Today: How George Ballas made a fortune by inventing the Weed Eater.
For George at his home and for tens of millions of other gardeners everywhere, trimming grass and weeds growing around trees, fences, sidewalks and driveways was time consuming and a laborious process.
Then one day in 1971, George was at a car wash near his Houston home and saw the spinning bristles wrap around his car, scrubbing the dirt off. Suddenly he had an idea.
When he got home, George grabbed a small can, punched holes in it, threaded it with fishing line and wire and attached it to a motor driven rotating edger. He then went into his yard and tried out this odd device on grass growing around his trees and it worked.
George was thrilled and named his new weed and grass cutting device the Weed Eater.
But the motor made a lot of noise and the device wasn’t very safe, so George installed a quieter light weight motor and switched to a single nylon strand. And it worked like a charm.
Now George was really excited, believing there was a massive market for his Weed Eater. To get the money to mass market it he approached various investors. But everyone said no.
It was depressing but George refused to quit. In disgust, he decided to go it alone.
But how could George do this without big money? The answer: a little bit at a time. At first he bought cheap local TV ads and in 1972, he managed to sell $570,000 in Weed Eaters, as the public became aware of his invention.
As Weed Eaters kept selling, he used the money to buy more advertising and to add new models; which he gave cute names to, such as the “Weedie” and the “Clippie.”
By 1976, George had an astounding $41 million in sales. The following year he sold Weed Eater to giant Emerson Electric for an undisclosed sum, but thought to be a fortune.
What investors rejected five years earlier had made George rich. Ultimately he would create over 100 inventions but ironically being an inventor was not his real passion. What was that passion? The answer may surprise you.
George was born in Ruston, Louisiana June 28th 1925, to Greek immigrants, Charles and Maria Ballas, who owned a restaurant. But in 1942, 17 year old George joined the Army and fought in World War ll and later in the Korean War.
When his military service ended, in 1952 he married flamenco dancer Maria Louisa Marulanda, who had appeared in the movies, including “Rio Grande” in 1949. It was she who taught him the tango and helped him focus on his real passion, dancing.
The couple performed professionally and George later managed Arthur Murray and Fred Astaire dance studios, heading Fred Astaire Studios from 1960 to 1964. He then took over an unused old movie palace and started and ran the Dance City USA Studio.
Dance City claimed to be the world’s biggest dance studio with 43,000 square feet and 120 dance teachers under one roof. After George sold Dance City in the early 1970’s, he focused his energy on the Weed Eater and subsequently into commercial real estate investment.
But dancing is in the family genes.
His and Maria’s son Corky became a top professional dancer and Corky’s son Mark Ballas since 2007 has been a professional dancer on “Dancing with the Stars,” produced at CBS Television City in Hollywood for the ABC Network.
Three generations of dancing stars surely made George very proud and he lived long enough to see Mark become a fixture on one of America’s most popular TV shows. But on June 25th 2011, 85 year old George passed away of natural causes in a Houston hospital.
He is survived by Maria, his wife of nearly 60 years and by their sons Corky, George, Jr. (Buck), and by their three daughters, Maria Jamail, Michelle Pritchard, and Lillian Miles, and by seven grandchildren.
And George is also survived by Weed Eater users across the world. His invention revolutionized gardening and became a gardening staple.
Success Tip of the Week:
If you have an idea for what you feel could be a great invention, don’t let rejection stop you. Pursue it and what happened to George Ballas could potentially happen to you.
Thank you to my son Kevin for suggesting George’s story. Kevin is an avid amateur gardener who uses his Weed Eater around his home.
In the next KazanToday:
How Thomas Edison overcame a formal education of just three months to create inventions that would change the world.