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Smoothing out the bumps

Chris Lane was taking his newly acquired dream car for a spin when he encountered a dose of reality.

The black Porsche convertible with tan leather seats struck an unseen metal plate covering a trench in the road, sending a shiver down his spine and a ripple through the front wheel rim.

He pulled over and jumped out to find his $1,800 rim bent.

The teeth-jarring instant soon became an ahah moment.

"I was livid," Lane admitted. "But it sparked something. Right then and there, I decided there had to be a better way. I had been in construction all my life and I knew about plastics. I always had great ideas and then would see the product a few years later. I thought 'Not this time, I'm going to do something about it.' "

That was five years ago.

It didn't take long for Lane to devise a — now patented — remedy he calls Plate Locks.

It's a simple, nonmechanical device used to secure, and mark road plates, which before were either simply left as unmarked heavy metal speed bumps or perhaps had a dressing of cold-mix asphalt around their edges to nominally hold them in place.

Lane's bright orange Plate Locks are fastened to the ground on four sides with lag bolts, but easily removed by construction workers the next day.

He sells the locks for about $8 per linear foot and anticipates $240,000 in sales this year. He figures to double that in 2014 with the product already hitting both coasts and as a far away as Australia. For now, it's a two-person show he runs in Central Point with his wife Shannon, who has a background in accounting.

"She does all the paperwork and I'm involved in sales by trade," said the former Countrywide Mortgage broker.

Lane said sales might have surpassed current trends had he not sold the majority of his early inventory to Ferguson, a Virginia wholesale industrial equipment distributor that moved the locks to its retail outlets, but didn't explain what to do with them.

The good news, Lane said, was that deal put him in the black and paid for the molds used to produce Plate Locks.

"They bought a huge amount of material with the promise of getting it out everywhere," Lane said. "They ended up going to Oregon, Washington, California and Nevada, but nobody knew how to sell it."

Nonetheless, Plate Locks has operated in the black since its second year and been steady customer for Perideo, a Medford firm on Crater Lake Avenue that can produce between 500 and 750 Plate Locks per day with its 570-ton press.

Typically, Perideo makes ankle braces and spring-loaded wrist and elbow rehabilitation splints.

"It's been a slow road to success, but it promises to be something great," said Eric Foy, Perideo's owner and chief operations officer. "In the long run, this could employ two to three positions by itself."

Plate Locks got a boost when Central Point formally required the Plate Locks be used to hold construction site covers in place.

"Engineers look at what specifications are put in place by other cities and then adopt those specs," Lane said.

With 16 more years remaining on his patent and millions of plates bumping around the roads, Lane will hit American Public Works Association trade shows in Chicago, San Diego and Seaside as well as the International Construction and Utility Equipment Exposition in Louisville.

"Cold mix (asphalt) retains diesel and kerosene and then it runs off into storm drains, that doesn't happen with Plate Locks," he said. "My customers love it because they don't have to go out on a Sunday night and replace it when it gets knocked off a trench."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregMTBusiness, and read his blog at www.mailtribune.com/Economic Edge.

Traffic travels over a Plate Lock behind Costco on Lear Way in Medford on Monday. A Central Point resident developed the plates after he had a jarring encounter himself with a metal road plate. - Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch