MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. -- When Dave Kapell considered possible threats to his business, he never considered the one that's become the biggest thorn in his side: stainless steel appliances.
Such is the challenge of the Minnesotan who invented refrigerator poetry magnets.
"Never in a million years would we have thought that a threat may have been that refrigerator would suddenly not hold magnets," said Kapell. "I think that really has hurt Magnetic Poetry."
Though his business has "atrophied a little bit," Kapell's company, Magnetic Poetry, is still very much alive. His catalogue features more than 150 products, all based on his original brainstorm hatched 18 years ago during a fortuitously-timed sneeze.
Kapell, who was at the time a struggling music composer, had cut up snippets of interesting words to help with his writing - a technique he borrowed after seeing a documentary about rocker David Bowie.
His allergies would soon wreak havoc on his word snippets. "I sneezed and my slips of paper blew all over the place."
That's when inspiration struck.
"I thought 'I'll stick a little piece of magnet on each of these slips and then stick them all to a cookie sheet.'"
It was a good idea, until his roommate decided to make cookies for a party. "And we're taking these magnets off of the thing and I'm thinking to myself 'Where am I going to put these? Oh, I'll just stick them to the fridge.'"
Suffice it to say the hit of the party wasn't his roommate's cookies. "People were just packed around the refrigerator; people going 'look, check out what I did,'" as they rearranged the words into poetry. "By the end of the party I literally had orders for a-half-a-dozen of these things."
Within weeks Kapell went from selling his poetry magnets out his front door to an Uptown craft fair where he sold "300 of them with 2½ hours."
The business grew quickly from there. Kapell says annual sales topped a million dollars by the mid 1990s. "This doesn't happen. You don't just walk up and have your first product become a hit," says Kapell, who still seems slightly amazed by the success of his brainstorm.
Along the way, Poetry magnets also became a cultural icon, appearing on refrigerators in several Hollywood films, including Notting Hill and The Simpson's Movie. "The first time I saw it on Seinfeld's refrigerator, that was a big moment where I couldn't believe it was there," recalls Kapell.
Kapell has reason for optimism. Appliance manufacturers have begun introducing stainless steel refrigerators that hold magnets, though mostly on higher end models. But it's a start.
"This will always be around," said the accidental inventor. "This does something that no other product really does."
(Copyright 2011 by KARE. All Rights Reserved.)