Tim LaFrance demonstrates how to use The Tim Stick on Tuesday afternoon in his shop at East Coast Sign & Design on Sabattus Street in Lewiston. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

LEWISTON — Small business owners are resourceful people. They have to be if they want to thrive.

For Tim Lafrance, owner of East Coast Sign & Design at 1052 Sabattus St., necessity truly is what motivated his invention — The Tim Stick — and yes, there’s a story behind the name.

It’s a tool he came up with to assist lifting 80-pound rolls of vinyl used in the sign-making industry, when he found that his daughter, who works at the shop, couldn’t lift the rolls, bringing work to a halt.

Lafrance said he and his wife, Chris, were doing a job and when they got back to their shop they discovered their daughter, Sam, didn’t get any jobs printed while they were away.

“How come you didn’t print that?” he said he asked his daughter. “‘Dad, I can’t lift that,'” she responded.

The vinyl rolls are heavy and long and will telescope, or unravel, if they are not lifted vertically from the bottom.


The gears started turning in Lafrance’s head and after two trips to his saw he came up with essentially a wooden handle that acts as a lever to mechanically give the user the lift advantage.

The Tim Stick, foreground, is the final product from Tim Lafrance’s prototype, background, he made in his shop East Coast Sign & Design at 1052 Sabattus St. in Lewiston. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

The website he uses to buy tools and accessories, Yellotools.com, is based in Germany with a small sales and distribution office in California. It encourages signmakers to share their ideas, and if those ideas become a product they get the DBS or Designed by Signmaker designation.

Hesitant at first, Lafrance thought about a patent and getting an attorney. But Yellotools founder and Chief Executive Officer Michael Althoff convinced him it would be costly and time consuming to pursue a patent and in the end someone would just copy it — leaving him as the only one not making money on the deal. So, he struck a deal with Yellotools.

Lafrance sent Althoff a photo of his rough design. Within three days, a package from Germany arrived with the first iteration of The Tim Stick. Yellotools has an entire design and fabrication team at their factory in Windeck, which manufactures 70% of the products in the online catalogue. Soon the new product would undergo beta testing.

Lafrance didn’t hear from Althoff for a while. Then, another package came from Germany with a new and improved Tim Stick and a roller cart that integrates The Tim Stick to make it even easier to use, with room for nine rolls of vinyl.

About a month ago, The Tim Stick went live on the website, with the following description: “Thanks to this brilliant idea from our customer Tim Lafrance of East Coast Sign & Design in Lewiston, Maine, the annoying bending down when handling heavy rolls of film is now a thing of the past.”


Listed for sale at $32.37, it’s already on back order, with an estimated delivery time of four to six weeks, or more.

Lafrance struck a five-year deal and will receive a quarterly commission check for his troubles. Considering he didn’t set out to make a profit and that he spent 15 minutes designing it, he says he’s happy.

Tim Lafrance holds the original plywood prototype of The Tim Stick on Tuesday afternoon at his shop at East Coast Sign & Design on Sabattus Street in Lewiston. It assists in lifting 80-pound rolls of vinyl used in the sign-making industry.  Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal


Althoff likes to name all his products, when possible, so he asked Lafrance what he wanted to name his invention.

“And he said I’ll send you a list of names and you tell me what you like,” Lafrance said. “The first name on the list was The Tim Stick.”

Lafrance said he used to work at a local window company and the boss would yell at the workers with an expletive attached to the word stick. “So, we would look at each other and say, ‘hey Tim stick, hey Bill stick’, etc. For the longest time I was called ‘the stick’ … so it was made to be!” he said.

After 29 years in business, perhaps Tim and Christina Lafrance will now be able to plan their first vacation since they opened their doors, now that their daughter can do the work of two people and the residuals from The Tim Stick will soon be coming in.

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