Focused On Seeing Things More Clearly

Like many Boomer Entrepreneurs, Jeff Bradford and Karen Arnett saw a need that wasn’t being addressed and created a product to meet that need.  Their story shows that having a good idea and developing it can not only lead to a business that provides income and a new career, but can also help businesses improve customer convenience by helping them see things more clearly.  That’s a ReInvention that’s hard to beat.  

How ReInvention Led To The Creation of Monocle Marquee

“Guilty!”  The jury had spoken on 12 felony counts: mail fraud, wire fraud and money laundering. Our involvement with a con-artist who had stolen millions of dollars from us and other unsuspecting investors over a patented idea for a new product called Binocs was over.  It was a great idea, an “almost finished” patented high-tech binocular vending unit that could be mounted under stadium and arena seats, but the whole encounter led to a devastating loss to our life savings and retirement nest egg.

We both had interesting past experiences involving start-up initiatives which made the situation a little easier to cope with, but not much.  I was in the restaurant industry and Karen had a 24 year career with AT&T. Now, at age 50 we needed to start over and figure out how to refill our coffers.  A move to Montana to be close to our Binocs “investment” was now limiting our opportunities so we relocated to Denver to buy and renovate rental properties.  Karen learned medical transcription which often can be done from home.

Things were going well in Colorado.  I was managing and maintaining seven rental properties.  Karen was working from home doing medical transcription for a large company which also offered us affordable medical insurance coverage.  Yet we worried about keeping medical insurance if Karen lost her job or if she wanted to retire. Would we be able to afford private medical insurance as we aged and began experiencing health problems?  We decided to shop for a policy that would meet our long-term needs.  We chose a high deductible plan.  While our monthly premiums were low, our out-of-pocket expenses would be higher.  This decision prevented Karen from becoming a “slave” to her company should a serious medical condition emerge for either of us and it insured that we would have coverage established going into retirement.

Soon after securing private insurance, we began remodeling one of our rental properties —a big beautiful old home in the historic district of Golden, Colorado—and moved into it as perhaps our final move. I did much of the work during the project which took a year to complete.  Just as the project was completed and we moved into our dream home, I began having difficulty breathing and all of my joints were very painful. I thought I had just overworked myself and needed some time to recuperate.  Unfortunately, a trip to the local immediate care clinic proved me wrong. 

After twice checking my oxygen reading the nurse started screaming “he’s at 72, he’s at 72.” I didn’t know what was happening as doctors and nurses came out of little rooms everywhere and began scurrying around like crazy. I asked if there was anything I could do to help out; I had no idea the emergency was me!

While my doctor was speaking to National Jewish Hospital in Denver, he directed the nurses to secure an emergency appointment with a respiratory specialist, to put me on oxygen STAT, and to have oxygen immediately delivered to our house.  I still didn’t know what was happening but had a sneaking suspicion that I might be at death’s door.

I was sent home that evening on oxygen and just like that, our lives were dramatically changed forever. Karen met me on the front porch in tears. The doctor had called her and the oxygen company had already been there to set up the tanks.  I would be on oxygen 24 hours a day, perhaps for the rest of my life… which apparently wasn’t going to be that long.

By the next afternoon I was struggling to breathe and could hardly walk to the car for my appointment with a specialist who did a battery of tests.  We were told that something was drastically wrong as my oxygen level was extremely low. He thought I likely had an advanced case of Interstitial Lung Disease which is progressive and terminal.  He was trying to get me into National Jewish Hospital since that is their expertise but there was a wait of two to three weeks to get in.  

Bedridden and on oxygen, the next two weeks were the most difficult of our lives. After exhausting tests, National Jewish provided a diagnosis and a prognosis – Interstitial Lung Disease of an undetermined origin and about a year to live.  Was it a coincidence that we had purchased private major medical insurance just a few months earlier?  That allowed Karen to quit her job to take care without losing coverage. Perhaps there was a higher power at work for us.

Our church has been a tremendous source of comfort and inspiration through this most difficult of times. All of the experimental medications proved to be no help and there was little else the doctors could do.  There is no cure and we still know very little about the disease, but as time passed I felt a little better and was able to get up and walk around using portable oxygen tanks. After two years of struggling against the disease, of taking all of the horrible experimental medications (which were worse than the disease), of constant visits to the doctor, we made a decision to simply put it all in God’s hands.  That was 3-½ years ago.  Today I use oxygen only when I sleep and am able to lead a productive life if I monitor my oxygen levels and don’t over exert myself.

Now that we knew I was going to live, we had to figure out how we were going to live.  Karen had quit her job to take care of me and the real estate bubble had burst.  I could no longer manage or maintain our rental properties so we had to sell them at a huge loss.  Much of what we had counted on for retirement income was again gone. We still had our beautiful home which was paid for and a little bit of savings left but now it was time to take the biggest gamble of all – an entrepreneurial start-up initiative that involved an idea we had a decade earlier.  

The idea for the Monocle Marquee™ was born about 10 years ago. At a local restaurant for dinner one evening, neither of us could read the fine print on the menu. Jeff noticed that an acrylic tabletop menu holder was displaying the restaurant’s high-profit dessert specials.  He commented that it would be very convenient if that display also had a magnifier to help us read the fine print. We didn’t do anything with the idea then.

Last year we had lunch with some friends who had forgotten their reading glasses. After squinting and holding the menu at arm’s length they still couldn’t make out the fine print. The restaurant had a tabletop menu holder displaying their specials in a very easy-to-read point size. Jeff told our friends about his idea of mounting a magnifier above the display area to solve this very problem. They encouraged us to pursue the idea. . 

We thought long and hard about this because we knew the funding would have to come from what was left of our retirement savings. We decided to make some prototypes and once we got started it was hard to stop because one thing just led to another. Working with acrylic, finding lenses at a reasonable cost, figuring out how to do the silk screening and affixing the lens to the acrylic, sourcing the production, etc. was all new to us. We used the internet to identify potential manufacturers and then submitted design details and solicited bids on a per unit basis.

We also tested the product with other baby boomers and seniors who liked the convenience Monocle Marquee offered when trying to read fine print on a restaurant menu or on things in the home or office.  Magnification comes in handy for reading prescription bottles, check books, monthly statements, bills, etc. – even for those who wear glasses.

People liked the idea of creating customized display inserts for telephone numbers, pictures, IDs, passwords, prescriptions, menus, pictures, etc. We devised a simple, easy-to-use page on our website to help create free personal, customized display inserts in any font and size. For more examples or to use our Customize-It!™ page to bring your ideas to life, visit our website at:  

Monocle Marquee can benefit a business by helping customers see prices, product descriptions, menu items, etc. clearly and by profiling their high profit items in the table top displays, leading to additional sales and profits and offering improved customer service. The tabletop design of Monocle Marquee also insures that it won’t get lost in a drawer like reading or other magnifying glasses or be hidden under a stack of papers like other contact lists.  

During market testing we secured U.S. and foreign patents and trademarks.  We’re now marketing Monocle Marquee through many different mediums.  It has been well received and sales are brisk.  It feels good to have some self-worth, a little stability, a reason to be here, and to offer a product that helps people with added convenience.

We learned a few lessons along the way.  It took more money and time than we thought.  We should have doubled or even tripled the amount of budgeted resources.   We needed a strong support system that included people who helped guide us past roadblocks.  We also depended on our faith for courage and strength to keep going.

We hope you try Monocle Marquee. If we can help one person in some way with our story, it will have been worth it all!

Jeff Bradford and Karen Arnett







Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: