Port Townsend hairdresser’s invention to warm customers
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Charlie Bermant/Peninsula Daily News
Debi Hinton gets ready to cut Scott Pascoe's hair. Hinton has received a patent for a spray bottle that warms up the water before using it to moisturize hair.

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

PORT TOWNSEND — When Debi Hinton began her career as a barber, she wished that the water used to moisten hair before a cut was a little warmer.

“When you spray someone with cold water before a haircut, it’s always a shock,” said Hinton, who owns the Victorian Clipper at 530 Kearney St.

“Warm water in a spray, it feels nice. Customers really notice the difference.”

Hinton regularly refills a bottle with warm tap water, but the temperature doesn’t stay consistent, and the customer sometimes gets a cold spray.

So after 20 years of cutting hair, Hinton developed a bottle that sprays warm water and was awarded a patent for the idea, which is described as a “spray bottle fluid heating system having thermostatic control and automatic condensate recovery.”

The patent document, awarded Jan. 1 to Hinton and her son, Joshua Kinney, describes the invention as “a spray bottle dispenser with a built-in heating element to heat the water to a desired temperature.”

The invention “is particularly useful in the field of cosmetology, in association with haircutting and styling, where warm and hot but not scalding water is used to assist in handling hair,” the patent says.

“When I started cutting hair, I wished someone sold something like this so I could buy one,” Hinton said.

“So I had to do it myself.”

The as-yet-unnamed invention resembles an electric teapot. A bottle with an embedded heating element fits into a plug-in base that heats the water on demand.

Hinton first described the idea to her son, who developed a series of schematic drawings that served as a design template for the product, then built a single prototype.

“Joshua made the prototype from existing parts from teapots and other places,” Hinton said.

“The prototype cost around $1,000, but it would have been a lot more if we hadn’t done it ourselves.”

Hinton said it was four years from the time the drawings were complete to when the patent was awarded, and it cost about $11,000 for development of the prototype and hiring a patent attorney.

Hinton said she expects her invention will cost between $24 and $40, addressing a market of 1.8 million hair salons now in business.

Hinton is now faced with the choice of manufacturing and marketing the product herself or licensing the idea to an existing beauty-products vendor.

She said it would cost about $125,000 to “tool up” the manufacturing process, saying the parts could be built elsewhere and shipped to Port Townsend for assembly.

Licensing the technology, however, is an easier path.

“It takes a lot of money to do a start-up,” she said.

“This summer, I’ll be approaching places that already sell things like hair dryers and curling irons.”

Hinton could still decide to run the company herself and already has received letters from venture capitalists who are eager to finance the operation.

Hinton concedes that her idea was obvious. She was awarded the patent because she was able to build and demonstrate the process.

“There was another patent that was similar, but they hadn’t thought through how it was really going to work,” she said.

Hinton used the prototype in her shop for a while, but it sprang a leak and is now at Kinney’s Bellingham home for repair.

Hinton said she came to Port Townsend 32 years ago “as a welfare mom with three small boys” when she was offered a job in a barber shop.

“I thought, ‘I can do this, but I’d rather do it myself,’ so I decided to open my own shop,” she said.

“I went to hair school, and I’ve been in this location for 20 years.”

The shop is open seven days a week. Hinton cuts Wednesdays through Sundays, while her sister, Ada Isakson, cuts Mondays and Tuesdays.

Hinton has built friendships with her customers and shares confidences with them, describing it as “like a bartender, but they are all sober and happy.”

She attributes her success to an ability to talk with her customers.

“I like to talk to my customers. It’s my social life,” she said.

“And I talk to them about their hobbies. I know a lot about hunting and fishing and golfing and other guy things, like hot rods.”

Hinton isn’t trained to cut women’s hair except those with very short cuts, while Isakson has some women customers.

“I really enjoy this job,” she said.

“A lot of my customers like having someone to talk to about whatever is going on in their lives.”

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Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at charlie.bermant@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: February 16. 2013 6:01PM
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