A Houghton-based company has been quietly innovating in the world of heated windshield wiper blades for more than 20 years. And you can even get them on your own car.
If you've lived and driven in Michigan for more than, say, a few minutes, you've likely pulled to the side of the road, maybe muttering "damn," as you brave the elements to remove thick ice from your wipers.
It's either that or drive blind, right? Not so much--not today.
There's a little known solution, even for consumers who don't man the wheels of late-model luxury vehicles--with a price tag within reach for many personal drivers. Drivers who are fed up with the ice-slathered tundra that transforms our state when winter begins her five-month reign of havoc.
That solution is much cheaper, and far simpler than most people imagine. For an investment of $140, any driver can use wipers heated to 200 degrees just two seconds after flipping a switch.
"They are so easy to install--our wiper assemblies are complete with all the necessary wiring and a harness and switch that anyone can pop in in a few minutes," says Jim Weiler, who co-owns Houghton-based W.N. Miller Co., Inc. with his wife, Ann McMahon.
Everblades may sound like an new idea, but Weiler and McMahon have been churning them out for more than two decades, almost exclusively for commercial vehicles. The heated blades have been hard at work keeping schoolchildren safer on their buses and keeping those who drive for a living steadily at work; when municipality roads must be salted and cleared, when private drives and lots need clearing and when loads of cargo is trucked across the country, Everblades have been a Godsend for a long time. Not only in the U.P. or Michigan, but for drivers worldwide who enjoy the benefits that make facing inclement weather a bit more tolerable.
"Smaller fleets of heavy-duty commercial vehicles have always been our biggest market," says Weiler. "Like small school districts and municipalities and smaller snow plow companies. But we supply wipers all over the place. They go to Canada, Finland and Norway--those are pretty big customers--and throughout most of Europe. Also to a handful of other countries."
The ragged cliché' "Mom and Pop operation" doesn't seem so tired in this instance--as W.N. Miller Company's sole employees, Weiler and McMahon have always juggled, marketing, administration, sales, shipping, management and manufacturing from their 1,200-square-foot facility, just with the two of them.
They have sharpened it to a fine art, watching sales triple since inception, and now are seeing sales creep slowly into the private vehicle market. The silicone rubber blades are designed to withstand four winters for the individual driver and two winters for those who drive for a living.
"Our product's biggest benefit is that they keep on giving a clean wipe instead of getting clogged up with ice and snow, and it's obviously safer to drive with a clean windshield."
Clients voice satisfaction with their heated wipers to the Everblades owners on a constantly growing basis, and the two attribute some of the company's recent success to new business they get simply by having an Internet presence with just a web site--no social marketing yet. Old-fashioned word-of-mouth referrals remain a solid factor in the way of drawing new business.
"People call me all the time to say how pleased they are that they can stay on the road and don't have to pull over and deal with the ice and snow mess any more. They love the better, cleaner wipe and they talk about it," Weiler says. "We don't even get to meet a lot of our customers, but it's awesome to know how happy they are."
"You know what I hear the most? It's 'Jim, your product is great and I'm going to tell all of my friends to buy it.' "Happy customers mean good relationships, and we've got lots of 'em."
Kelle Barr, writing for Second Wave Media, is a Portage-based freelance reporter who can be reached at Kellebarr@gmail.com