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Snow rakes help small business weather rough economic climate

  • Story Highlights
  • Firm set to close briefly for holidays before heavy snow hit Spokane, Washington
  • Employees came up with prototype for rake to pull snow off roofs
  • Hundreds of people lined up outside company's office to buy $50 rake
  • About 1,500 rakes have been sold since December 23
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By Emanuella Grinberg
CNN
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(CNN) -- One small business has found a way to dig itself out of the snowballing recession -- snow rakes. Lots of them.

Tipke Manufacturing's piece de resistance: the snow rake, an extending rake that pulls snow off roofs.

Tipke Manufacturing employees had to work extra hours to meet the demand for their snow rakes.

Tipke Manufacturing, a metal fabricating company in Spokane, Washington, did not have much to look forward to entering the holidays. The small business of about 25 employees went through a round of layoffs and was planning to close its doors from Christmas Eve until early January.

But wintry weather hit the Pacific Northwest earlier than usual, dumping record amounts of snow and collapsing the roofs of a supermarket, a hardware store and a church gymnasium in the Spokane area.

A brainstorming session among employees led to designs for a prototype of a snow rake, an extending metal rake that pulls snow off roofs.

The product is not new to areas used to heaps of snow. On the Craigslist.com page for the area of Spokane and nearby Couer d'Alene, Idaho, people began posting ads selling and looking for snow rakes in early December.

"We were just tossing ideas around of how we could make a rake that was sturdier and stronger than others out there," said Ryan Ford, vice president of Tipke Manufacturing.

Ford's colleagues put together a few dozen models with thicker tubing and posted an ad on Craigslist, encouraging people to drop by the office to pick one up at $50 a pop. For $10 more, you could add a 5-foot extension to the rake, which is made of three collapsible 5-foot tubes.

Call it the right timing or the right product, but the response was overwhelming, the company said. After the first batch sold out on December 23, people stood in line for hours waiting for more. Video Watch lines forming inside Tipke's office »

"I feel real lucky because that line's very long, and we've already been here for an hour," one customer told CNN affiliate KXLY-TV in Spokane about his purchase.

Ford said, "We were selling them as fast as we could make them. We couldn't keep up."

After KXLY came by to cover the snow rake phenomenon, hundreds more were drawn to the end of a long line of customers on Christmas Eve. Sales skyrocketed alongside workshop morale. Two employees who had been let go were brought back in to help out.

"It's been crazy. We went from doing nothing to being busy and not having time for breaks, just being swamped," said floor supervisor Brian Collinsworth. "It's improved morale definitely."

As of Tuesday, falling rain and piling slush were still driving customers to Tipke's small headquarters. After selling about 1,500 rakes since December 23, the workshop was finally ahead of demand, but the snow rakes were selling fast.

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Looking forward, Ford said he hopes to market the snow rakes to a larger audience through retailers.

"We'd rather work through the retailers. Our office isn't really designed for this kind of thing," he said.

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