From Platte City to the other side of the globe to “chief number cruncher,” Platte County R-3 graduate Amy Gray has come a long way to become co-owner of an innovative North Kansas City firm. A member of the Class of ’95, Amy Gray (previously Donald) serves as chief financial officer — and number cruncher, as her business card proclaims — of The Handy Camel. With a storefront on Swift Avenue in Northtown, Amy and her husband Tom Gray form the core of a firm that brings unique and innovative foreign products to the U.S. market and helps budding inventors launch new products.
The company’s namesake is a giant German bag clip with a German name of equally gigantic proportions.
“There was no way we could use that name here in the states, so we tried to think of a name we could use,” Amy said.
Many bag clip names were already licensed, so the Grays got a little creative.
“Camels carry things, and the clip handle sort of looks like a hump…”
The Handy Camel was born.
But the story doesn’t really begin there. It begins years before, in Las Vegas, Nev., where New Zealand native Tom Gray was visiting the United States and scratching an item off his bucket list.
“I was travelling from Texas to LA in a convertible,” Tom Gray said, when he stopped off in Vegas.
Amy was there for a work conference when she sat down beside him at a roulette table and a connection was made. Tom Gray was living in Australia when Amy came to join him. As an accountant, she was equipped to help him with his own company.
“Tom isn’t an inventor, but he sees really cool products and he knows how to bring them to market,” Amy said.
At the time, Tom Gray was marketing products to Bunnings, an Australian home improvement superstore. After the couple started their family, it was time to move to the United States, where Amy could be closer to her family, and they could begin a new business venture as well.
In 2013, the family sold the Australian company and started the search for products to market in the United States.
This is truly where The Handy Camel was born, when the Grays licensed the unique German bag clip, which features a ratcheting latch system to customize the grip on bags both thick and thin. The clip is now manufactured in the U.S. as well, in a Grandview, Mo., facility.
The clip was a hit and the Grays started searching for new products.
The Renegade Broom is The Handy Camel’s new product, which features curved bristles to dig into crevices. The Renegade Broom launch was funded, in part, through a successful crowd funding campaign held in late summer.
While Amy is the finance officer, the president of The Handy Camel is Tom Gray — whose card also reads “chief camel wrangler and sheep farmer.”
“Tom is what I would call an inventors’ advocate,” Amy Gray said, and since cultivating new inventors and assisting them also creates new products for The Handy Camel to market, the Grays have become heavily involved in working with innovators.
The Handy Camel is co-creator of Make 48, an invention challenge held at Union Station in Kansas City in early October. Teams from all over the United States and Canada converged on Union Station to invent, create and pitch new products to corporate judges — all in 48 hours.
The winners this year were a group of high school girls from Lee’s Summit, whose product will have a good shot at development for sale by a major corporation.
“It was a really cool idea, but I can’t tell what it is,” Amy Gray said.
The program garnered so much positive attention that the Smithsonian Institute expressed interest in the contest for next year.
The Grays’ high profile has led budding inventors to send them their ideas and seek advice on development, either for their own line of product offerings or for development by others.
“All of our products focus on making chores less of a chore,” Amy Gray said, and items like the Camel Clip and Renegade Broom have been tested on their family farm near Smithville, Mo. where the Grays raise sheep.
Into 2016, the company plans to expand its offerings with a lawn trimmer head, and hopes to move into the pet industry. Tom Gray said they plan to release a new product every month next year to keep offering consumers new innovations.
For more information on The Handy Camel and their products, visit the website at www.thehandycamel.com.