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Heat a big plus for winter's hot seller

Shuttsco capitalizes on Florida's hot conditions for the manufacture of its popular Sno-Rakes.

[Times photo: Maurice Rivenbark]
Denny Krapf works on Sno-Rakes he has just pulled from the molding machine.

By SAUNDRA AMRHEIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 2, 2001


BROOKSVILLE -- When the rest of Hernando County sizzles in summer's 90-plus temperatures, the climate inside Shuttsco Inc. tops that.

It's the perfect environment for what the company is trying to make inside: snow products.

For more than a dozen years years, the family business on Spring Hill Drive has specialized in making broom-like items to push heavy blankets of snow covering cars far away.

It's called the Sno-Rake.

The patented devices, whose rectangular heads are made from molded polyethylene foam around a block of maple wood, seal best in high temperatures. Instead of paying to heat a large building for part of the year in northern states, Shuttsco Inc. employees sweat through the natural and perfect conditions in a warehouse-like structure next to two blazing ovens whose temperatures hover around 240-degrees.

"They say, 'You make them where?' " employee Bruce Butler says of clients who call.

"I tell them, 'If you had to build products for the snow, where would you go?' " he said. "We like to sell (snow products) up there, but not live in it."

The business got its start after Carl "Bud" Schutts dreamed up the idea in 1979 while working for an automobile dealership in northern Indiana.

"After you get through a few snow storms and use some brooms on (the autos), you damage them," said Bud's wife, Katy Schutts, 65. She took over when her husband died six years ago.

Her husband experimented with a few models with plastic foam and a handle before turning over a design using polyethylene to an engineer. Shortly after Bud Schutts sent a package of 12 snow removers to a distributor, he received the package back with a note that said, "These will never sell," Mrs. Schutts said.

Within a few years, the distributor learned how wrong he was.

"A few years later he became one of our biggest distributors," she said. "He found out they did sell."

In the early 1980s, Bud Schutts obtained patents in Canada and the United States for the Sno-Rake, touted as a nonabrasive freeze resistant head that will not scratch or damage the paint or surface of a vehicle. A wooden handle allows the owner to stretch across a car to remove snow.

Still, the Schuttses did not devote all their time to it. In fact, Bud Schutts got out of the car business. They moved to New Mexico, then Oklahoma City, where Bud Schutts started selling cemetery plots. Eventually they moved to Spring Hill in 1984.

Though they had been selling Sno-Rakes through the years as orders came through, the Schuttses set up shop shortly after arriving in Spring Hill and began to make the items on their own.

"My husband said, 'My name's on it, I want the best product I can sell,' " Mrs. Schutts said.

The 6,000-square-foot building houses the ovens, press, office and plenty of storage space for 70 orange polyethylene rolls that arrive from Chicago. The building also holds the Sno-Rakes that are made mostly through the spring, summer and fall when conditions are best to seal the material.

"It's definitely a seasonal business and you definitely have to budget," Mrs. Schutts said. Since her husband died, she runs the business with the help of two sons-in-law, Butler and Rick Dofka, a former teacher and swimming coach at Springstead High School.

Planning ahead doesn't always work in the weather business. This winter's blizzards in northern states resulted in the company's biggest number of sales -- 50,000 Sno-Rakes. But employees couldn't keep up with demand.

Denny Krapf, who joined the Schuttses in 1991 with decades of industrial experience and the scars to prove it, worked the ovens and presses almost non-stop.

"Everything I was making was going right into boxes and onto UPS trucks," he said. "The Saturday before New Year's Eve, I was working, and New Year's Eve I was working."

"It was a bad winter," Dofka said.

"It was a good winter," Butler added.

While the sales are highest in the winter, Krapf's busiest time is usually in June and July, when he arrives at work about 3 a.m. to put in a day's work ahead of the worst heat. The higher the temperature, the better the mold holds. But they don't make for the most comfortable of days.

"Honey, come on over in June or July and I'll show you by 10 o'clock in the morning it's about 140-degrees back here by the press," Krapf said. "I work until 10 or 11 o'clock, and by then, I've had to change my shirt once already."

"He makes a killer pizza in there, too," Butler joked, pointing to the oven, clearly Krapf's domain.

After Dofka tried his hand at the press and oven, placing the foam in the press at a bad angle, he broke a couple of blades and was banished by Krapf ever since.

Now Dofka sticks to the business end. The company stopped selling on the retail market several years ago and now deals only through distributors, who sell to automotive dealers and auto stores in the United States and Canada.

Wholesale prices range from $19.95 for the 12-inch Sno-Rake with the 30-inch handle to $26.95 for the 18-inch Sno-Rake with a 48-inch Sure-Grip handle.

Despite the unpredictable business of making weather-related products, Dofka is sure the company's best days lie ahead.

Shuttsco's recent move to package smaller Sno-Rakes for distributors will catch on with a wider public and he expects sales to skyrocket.

"The little one will sell more than the big one in a couple of years," he said.

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