AUBURN It turns out an overall loathing for the New York Yankees baseball team and a full bladder were the perfect inspirational ingredients for young entrepreneur T.J. Thayer.

A University of Maine marketing grad who minored in innovation engineering, Thayer said he’s always looking for new ideas.

“We’re always trying to find those niches, to find those places where people haven’t gone before,” Thayer said.

He was at an Orono pub one evening, musing on his hatred for the Yankees. He stopped to relieve himself and was faced, figuratively, with a plain bathroom urinal.

“Being a red-blooded Mainer, I thought it would be funny to have a figure of Derek Jeter down there,” he said. “I think people would go nuts for that.”

And thus was born the idea for Thayer‘s new business, TinkleToys he would provide little three-dimensional urinal targets for men to pee on.

It was one of those rare ideas, the kind that really takes the cake.

“I figured every guy in there probably hits that bathroom at least once, maybe two or three times per night,” he said. “So I’m in there, looking down, and it’s so plain and boring, I can’t believe no one has ever changed that. I’ve heard of printing names on the urinal screens, but I figured I could take it to the next step.”

He has two big goals now: finding a rapid prototyping or 3D-printing lab where he can make various kinds of moisture-resistant plastic figures and sell the idea. He said some local bars have expressed interest, but he thinks beer and liquor distributors might be a better market.

He has vetted the idea and presented it to his college advisers. They agreed it was a good idea.

“What’s funny about that is that they were both female,” he said. “They were very receptive and they helped me out.”

He tested different kinds of springs to hold his figures, looking for one that could take a good, strong stream and bounce right back. He settled for a field of plastic zombies that could be knocked down but would rise from the dead no matter what hit them.

“I’m a big ‘Walking Dead’ fan, too,” he said. “There were like 10 of them attached to the screen, and the screen said, ‘Hose the Zombies’ at the bottom. But when you did, they’d fall over and come back. It made people laugh and it made them think.”

He added some tiny plastic beer mugs with holes drilled in the bottom to help them drain — for good measure.

Once he had some good samples, he test marketed his idea in one of the college restrooms, putting samples of his toys in a urinal and a comment box outside of the bathroom for users to write down what they thought.

Out of more than 100 responses, most liked the idea. Very few said Thayer was all wet.

“I got a boatload of responses,” he said. “Most thought it was funny, or asked why nobody had done it before. A couple just said they didn’t get it.”

Flush with that success, Thayer decided to try taking the idea public. It was too good an idea to sit on.

He insists it’s more than just a novelty but has a hygienic factor. Guys tend to have better aim when they have something to focus their attention on. Better aim leads to less splashing and less need to clean up.

Urinal makers have noted that behavior for years  and many include etchings of flies or bees in the bowls, usually just above the drain. Some companies even make adhesive vinyl flies to stick on.

“So there is actually science in this,” he said. “Men have the tendency to fire hose, especially when they’ve been drinking, unless they have something to focus on. And I think that’s why this idea works.”

He has a good source for urinal screens and decent supply of good springs. So far, he’s commissioned a couple of designs for figurines. One is his company logo set on springs. Another is a roaring black bear he hopes to sell. He has a vision of creating a University of New Hampshire Wildcat version that would sell even better around Orono.

He’s not the first to come up with the idea for urinal targets a company called Whizmark sells interactive electronic urinal targets and Thayer said patent attorneys he’s talked with said his idea likely won’t qualify for one.

He also figures his original inspiration a field of Yankees or even a lone Yankees logo would be out of reach for licensing reasons.

“But I could do company logos or individual mascots,” he said. “I could do custom figures, if there is somebody you really want to see down there. I have other ideas a girl with an umbrella or a sign reminding people not to drink and drive.”

Do you know a creative person with a technological bent? We’d love to talk to them. Contact Staff Writer Scott Taylor at staylor@gmail.com, on Twitter as Orange_me or call 207-689-2846.

staylor@sunjournal.com


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: