CLEVELAND -- Maybe you've never heard of Nottingham and Spirk. But there is a good chance you own one of their ideas.
The two friends and business partners joke that they don't invent new products. Instead, they take existing products and make them better.
They're the great minds behind the Crest Spin Brush or Sherwin Williams' twist-and-pour paint can. The duo also came up with the Swiffer Sweep Vac.
John Nottingham and John Spirk have been "innovating" since graduating from The Cleveland Institute of Art in 1972. They set up their first "shop" in, of all places, an old garage in University Circle.
"We had the opportunity to go anywhere in the country to start a business. This was the place for us," John Spirk said.
The Pittsburgh natives found their niche right here in Northeast Ohio. Design work for early clients like Little Tikes and Royal Vacuum Cleaners helped them grow, right out of their second set of offices, and into a new space that was far from typical. John Nottingham recalls, "someone at the University said, 'you ought to look at this church!'"
For sale by its shrinking congregations, the church drew interest by developers for its land. It wasn't until Nottingham and Spirk took in the 5 stories, and auditorium-like sanctuary, that the building's true potential was realized.
"So all of a sudden we took a building, a great historical building that was designed to be used one or two times a week. And now we're using it almost 24/7. When you are in the innovation business, you have to be inspired to think beyond yourself. In a church you will think beyond yourself," Nottingham explains.
For Nottingham and Spirk thinking beyond also means thinking ahead. As Northeast Ohio's manufacturing landscape changed, some companies crumbled. Nottingham and Spirk adjusted and thrived.
"It's part of our training. It's part of our culture here. We have to find, we have to see the invisible," Spirk says. That meant tapping into the emerging medical technology coming out of Northeast Ohio.
Their latest innovation is something called the Care 4 Station, a medical kiosk. Designed for grocery stores, pharmacies, or even large businesses, the kiosk is something of a 'doc in a box."
Rather than running to a doctor's office for minor ailments like sore throats or earaches, the Care 4 Station allows a doctor at a remote location to check your symptoms and prescribe treatment. The Care 4 Station is already being tested in Columbus.
Nearly a thousand patents line the company's walls, a testament to their vision and success. The inventors who reinvented themselves, see their adopted home following on the very same path.
"It's just a vibrant place, and we're thrilled because we kind of knew that all along. We wanted to be here for that moment, and it's here," says Nottingham.
"I gotta tell you, this is our 40th anniversary, and we are looking to the next 40 years. I'm telling you, the next 40 years are going to be unbelievable," explains Spirk, with a wide smile.
As enthusiastic as they are about the region's direction, the men are even more animated as they describe the homegrown talent, and the people who work for them.
"We have the best and the brightest working here. It's such an inspiration to have so much talent around us all the time. How do you manage people like that? And the answer is you don't. You just let people do the best they can do within the environment and it just works," Spirk says.