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Friday, January 20, 2006

Byline: Al Lewis

Dec. 11--Free enterprise is about solving problems -- no matter how insignificant or ridiculous they may seem.

Like those bubbles that collect in baggy swimming trunks when you sit near the hot tub jets. At first, they are just embarrassing, making it appear as though things are going on in your shorts that you would rather not discuss. Then, the next thing you know, there's a pocket of air amassed around your groin and you are floating out of your seat.

"It can be embarrassing," said Julie Hobbs, 41, who has watched her husband, Steve, struggle with this problem. "But, mainly, it's annoying." Hobbs, a sales rep from Lafayette, has carved a niche by cutting notches. She founded Ventz SpaWear, which sells swimming trunks with six slits in the front that let the bubbles escape.

For $29.95, the vented shorts are available in three colors and five sizes at or at Mountain Mist Spas in Longmont and Fort Collins. Take it from customer Mark Connelly of Firestone, who provided this boast on the Ventz website: "I don't float anymore." In Westminster, Darryl and Sara Lusk have found a niche in knots.

In 1989, Darryl, now 39, was working at a lumberyard when his boss asked him to tie down a load on a truck. All he could offer was a series of granny knots -- an embarrassment that led to a 16-year-long entrepreneurial pursuit.

Today, Lusk and his wife, Sara, 30, sell a patented teaching device called the Fourteener Knotting Tool.

The handheld plastic tool helps users practice tying knots to a cleat, tent stake, hook, ring, grommet, loop or toggle. The gadget comes with an instruction booklet and a rope. It's available at

Darryl has come a long way since his days at the lumberyard. He says can confidently tie about 25 knots -- which is all most people really need to know.

Today, there's even a patented "Lusk Knot." This is one of the knots Darryl can tie, but he did not invent it. His wife did while fooling around with his patented knotting tool.

He's says he's not jealous: "I like her knot. You can use it just about anywhere. And it's kind of funny to have a knot patented after your name." In Poughkeepsie, N.Y., there's a company called Friends Beyond the Wall, which has found its niche behind bars.

It seems family photos lack a certain warmth when they are taken in a prison visiting room. For $10, Friends Beyond the Wall will digitally remove the bars and cinderblocks in the background of any visiting room photo and replace it with something more elegant.

Customers can choose among scenes from seaside resorts, mountain lodges, mansions, and tony New York apartments.

"Children can show their friends 'dad' or 'mom,' " the company advertises on its website, "Husbands and wives can take their loved one to work. And best of all, no more explaining where the photos were taken." In Independence, Mo., Gregg Miller, 52, found a niche in neutering.

His business idea came from a bloodhound named Buck. In 1993, when Buck was 7 months old, Miller took him to be neutered and was surprised to learn that the procedure involved completely removing the testicles.

"Buck would no longer be Buck!" cried the self-described neurotic pet owner.

Miller, a former journalist who worked for the Loveland Daily Reporter-Herald in the late 1970s, founded CTI-Neuticles Corp. in 1995. The company sells silicone testicular implants -- mostly for dogs. Check it out at

Miller says his company has "neuticled" more than 150,000 dogs, with zero complications. He says Neuticles also have been installed in cats, monkeys, rats, water buffalo, cattle, horses and at least one prairie dog.

"People really love their pets," Miller explained. "And they want their pets to retain their identity and self-esteem." Neuticles are priced between $73 and $329 per pair and cost about $80 to install at the local veterinarian's office.

"This is not brain surgery," Miller said. "It's as easy as changing a light bulb."

Al Lewis' column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays. Respond to Al at, 303-820-1967, or

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