When you think about big companies in Utah, names like Facebook, Adobe, Instructure, or Pluralsight might come to mind. But if you stopped right there, you’d be missing out on all the fun. Outside the Silicon Slopes, there’s a renegade movement of unexpected businesses doing things a little differently. From scented bowling balls to lung cancer diagnostic tools, here’s four companies you probably don’t know about:
At Loftus International, they take joking seriously. Ever since George Loftus opened his novelty shop on Main Street Salt Lake City in 1939, the company’s focus has been to bring toys, magic, and fun to generations of children. Loftus Novelty was the first shop of its kind in Salt Lake, selling novelty items to the public.
An amateur magician, Mr. Loftus performed tricks for kids at his store, and then sold magic kits by the dozen. He also jumped on the Davy Crockett trend, stocking the store with coonskin caps and playing the show’s theme song on repeat. Every trendy item, from pet rocks to slime to funny greeting cards, has been on the Loftus shelves, adding a bit of fun for kids of all ages.
Loftus Novelty began selling wholesale in the 1960s and expanded its inventory by importing products from around the globe. The shop is also a big distributor of balloons, costumes, stuffed animals, and party supplies. With its growing reputation, the company’s name changed to Loftus International in 1995 to more accurately describe its place on the world stage as one of the most respected novelty distributors in the U.S.
As a leader in the industry, Loftus specializes in selling to schools, churches, businesses or non-profits. The company no longer sells retail and doesn’t show pricing on its website unless the customer sets up an approved account. Having a wholesale-only model allows the company to keep prices low for its valued clients.
Jim Rose, third generation family member and current president of Loftus, says the company continues to evolve. “We’re always updating our IT, shipping processes, website, and social media presence, and we visit the big tradeshow in China each year to stay on top of what best-sellers are predicted,” he says. This year’s most requested items include mermaids, pineapples, and flamingoes, and according to Mr. Rose, “Unicorn poop slime is all the rage.”
Located in downtown Salt Lake City, Loftus has kept its business in Utah for all these years, still building on the idea that life is fun and novelties add a bit of color to all occasions. “George was my father’s stepfather,” Mr. Rose says. “He was passionate about what he did. It was the kids that really kept him going.”
Lung cancer continues to be the deadliest cancer in the country, killing more than breast, colon, and pancreatic cancers combined. Three-quarters of lung cancers are detected only after they’ve spread, leaving patients with few treatment options, but if lung cancer can be diagnosed earlier, thousands of lives could be saved. That’s where ProLung’s diagnostic tool comes in. This revolutionary, fast, and non-invasive medical device sends a small electrical current through the chest cavity. Because the current’s speed is different if the nodule is benign or malignant, the measurement can give oncologists the option to treat lung cancer much earlier.
Patients diagnosed in the later stages of the disease have only a 17 percent 5-year survival rate, but that number jumps to 80 percent if the cancer is treated in its early stages. “We developed the ProLung test where we can help physicians make that diagnosis earlier,” says Andy Robertson, ProLung Chief Marketing Officer. “We’re giving them a risk stratification score so they can determine what the next strategy needs to be.” It is common for patients to wait months, or even years, and undergo multiple CT scans before lung cancer is confirmed. Then it’s often too late. The ProLung test can get results within 24 hours.
Anyone who’s ever waited for a cancer diagnosis understands how mentally draining it can be. “You think you might have lung cancer and it’s terrifying because you just don’t know. More than 95 percent of the time it’s benign, but we still put patients through this excruciating, watchful waiting,” he says.
Once the test gets FDA approval, which should be later this year, it could save the healthcare industry billions of dollars by cutting out unnecessary CT scans and screenings. “We’ve estimated it will save Medicare $16 billion by using the ProLung test, if they screened all the people at risk in their system,” says Mr. Robertson.
Located in downtown Salt Lake City, ProLung was presented with the Utah Technical Council’s 2018 Innovation Award. With on-site manufacturing and product development, the business is a “proud Utah company.” “We’ve been able to partner with IHC and the Huntsman Cancer Institute because we felt it was so important to maintain those Utah roots and work with pulmonologists in our own backyard,” Mr. Robertson says. “This type of test is completely novel. It’s never been used before for lung cancer.”
