Monday, April 23, 2018
Business

More than super glue, Sugru molds and grips

It can fix a broken statue, repair a frayed iPhone cable, add a rubbery grip to a kitchen knife, make those Bose earbuds fit better, repair a leaky boat — and even create a prosthetic leg for a chicken. So, what is this product?

It is Sugru, and it is being heralded as the product you never knew you needed — until you did.

Sugru is a moldable glue. It looks like Play-Doh, can be shaped around any object, sticks to almost any material, is waterproof, heat-resistant and dries to a silicone rubbery finish in 24 hours. Its ability to bond to virtually any surface — wood, glass, metals and ceramics among others — and its moldable nature make it unusual in the world of sealants and glues.

"I wanted to design something that was so easy and so fun to use that more people would consider fixing things again," said Jane Ni Dhulchaointigh, the Irish entrepreneur behind Sugru. Even the name is taken from the Irish word "sugradh," which means "play."

Bridget Grunst, a buyer for Target Corp. stores, admits she was skeptical before meeting Sugru's team in 2014. After all, Target already carried more than 40 glue products in its home improvement section alone.

"Did I roll my eyes? Yes," she said, laughing. "I mean, glue is not the most innovative category out there." But all of that changed when Grunst met the Sugru team and watched in amazement at the myriad ways, both practical and creative, that the glue could be used. The iPhone charger repair was the clincher.

"I have frayed cords at home, and it's a unique way to fix it versus having to go buy another charger for $50," Grunst said. Sugru's rubbery, flexible finish allowed it to repair charger cords, which super glues, with their rock-hard finishes, cannot do, she said.

Grunst also liked Sugru's moldable nature, with its ability to fill gaps, replace broken appliance parts or rebuild a broken handle on a kitchen faucet. Other glues, which are often liquids and sprays, cannot, she said.

That Ni Dhulchaointigh (pronounced nee GULL-queen-tigg) would develop a product like Sugru would not have been easy to predict.

Born in Kilkenny, Ireland, in 1979, Ni Dhulchaointigh grew up on a farm, where her father, John, worked as a farmer, and her mother, Eilis, was a teacher. As a youngster, she had an artistic bent, making paintings and sculptures. She received a degree in fine art from the National College of Art and Design in Dublin in 2001 and a master's degree in product design from the Royal College of Art in London in 2004.

When she showcased the prototype at a student product design exhibition in 2004, the response was overwhelming, she said. "The top two questions were 'How much is it?' and — 'Where can I get it?' " she said. She knew she had a potential hit.

With a $50,000 grant from Nesta, a British research firm, in 2005, and a $500,000 equity investment from Lacomp, a venture fund, in 2006, she dove in. She brought in a business partner, Roger Ashby, and hired two former Dow Corning scientists as consultants to help build the prototype. It took five years, 5,000 experiments and 8,000 lab hours to perfect and patent the formula.

Sales topped $5.5 million in 2015, up from $3.4 million in 2014 and $250,000 in its first year in 2010. Ni Dhulchaointigh expects sales to exceed $10 million this year and $60 million by 2020.

It is now sold online to more than 160 countries. In the United States, 10 retailers carry the product in 4,500 stores. A small three-pack is about $13.

Ni Dhulchaointigh said Sugru could withstand temperatures as high as 356 degrees and as low as minus 58 degrees. It can be thrown into a washing machine or dishwasher, even soaked in seawater.

Sugru has attracted avid fans, who have posted thousands of videos on YouTube and the company's website. Sugru offers discounts and coupons to the best entrants. Like the chicken. When a fox attacked a pet hen at a family's home in Cork, Ireland, the hen lost a leg. The owner, a retired engineer, built a fiberglass leg and used Sugru to add chicken feet to the prosthetic. The chicken now walks on two feet.

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