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C3’s Cutler, Skelton invent their road to retail

SportFans is a windsock that clips onto the outside of a vehicle’s window. It lights up via wind power to display themed designs.

That Bob Cutler — he’s always starting something.

He’s had a knack for it since 1987, when he started C3, a company that creates products for restaurant clients to entertain and differentiate their brands for families with children.

“We can take something on a blank piece of paper all the way through the process of getting it to the consumer, through a client,” Cutler said. 

C3 has 45 employees. Its biggest seller among its 800 million product units sold is a patented drinking cup with a removable headband for children to wear. C3 sells the product to the Denny’s restaurant company, which became a client in 2012. Denny’s gives some of the cups away to customers as promotional products in addition to selling them.

“Denny’s has never sold as many cups,” Cutler said. “We will have sold millions of cups at Denny’s by December 2017.” 

In 2014, Cutler started another company, Nemo Ventures, with the idea of taking C3’s products to other retail markets. Nemo hasn’t sold any products yet, but C3 has developed several new products for Nemo.

The latest one is called SportFans. It’s a windsock that clips onto the outside of a vehicle’s window. It lights up via wind power to display themed designs. The product will be sold at 18 Party City stores in February. 

SportFans and other products are the brainchild of Paul Skelton, C3’s senior director of product development and product inventor. He joined the company in January 2014.

C3 also developed a plush dog stuffed animal that it’s pitching through Nemo to fast-food restaurant company Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers with the idea that the company could sell the product to raise money for animal welfare charitable causes.

Cutler has high hopes for Nemo, but his efforts with the company to break into other retail markets through distributors have been “incredibly difficult.”

“Distributors tend to be risk averse,” he said. “They’re not built around innovation but around selling existing products.”

Cutler’s also looking at the movie, college and sports markets through Nemo. He approached Major League Baseball about the headband cup, but MLB said it wouldn’t give the company licensing rights because the product would cut into its sales of ball caps. He also approached the Kansas City Chiefs, but the team wanted money up front for licensing rights. 

Cutler, who will turn 60 years old next week, is Jewish and he studies Torah with Rabbi Zalman Tiechtel and worships with his students at KU Chabad. 

He was born and raised in Philadelphia and studied sociology at the University of Denver. He worked in sales for Hallmark Cards for several years, starting in Moscow, Idaho, where he was “actually one of the first Jews that a number of my clients had ever met,” and then in Seattle and Kansas City.

Philanthropy plays an important role in his life, he said. He encourages each of his employees to give 40 hours a year of volunteer community service on company time to a charitable cause of their choice.

“When we contribute time, money or talent, we’re sharing our blessings to make the world better,” he said. 

One example of that is when C3 gave away flags as a promotional item at KU Chabad’s Hawks Nosh concession stand in Allen Fieldhouse at a recent men’s basketball game.

Cutler has held leadership positions with United Jewish Charities, the Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy, the Center for Leadership and Learning, the Greater Kansas City Jewish Federation and the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee of Kansas City.

Skelton is 38. He was born in Warrensburg, Missouri, and grew up there and in Independence, Missouri. He studied industrial design at the University of Kansas. He worked at Garmin Ltd. and in research and development before he started at C3. He’s the nephew of the late Ike Skelton, who was a U.S. representative for Missouri’s 4th congressional district from 1977 to 2011.

Cutler and Skelton give quick responses to the question of what their driving forces are for them in their work.

“When we see a problem, we’re fascinated to try finding a solution,” Cutler said.

“We’re creators,” Skelton said. “We like to make stuff.”