Untangling Opportunity

Untangling Opportunity

Cord Controller invention brings a little order to tech-driven world

By Kimberly Hundley and Cynthia Dunne  |  Photos by Adam Moreno

A decidedly low-tech problem straggles alongside our flashy high-tech world.

Electrical cords.

They’re everywhere these days, and they aren’t pretty. But Fountain Hills resident Karen Mask had made a career out of solving problems for major construction projects, and when she sold her business in 2008, she set her sights on quelling the quandary of unruly cords.

Mask’s answer is Cord Controller, an adjustable fabric sleeve that comes in a variety of sizes and colors to secure and organize all types of cords, from dainty iPhone chargers to heavy-duty extension cords.

“I grew up with an eye on the process of how things worked,” says Mask, creator and CEO of Cord Controller. “That natural tendency worked to my advantage early in my career as an economist, then as a sales and marketing executive at GE, and ultimately when I started my own project and construction management firm, KJM.”

About 30,000 units of the patented sleeves now await distribution from Mask’s Airpark warehouse/office at 14795 N. 78th Way, newly arrived from a manufacturer she selected in China. Distribution is just the latest stage in Mask’s six-year odyssey of taking a product idea to market.

One of the first steps, she recalls, was a conversation with her patent attorney, who nobody could accuse of trying to drum up business under false pretenses. He wasn’t encouraging. After all, Mask’s concept was so simple.

“Surely there has to be something already out there,” he said, confronting her with what he saw as a hard truth.

“Surely there is not,” Mask replied with the certainty of a Virgo neatnik who’s tried for 20-plus years to find a solution to a messy problem. “I’ve checked every hardware store.”

“You might not want to waste your money,” he advised.

“Let’s see what the research shows and take it from there,” she replied coolly.

After the attorney’s research team checked the federal database of patents and the records of university inventions, they agreed she had a unique concept.

“If I could be discouraged easily, I wouldn’t have done it,” she says now.

For decades, Mask played a key role in a male-dominated industry, and she’s not acquainted with the modifier “easily discouraged.” Her company, KJM, grew to become a major force in the project and construction management industry, facilitating in the management of multimillion-dollar budgets for major public works projects where the focus was on delivering projects on-time, on-budget and to specifications. Her firm oversaw projects such as Dallas Area Rapid Transit, Sky Harbor Airport, Phoenix Metro Light Rail, New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority, and Sound Transit in Seattle.

When an international firm approached Mask about selling KJM—which was fortunately right before the economic downturn—she seized the opportunity to do something else after 21 years. Cord Controller was a logical evolution of a career driven by details—not to mention her role as a single mother raising two children. The saying goes “Necessity is the mother of invention,” and for Mask the necessity was neatness and efficiency. She’d relied on organization to pave her way to success for herself and her family.

“I love challenges in the business world. I’m in sales. I like finding a solution to a person’s challenge,” she says. “Spreading the word on the benefits of neatness and organization comes naturally to me, and resonates more than ever today. So in that sense, I guess I’m uniting neatniks everywhere. We want tools that keep us moving safely and efficiently.”

Mask began making prototypes in 2009, soliciting feedback from family and friends. Cord Controller needed to be expandable; it needed a strap to tighten up the cord tucked inside; it needed to accommodate a spectrum of sizes. “Then I thought, ‘We need different colors,’” she recalls. “The person who runs the household would like to color-code uses, or blend colors with flooring or countertops to tuck away floor-lamp or tabletop cords.”

It’s that capacity to help camouflage cords that gives Cord Controller a leg up on the competition, even as other items continue to enter the market. “There is really nothing that will keep the cord as neat or hide the cord,” Mask says. “Twisties are an example of a competitor; a twist-tie will keeps cords in a bundle, but it isn’t pleasing to the eye.”

Mask waited 2½ years for patent approval—a delay she calls “the hard part.” In the meantime, she found a broker and investigated manufacturing options in Vietnam, the United States and China, settling on the latter as the most cost effective. Now that the product is in stock, she’s hard at work establishing solid channels of distribution, which includes having product representatives across the country.

“It looks very promising,” she says. “This is needed in the market. It’s a solution-based consumer product.”

A couple of local ACE Hardware stores now carry Cord Controller, as does Amazon.com. Reps will be going after big-box stores soon.

Mask’s advice to others with idea they think is worth patenting is to come up with a plan and take action.

“Hope is not a plan,” she says. “You have to plan for your goals and implement that plan. Just like project management, there are steps, activities, you have to lay out the work. It has to be done.”

More: cordcontroller.com.

CORD CONTROLLER Cord Controller pricing starts at $4.99. Find it at Artie’s Ace Hardware on Tatum Boulevard and Thunderbird Road, Phoenix; and Ace Hardware at Via Linda and 90th Street, Scottsdale.