In the coming weeks WSBT, TV, South Bend, Ind., will feature local businesses that have done whatever it takes to stay afloat in this economy. In the first story of our series, we went to Michigan, where some RV parts makers-turned mad scientists created a product called “MO-GLO.”
Seven years ago, Karl Bentzer had just one molding press. Ten machines later, Bentzer Inc. is a thriving Edwardsburg, Mich., business that makes custom moldings for RVs.
“2010 was probably the best year the company had,” Bentzer said.
But things weren’t going so well in the heart of the recession. In 2008, Bentzer and his five employees started brain storming for other products.
“Everybody in the country was talking about going green,” Bentzer said.
They got an idea from a client that makes exit signs you can see in the dark. That idea was strontium aluminate.
Operations manager Pat Taylor became an expert on the glow-in-the-dark powder that uses no energy and recharges from light — natural or man made.
Bentzer wanted to mix the powder in its plastic and create everyday items to help people get around in the dark. And that’s where they became a little mad scientist-like.
“We tried mixing it ourselves.”
And things got a little crazy.
“As I’m running it I said ‘I’m getting kind of hungry.’ Well, what it was, the whole place smelled like French fries,” Taylor said.
They worked on their concoction for a month.
“It’s such a fine crystal powder that you don’t even realize it’s on you,” Taylor said. “You wipe it all off and you think you’re good to go.”
But when they went to the bathroom…
“Close the door and before you turn the lights on you’d be glowing everywhere — your hands, under your nails. It’d be everywhere,” Taylor said.
That fine powder also ruined their machines. So they found a company in Chicago that could mix it with their plastic. They made the molds and created MO-GLO glow-in-the-dark door rings, light switches, and strips for boat ladders, pontoons and docks.
“You can drop it in the water and you won’t get electrocuted, it still shows a glow,” Bentzer said.
They even created a glow-in-the-dark piece for truck hitches so you won’t bang your knee.
Taylor said he had their products tested by an independent lab. They will glow for 43 hours.
Did we mention Taylor has become a strontium aluminate expert?
“It’s made by a Japanese company and they own the patent on it,” Taylor explained. “They started putting it in nail polish to make your fingernails glow. It’s only been in the last two or three years that they started putting it in plastic and been successful.”
For Bentzer Inc., RV moldings are still its main business, but it has sold between $5,000 to $10,000 worth of its MO GLO creations. They are sold at Alick’s Home Medical — a light switch runs $3.88 — and other local businesses. Bentzer also approached local retirement homes, universities and hotels, with not so much luck.
But one thing’s for sure, it hasn’t hurt business. Bentzer Inc. is still taking orders.
Benzter says they can help the elderly, anyone who may have dementia, or families getting out of their homes in emergencies.
And remember those glow-in-the-dark Frisbees when we were kids? Taylor says those were made with zinc, and could only glow for minutes. MO-GLO lasts for hours.