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"The biggest satisfaction of the whole thing was just seeing it in stores and seeing it being used.
If you feel in your gut and your heart that it's a good idea, keep plugging away at it."
- Kirk Swinimer
Bigfoot Systems® inventor
A very soggy situation
gets a Bigfoot solution!
Built by Southern Timberwrights using Bigfoot 36 models with 18" sono tubes.
It was a troublesome site - the kind Kirk Swinimer had seen many times in his years as a construction contractor.
Swinimer was building a swimming pool with a deck for a client. Tree stumps and roots lay buried in the uneven ground on which he had to pour the concrete footings that would support the deck.
First he had to build the wooden footing forms that would serve as the base for the footings and a place to attach the fiberboard construction tubes in which concrete is poured to create the footings.
Since the time of the ancient Romans, construction workers have built footing forms essentially the same way. They make a wooden box form, about two feet square by eight inches deep, for each footing. Each wooden form is then placed in the excavation and leveled.
It is a painstaking task to do alone. Usually, one worker has to clamber in the hole to level each wooden box and attach each construction tube. At the same time, another worker up top has to make sure all the construction tubes are aligned and level.
"There's got to be a better way!"
That day in 1996, Swinimer found himself in a hole - struggling with a wooden footing form. "I still remember the moment," he recalls. "I was lying over in the hole and it was just like a lightning bolt came over me: 'By God, there's got to be a better way than this!'"
That night, Swinimer sketched out an idea for making the footing form and the construction tube as one unit. It wasn't his first invention. Previously, he'd made a collapsible, eight-sided cedar picnic table that anyone could easily sit down at without climbing awkwardly over a bench seat. He'd also started making fence post caps in the 1980s, long before they became a mass-market item.
Construction tubes, however, were already an established, widely marketed technology. He realized he needed something that would complement the tubes - a stable footing form that could be attached onsite to the end of a standard construction tube and be adapted for various-sized tubes.
Swinimer tested his concept using an inverted large plastic flowerpot. It worked!
But then he discovered that making a footing form out of injection-molded plastic would require building a special mold, at a cost of $150,000 to $250,000.
Swinimer put together a business plan and convinced his friend, Jack Fickes, to come onboard with investment funding.
The partners learned from George Nemeskeri who owned GN Plastics Company Limited, a local plastics manufacturer, that vacuum forming - where plastic is sucked over a wooden mold - is less expensive than injecting plastic under high pressure into a heavy and expensive steel mold.
From Apollo to Bigfoot!
Swinimer initially planned to call his product "Apollo." The squat cone-shaped form did resemble NASA's Apollo space capsule.
He was still trying out names when he arrived early one day for a meeting. "I was sitting in my truck in the parking lot and 'Bang! Bigfoot! Wow, that's catchy!'" Because the form is used along with a standard construction tube, he dubbed his product Bigfoot Systems® Footing Form.
Swinimer built a mahogany wood form to create the prototype for his Bigfoot footing. He chose a recycled, food-grade plastic that would be environmentally safe for use underground. He also decided to use high-density polyethylene, so the footing form would weather deep frost and repeated freeze-thaw cycles without turning brittle and shattering.
In the early fall of 1996, with advice from Nova Scotia Business Development, Swinimer launched into defining the claims for his invention so he could obtain a U.S. patent.
U.S. Patent #5,785,459 gets a toehold!
By November 1996, he had samples of his Bigfoot Systems ready for a building materials trade show in Ontario. Two months later, at the Northeast Lumbermen's Association show in Boston, the Bigfoot got a warm reception. Bigfoot now had a toehold in the market, so to speak!
In fact, people liked the Bigfoot system so much that the initial vacuum-forming process proved to be too slow and expensive, in terms of materials, to keep up with market demand.
In January 1997, the business partners decided to go with the injection-molding process. "That was probably the hardest part - getting the mold manufacturer and then going to market," Swinimer says. Fortunately, the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency came through with an interest-free loan.
And Swinimer located Ropak, an injection-molding company in Springhill, Nova Scotia. Ropak now manufactures and inventories the Bigfoot Systems, using what would otherwise be downtime in its shop to produce and stockpile the product in advance of the next construction season.
On July 28, 1998, Swinimer received U.S. Patent No. 5,785,459 for his invention.
Bigfoot Systems® Footing Forms carries the four vital certifications that professionals require for applications in Canada and the U.S. Bigfoot has also received building code approval in Australia and Japan, and the company is securing code approval in Germany and Norway.
Thumbs up from Popular Mechanics, Cottage Life and This Old House
Bigfoot Systems won the Best New Product Award in both U.S. Homeowner magazine and at the Western Region Canadian Lumbermen's Show. The product has been featured in several magazines, including Popular Mechanics and Cottage Life, and on This Old House on television.
J. Marc LaPlante, of Waweig, New Brunswick, says Bigfoot Systems allows him to do a proper foundation design for a building. "The product and the system enhance the construction industry."
The Bigfoot is sold by most major building supply stores, including Home Hardware, RONA/REVY Home & Garden and Totem Building Supplies. The product comes in four models, each with adapter rings that can be trimmed off to fit small, medium and large construction tubes.
Swinimer, 44, says that in addition to his business partners and the funding agencies that helped him, his wife and children stood by him as he worked to turn his idea into a successful commercial product. A lot of other people told him early on that his idea was too different to work, he notes.
"The biggest satisfaction of the whole thing was just seeing it in stores and seeing it being used," Swinimer says. "If you feel in your gut and your heart that it's a good idea, keep plugging away at it."