Memo to garage inventors who have spent years pitching their brilliant idea but can’t find a retailer willing to put their product on the shelves: pay attention to Eduardo (Eddie) De Arkos and Clark Whitehead, a couple of twenty-something college dropouts from Sonoma County, Calif.
In 2012, the childhood friends decided to launch a watersports business making colorful pool-toyish inflatable tubes that lock together like jigsaw-puzzle pieces. Within weeks of filing for a utility patent for their unusual invention, which lets groups of friends easily hitch themselves together so they can float rivers and lakes en masse, the pair got a chance to pitch their idea to Big 5 Sporting Goods, one of America’s top sporting goods chains.
Less than 15 minutes after detailing their product for a Big 5 buyer in Los Angeles, Whitehead and De Arkos were celebrating their first order: a 3,200 unit deal that validated their gamble to start their own company with $6,500 in life savings.
Whitehead, 23, and