Don Fletcher will be the first to tell you he’s a workaholic. What else would you call someone who’s juggled several jobs at once for the past 45 years?
Thankfully, hard work pays off. And the Red River College grad is finally reaping the benefits – in a big way.
A builder and creator all his life, Fletcher’s latest invention, Nice Trim Fit, is taking the bathroom renovation world by storm – and sealing his fate as Winnipeg’s next big success story.
“I basically had to sell everything I had to get this all going, but it’s finally paid off,” says Fletcher, a self-described inventor who graduated from RRC’s Machine Shop Apprentice program in 1982.
Nice Trim Fit is a sealing system that’s easily installed on tubs, showers, backsplashes, baseboards and even toilets to protect them from mold, mildew and leaks.
Fletcher has obtained patents for the product in Canada and the U.S. (Australia is pending), and shares are sold out at $10,000 apiece. Nice Trim Fit is currently available at over 80 Home Hardware stores, and will soon be sold at Lowe’s, Ace Hardware and Rona.
RV companies and Manitoba Housing have also shown interest, and Fletcher has recently done demos for the Hilton, Canad Inns and Best Western hotel chains. He’s constantly taking the product on the road to trade shows, with another tour planned for this fall.
“It’s going haywire,” says Fletcher, who employs a staff of five. “The president of 3M came in to see my product,” he says of the multi-billion-dollar adhesives company. “He liked it so much, he said, ‘You’ve got a winner here. I’m going to endorse it.’ Now we’ve got their logo on our package.”
The idea for Nice Trim Fit came to Fletcher five years ago, at a time when he was feeling burned out by the construction business. The company he’d been running for 30 years specialized in troubleshooting and unique projects – and he knew he had what it took to develop something new. His company did a lot of tile work and bathrooms, and he found that no matter how well the job was done, mold always crept up on his clients.
“I thought, if I can find the right tape, it has to be mold-proof, water-proof – instead of using the conventional silicone method, I could do something,” he says.
That he did. The next day, Flecther went out and bought a new VHB tape from 3M and went to work. He had a profile and some prototypes made, installed the product with his brother, and was pleasantly surprised by the results.
“We were like, ‘Holy, it looks like part of the tub.’ And it looked great.”
After obtaining a patent, Fletcher shopped his product around at trade shows, including Surfaces in Las Vegas, where an Oklahoma company wanted to pay him $0.40 for every foot sold in North America. But it wasn’t enough. The company wanted exclusivity.
“We even auditioned for Dragon’s Den and they wanted us on there and we said, ‘No, we’re not interested, and you guys don’t have enough money,’” laughs Fletcher. “I tell everybody, I’ll be one of those Dragons in about five years.”
The televised Den is a long way from the North End rentals where Fletcher grew up in the 1960s. Even now, he describes it as the best time in his life.
Fletcher began sacrificing weekends and summer holidays to deliver newspapers at the age of 10: “I was always a workaholic.”
At 13, he landed a job with the City of Winnipeg, tending to wading pools in the summer and skating rinks in the winter. At 16, he got kicked out of high school, and was hired as a letter carrier with Canada Post, where he worked for four years before moving on to a conductor’s gig at CN – which he started around the same time he enrolled in the two-year apprentice program at RRC.
“I’d always been an inventor inside all my life,” Fletcher says. “I used to also race motorcycles and motocross. I built bikes and go-karts. I wanted to take the machinist course to learn more.”
He describes his time at RRC as a blast, and attributes many of the skills he uses daily to the program, where he became an expert on taking accurate measurements, welding and paying attention to detail.
“People who are serious in construction should take this course. It makes you meticulous and you’re not happy until it’s perfect.
“It can spin you off into all different directions. People don’t think of that, they just think, ‘Aww, I’m going to work in this greasy metal factory.’ A lot of machinists are always inventing things, or trying to.”
After graduating from RRC, Fletcher continued to work at CN for 23 years, all while running his construction company in the evenings. In his spare time (what little he had), he’d build anything from barbecues to custom pirate chests. He’s worked with wrought iron and stainless steel, creating décor for local restaurant Johnny G’s and railings for Harley Davidson Winnipeg.
“I’m an artist, really,” says Fletcher, who left CN in 2003 to focus solely on construction.
Fletcher is now working on prototypes for another bathroom product called Chameleon Shelves (with shares selling at $15,000), which will coattail behind Nice Trim Fit. He already has shares from both products going into a corporation called Bond Invention House, profits from which will be given to local charities such as Siloam Mission and Teen Challenge.
After his fall tour of trade shows, that number of shares is likely to increase. As will Fletcher’s workload – just the way he likes it.
“I’ve always been working around the clock,” he says. “And now, I’m definitely thinking around the clock.”
— Profile by Lindsey Ward (Creative Communications, 2004)