Lyman Van Vliet, 55, became founder and president of fast-growing Eclectic Products Inc. of San Pedro, Calif., somewhat reluctantly. As a physicist, senior executive for Hughes Aircraft Co., and holder of numerous patents in the aerospace field, he already enjoyed considerable success in his profession. "I loved my job at Hughes, and I hung on as long as I could," Van Vliet says. "But I had to quit and devote full time to this business."
Van Vliet became a shoe repairman. Not an ordinary one, but the maker of Shoe Goo -- a product that has rapidly become a necessity to tennis players around the country.
Electic Products began 10 years ago when Van Vliet became dissatisfied with how fast his tennis shoes wore out. An avid player can rub away the toe section of a new sole in just a couple of weeks. The usual repair apparatus -- including adhesive tape and caulking compound -- never worked well.
One day Van Vliet borrowed his wife's spaghetti pot and tried cooking up a more satisfactory patching material. Despite a limited knowledge of chemistry, he managed to invent a kind of goo that worked.
Van Vliet put a tiny ad in a tennis magazine. Orders for Shoe Goo poured in. Within two years, his wife, Sandy, was selling to pro shops at tennis clubs. By the third year, she landed an order from K mart Corp.
Today, with 15 employees, including Van Vliet's wife and three children, Eclectic Products has annual sales of about $2 million. Growth for the first eight years was financed out of earnings. "The day will probably come when some sharp chemist equals or betters my formula," Van Vliet says. "But we're introducing new products, including a variety of patching materials. I don't think we've even begun to scratch the market for this kind of product."
Van Vliet won't say how much money he has made on Shoe Goo, at $3.25 a tube. But recently, he admits, he bought a "super" new house -- with, of course, a tennis court.