Mr. Robertson says it’s been incredibly validating to be recognized with awards and honors for the ProLung device, which he stresses is not for cancer detection but another tool for screening patients effectively by stratifying the risk. “It’s about time that we did something,” he says. “It’s about time we changed the status quo.”
It’s been nearly 100 years since Casper Merrill first created Casco Nut Sundaes—ice cream nut sundaes made from local milk and sold at Fourth of July celebrations. They were a hit. Soon after, he developed his FatBoy ice cream sandwiches and put his name on the map. Casper’s Ice Cream is located in Richmond, a small farming town north of Logan, but the company is anything but small town. It’s one of the leading frozen treat manufacturers in the United States. FatBoy sandwiches can be found in grocery stores across the country and are associated with summer vacation, trips to grandma’s house and rich indulgences.
To stay competitive, Casper’s continually introduces new flavors (like s’mores and key lime), plus it recently added a line of FatBoy Freeze Pops. “They just launched a new product that’s already been picked by Walmart. The FatBoy Freeze Pops have taken flavors from the fairground to the freezer,” says Joaby Parker, Casper’s marketing manager. “There’s orange cream, root beer float, cotton candy, watermelon, and tiger’s blood. They’re already doing fantastic even though they’ve only been on the shelves a few months.”
The company also acquired Jolly Llama sorbet and cream pops, offering a wholesome alternative for those living a healthy lifestyle. “Jolly Llama pops are non-GMO, non-dairy, certified gluten-free and are a popular offering in the frozen aisle today. It’s been very successful in places like Whole Foods, Sprouts, Natural Grocers and places like that,” he says. Jolly Llama offers six flavors of fruit sorbet pops and three flavors of cream pops. The cream pops are dairy-free, using coconut milk to provide a healthy alternative for those who have a dairy allergy or intolerance. Mr. Parker says, at around 100 calories, Jolly Llama pops are a guilt-free delicious experience.
Paul Merrill, Casper’s grandson, manages the company which just completed phase two of a three-phase expansion to support a production line that creates more than 700,000 products per day. As CEO and President of Casper’s Ice Cream, Paul was named the 2018 Small Business Person of the Year for Utah by the Small Business Administration. “They’re not a ‘make all the money you can and don’t care about the people’ company,” Mr. Parker says. “They’re still a family-run company and within that company it feels like a family.”
When Bill Chrisman founded High Score Products in 1985, he was creating and marketing his bowling ball cleaner. Urethane bowling balls were a relatively new product at the time and would absorb oil from bowling lanes, affecting the ball’s performance. Mr. Chrisman’s cleaner helped keep the ball oil-free and high-performing. It wasn’t until six years later that Mr. Chrisman started manufacturing bowling balls at his location in Brigham City. He hired urethane bowling ball wizard Keith Orton to get things rolling and the company continues to introduce innovative, fun products to keep customers enthralled.
Storm’s bowling ball products range from top-of-the-line professional to the affordable and easy-to-control beginner. In fact, two of the Storm Mix Urethane were listed on the 10 Best Bowling Balls for Kids 2018, with its bold colors and beautiful designs. “Our purpose is to continue to inspire existing bowlers and to foster and develop new bowlers. We must continue to educate pro shops on industry best-practices to properly service their customers to insure all who choose our equipment have the best chance at positive experiences,” the site states.
But what really sets Storm Products apart is its line of scented bowling balls that has been a game-changer in the industry. While people usually associate bowling ball smells with cheap beer, stale cigarettes, and stinky shoes, scented bowling balls come in dozens of fragrances like apple crisp, boysenberry, sangria, and fruit salad. Bowlers have fallen in love with these fragrances that keep lockers, trunks, and bowling bags smelling fresh. The long-lasting scents are mixed in with the material used to create the ball’s outer shell. Some bowlers credit the scented bowling balls with keeping them calm during events, reminding them to focus and to add an element of joy each time the bowling ball is thrown.
Storm Products’ purpose is to grow the sport of bowling by promoting fun, optimism and energy. Its vision is to, “be the innovative leader in the bowling industry focused on performance, growth, and education… We are committed to continually “raising the bar” of innovation and service, and to always go above and beyond their expectations. By doing all of the above we create Raving Fans and make our business successful.”