• How an Ugly Duckling Became a Swan

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How an Ugly Duckling Became a Swan

This year marks the 25th anniversary of an icon in the product display world – the Pullbox®; introduced in 1981 by the Vulcan Spring Company of Telford, Pennslvania.

Today, the Pullbox, in all its customized configurations, is one of the best selling product display devices in the world. Pullboxes can be found worldwide, employed in countless locations and displays, where it acts as a retractable tether for cellphones, PDAs, sunglasses, and literally thousands of products.

Like so many American inventions, the Pullbox grew out of a totally unrelated project. In 1980, Vulcan was a spring manufacturer with a steady client base. Its founder, Alex Rankin, was always looking for new opportunities. One of his springs was used in the first Talking GI Joe action figure in the 1960s.

A concept was presented to design and build an anchor for duck decoys. The idea involved a retractable line that would allow the decoys to stay in a fixed position and the prototype was called the Duck-o-Matic.

Sales didn’t exactly fly, but Alex’s son and future Vulcan president Scott Rankin did – often on business for the company to meet with clients and prospects.

As Scott flew home from a meeting one night he began to doodle with the design and came up with a concept for a little rectangular box with a spring inside and a wire tether that could extend and retract.

He presented the design to the company and the Pullbox was born. A few prototype models were built and Scott began taking them around to POP Display companies, explaining that the Pullbox could allow products to be securely tethered to displays, but customers would still be able to interact comfortably with the merchandise – trying on gloves, or glasses or handling almost anything.

The first sale was made before any product existed and it was for 2800 units. A molding company was quickly found and hired to build the cases. Vulcan scrambled to fill the order and Scott was up for three nights personally gluing the parts of his invention together to meet the deadline. And as the first order was being assembled the second order came in and it was even larger.

The company shifted into high gear and over the years moved from glue to sonic welding. Assemblers were hired, colors were added, and customization became the central feature. Vulcan elected not to stock thousands of standard Pullboxes: instead, the company offered tailored options and built specific models to meet precise customer challenges.

As time passed the company built a vast array of options including different cable lengths, strengths, and diameters. New end fittings were added regularly and a vast library of types is currently available.

Vulcan adapted the design a few years ago to create a small, attractive Pullbox design that would reside on the outside of a display – the VS-1. Its patented swivel mechanism ensured that the customer would never tangle the tether and it was offered in designer colors to match display requirements.

So what’s next for the venerable Pullbox which is still the company’s best selling product display tether? Rankin only hints at the future. “We have an idea – a new model coming out very soon that will do what every Pullbox design has always done–answer our customers’ needs,” said the inventor of the original device which grew from very humble beginnings and laid more than a few golden eggs for Vulcan.