Doug Danforth is a dog lover. The Prairie Village resident enjoys spending time playing with his two beagles, Marley and Molly, and yellow Labrador retriever, Atticus. However, there’s one task that’s always driven him a little crazy.
“Every year I change out their tags, and I detested taking off those metal rings,” Danforth said. “I used all kinds of tools to get them off, and I thought, ‘There’s got to be another way.’”
Danforth found another way. In July 2013, Danforth and his partners officially rolled out the LINKS-IT pet ID tag connector, under the company Aha LLC.
“Our mission is to solve everyday problems with new products that cause consumers to wonder, ‘Why didn’t I think of that,’” said Danforth. “It’s a high bar.”
The connector is made from Delrin, a highly durable, strong Du Pont polymer plastic made of two parts that snap together, locking the tags in place. The LINKS-IT retails for $7.99 and comes in nine colors. Currently, LINKS-IT is sold at Land of Paws and 15 area veterinary offices.
Danforth had the entrepreneurial spirit for some time but didn’t act upon it until 2009. Danforth has a background in finance and accounting and was working in the banking industry as CEO of Midland Loan Services. Already with an MBA from Carnegie Mellon University, Danforth left Midland, earned a master’s degree in accounting at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, and was ready for the next venture.
Q: Why did you decide to move forward with your idea?
“I had the idea for LINKS-IT in 2009,” Danforth said. “I didn’t think too much about it until one of my team members did, suggesting it might go somewhere.… I was at a fork in the road … and financial services were contracting.… I wanted to do something entrepreneurial.”
With the idea and a business plan, Danforth then spent three years doing research and development.
Q: Where did you get help to turn your idea into a product?
The Inventors Club of Kansas City helped Danforth connect with a machinist, and a family friend who is an engineer assisted with the product’s design. Through networking, Danforth found a manufacturer in Minnesota; LINKS-IT is packaged in Chicago. He turned to the Advanced Manufacturing Institute at Kansas State University to do product testing. Danforth also worked with an attorney and five veterinarians on LINKS-IT.
“It all took twice as long and was twice as costly as I expected,” he said.
Danforth offices out of the Enterprise Center of Johnson County in Overland Park.
“We’re a client company of the ECJC,” Danforth said. “They’ve provided encouragement and advice on financing.”
LINKS-IT made its debut in February 2013 at the Global Pet Expo in Orlando, one of the largest trade shows in the pet industry.
“It was our dress rehearsal,” Danforth said. “We had no pricing, no packaging or display, and people loved it.”
After additional field testing through K-State, LINKS-IT made its official debut last summer. Danforth has focused on three distribution channels — veterinary offices, retailers and direct to consumers through the company’s website.
Q: How has LINKS-IT been received in the marketplace?
Danforth said the product is moving well.
“We’ve sold tens of thousands of them,” said Danforth, and the company is making a profit. LINKS-IT was also named one of the top 10 new products at this year’s Global Pet Expo.
“We’ve had correspondence from consumers saying they’ve never used a connector that was so strong,” Danforth said.
In addition, LINKS-IT was just named one of the finalists in Martha Stewart’s Made in America competition
Q: What’s next for Aha and LINKS-IT?
Danforth said he’s focusing on broader distribution for LINKS-IT, getting the product out across the country as well as internationally. He also wants to bring on an employee to oversee sales so Danforth can focus on new product development.
IN A NUTSHELL
COMPANY: Aha LLC; product LINKS-IT
ADDRESS: 8527 Bluejacket St., Lenexa