Creative Solutions

Above: “It’s like a bento box concept,” says Beatrice Mellick of Beachmate. “People love it if they’re going on a boat or to the beach. It packs right up.”

It’s summertime, and the living is easy, until you schlep the kids, the dog and your gear to the beach, only to discover that the lunch you packed for everybody is still at home. Or that the sand shovel broke while you’re ankle deep in seashells. Or that Junior is actually supposed to be at soccer practice. You can lament the error of your ways (again), or you can do what these three local couples did and invent a creative solution to your problems, helping you keep your cool in the heat, and saving you, your family and even your Jeep, from unnecessary wear and tear.


Jeff & Beatrice Mellick, New Canaan

The Mellicks had barely settled in for their annual two-week summer respite at Quani Beach in Rhode Island when their three kids asked Jeff to dig them a hole. Dad obliged, and then the shovel broke. And then another, and another. “I broke every plastic shovel. I said, that’s it. I’m going to make a better one.” Several trips to the hardware store later, Jeff’s makeshift shovel was the envy of the hole-diggers. “After two weeks, the dads kept coming up to me saying they wanted one.”

Back at home, Jeff continued on a quest to create the perfect shovel. He constructed all manner of prototypes in the garage. As it happened, he was laid off from his Wall Street job during this period, so the prototyping continued for weeks. Jeff found another job within the year, but the beach bug had bitten. The Mellicks took the plunge into business, creating the Beachmate.

“It’s like a bento box concept,” Beatrice says, as she removes a cooler, sunscreen, diapers, lotions, Turkish towels, stackable buckets and more out of the lightweight totebag to which two of those industrial-strength shovels are affixed. Beachmate is distributed out of a fulfillment center in Georgia and it’s sold at, Buy Buy Baby and Hammacher Schlemmer. “We’re learning all about marketing and manufacturing,” says Beatrice, who used to work in licensing for Major League Baseball. Much of the couple’s advice, though, comes from neighbors and friends, including Grant Tankoos at Soundview Millworks and the Murray brothers at Vineyard Vines.

Doin’ Time, Posi-Tokens and Meal Wheel

Jess & Andrew Black, Darien

Brush your teeth! Pack your backpack! Get ready for lacrosse practice! Nag, nag, nag. Without the built-in structure of school schedules, getting everybody out the door and off to summer camp and playdates can wear on one’s nerves. “You don’t want to be a nagging person and yet that’s what I started to become,” says Jess Black, a mild-mannered mom who battled daily with time management, until she created Doin’ Time, a clock with magnetic tags that reminds everybody who has to be doing what next. Now her kids, who are 12, 10 and 8 years old, make note of their own schedules, and as the minute hand moves toward departure time, the only thing getting ticked off is the second hand.

Once the Blacks wrangled time management, it was time to tackle dinnertime. Jess, who studied nutrition in college, realized she spent more time cooking than her kids spent eating. During one hectic mealtime, she told her husband, Andrew, “The up-and-down is driving me crazy!” He responded, “I have a great idea.” The next day he created a prototype out of wood and a piece of paper: the Meal Wheel. Each family gives it a spin and follows directions to tell a funny story, talk about the day, give a compliment, or simply take a bite already!

Taking a cue from teachers who reward positive behavior in the classroom with marbles in a jar, Jess then invented Posi-Tokens. Did you hold the door open for your brother? Walk the dog? You get a Posi-Token. Save them up and cash them in for a reward.

The Blacks spent a couple of years refining their ideas before they decided to make a business out of them. Andrew, who is a senior equity analyst, created the website Jess’ former college roommate, a graphic designer, came up with the design. The couple sells these products at sidewalk sales around town, at the Darien Toy Box and online. “This community is very supportive of us,” Jess says. “I love showing the kids you can take an idea and go for it.”

Ben & Dana Grunow, Darien

Like his father before him, Ben Grunow is a tinkerer. Problem with the boat? Ben can fix that. Repair the car? He’s on it. Build a whole house from the ground up? Been there, done that. So it’s only logical that when the Grunow kids scratched up the Jeep each time they stepped up on the tire and scurried up and over the side and into the back, Ben set his sights on crafting protection for the family vehicle. And like the work he does as the head of Grunow Builders, Ben wanted it to be perfect.

“I had an idea and it was a rainy day so I went into the garage. Two hours later I’d made them,” recalls Ben.

He tried a variety of woods, composites and finishes—sometimes hauling the samples to dinner parties in Darien to gauge popularity—before settling on African mahogany covered in four coats of yacht varnish, and a high-density polymer composite that can withstand water, weather and a sledgehammer. The strips of smooth, varnished wood and indestructible marine-grade polymer cover and protect a Jeep’s tub rail, and look exquisitely crafted at the same time.

The Grunows have applied for a patent for their product, which they call BedBoards from the Hard Wood Workshop. They show off their wares on Instagram and in Internet forums for Jeep owners. Says Ben, “My father would always say, ‘Let’s build something we can be proud of.’ That’s what I did with BedBoards.”



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