“I don’t know why, but ever since I was a little kid I’ve just invented things.” Fred Oligschlaeger, founder of Spratronics LLC, shrugs his shoulders casually as he talks about his life as an inventor. “It comes easy to me. If something isn’t working well, I just come up with a way to do it better.” Which is exactly what he did when he started Spratronics in 1993. Fred had been working with a company that equipped de-icing trucks for the Department of Transportation. He noticed the nozzles they used were ineffective; when the truck would stop and start, there would be a 30-40 foot section of road left uncovered and still dangerously icy. Tinkering in his garage, Fred invented a wonderfully simple design for what he called a “Variable Orifice Nozzle”. With this nozzle in place, as soon as the truck moves forward, there is full pressure at the nozzle, which prevents any dripping or inconsistency. He found uses for the nozzle not only on the DOT de-icing trucks, but also at airports and on industrial farm equipment.
Fred received 6 patents for his nozzle design. While the patent process was difficult and expensive, it provided the winning formula for Spratronics.“It was tough in the beginning, though” Fred recalls. “We struggled for many years.” His wife, Barbara, remembers one year when Fred spent months
“It is hard to sell them something they don’t know they need yet!” Fred exclaims, evoking the “Steve Jobs” approach of building the product, then convincing the customer they can’t live without it. Slowly but surely, Fred turned leads to customers and customers to advocates. He spent very little energy on advertising, letting the product speak for itself. And it did. New companies that saw the nozzle in use quickly found themselves knocking on Fred’s door. With protection from the patent, there was nowhere else to go to get the exclusive nozzle, and no better product on the market. on the road, driving from Snohomish to New York and back, meeting and educating potential clients along the way. To fund the company, Fred took out several bank loans, which added to his stress.
The demand grew, but the business never left the garage. In classic small business owner style, Fred did not want to lose control over the product he worked so hard to develop and sell. While arguably there was opportunity to build Spratronics into a large company, the Oligschlaegers are thrilled with how well the company has taken care of them. “I wouldn’t have done it any other way,” Fred says with a smile.
Fred recently sold Spratronics to Nozzleworks, Inc., a Snohomish-based company. Free Vector Advisors served as Spratronics’ business consultant and representative in the transaction. Fred regrets attempting to represent himself in past business transactions. “We didn’t want to go through that again,” Fred shakes his head. This time Fred knew he needed someone knowledgeable and trustworthy in their corner. “And we certainly chose the right person!” Barbara adds enthusiastically.
The Oligschlaegers are now retired and have enjoyed visiting more with family, though Fred does still have dreams (or are they nightmares? he ponders) about orders backing up and not being able to make enough nozzles!