As the wind howled and the mercury dipped into inhumanly low numbers, Gary Clegg was nestled up in his dorm room in Kennebec Hall at the University of Maine in Orono. It was 1997, and Clegg, then a freshman, was trying to stay warm as he watched late night television. But the sleeping bag he had on top of his dorm bed just wasn’t cutting it. He wasn’t able to achieve maximum coziness with his hand out from under the covers changing the channels.
His solution seemed obvious at the time: cut holes in the bag, so he could stick his arms through them and keep them warm, while still using the remote control. But the little light bulb above his head came on: What about a blanket with sleeves?
“That Christmas break, I asked my Mom to make me a blanket with one sleeve,” said Clegg, 30, who was born in San Diego but moved to Standish while in middle school. “I used it all through college. Then I redesigned it to have two sleeves. That’s literally how it all got started.”
More than 10 years later, Clegg is the unlikely mastermind behind a business that’s banked more than $7 million in 2009 alone. Along with the toothpick and earmuffs, the Slanket, as Clegg’s sleeved blanket came to be called, is one of the great examples of useful objects invented in Maine.
The journey from college kid to millionaire businessman has taken him all over the world and put him in the national media spotlight. It’s also brought him no small amount of controversy and heartache, as the Snuggie, a cheaper version of the Slanket, toppled Clegg from the sleeved-blanket throne earlier this year, thanks to popular nationally televised ads.
‘It took a lot of research’
First things first, however. Just how did Clegg start making and marketing Slankets? The process started nearly four years after he graduated from UMaine, with a degree in communications. During that time, Clegg bounced around jobs, searching for a career. He snowboarded in Colorado. He tried to make a living as an actor in New York City. He tended bar. But always in the back of his head was the Slanket.
“My brother Jeff and I made the decision in 2004 to try to market this thing,” said Clegg. “It took a lot of research to get the whole thing going, but we were able to start production in late 2005.”
Clegg recalled the day he received the fabric to make the first Slankets, which arrived at the home of his parents, Marylynne and Edward Clegg.
“One morning, this 18-wheeler was blocking the road in front of my Mom and Dad’s house. It had tried to get in the driveway,” said Clegg. “It was full of thousands of yards of fabric. My Dad asked where I was planning to put it. I said, ‘In the garage?’”
The first run of Slankets was produced in a factory in Lewiston. The first goal Clegg set for himself was to pay his brother back the money he lent him to manufacture the first Slankets. By March 2006, he had done just that, and more: He had sold out of all of them. The success of the Slanket is not just about one man’s ingenuity. It’s also about the incredible power of the Internet.
“We did some pretty aggressive marketing online,” said Clegg. “We posted on forums and commented on Web sites. We sent out literally thousands of press releases. We reached people all over the world. We sold lots in Korea, in Finland, in Saudi Arabia. I can’t stress how important PR and marketing are to making a product sell.”
It was at that point that the price and turn-around time of making Slankets in Maine became far too costly and slow to make any kind of profit off them. Clegg made the decision to take the manufacturing of Slankets to China, and in late 2006, he traveled there, returning to the U.S. with a deal. Clegg also took his product to trade shows across the country, which caught the attention of QVC.
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