This was the first of 15 patents held by Jones and his firm, the Lehi-based Alpine Innovations, LLC. Most of the company's 25 offerings are original cases and cleaning accessories for photography, electronics, eyewear and outdoor products.
His latest product, the TetherCase ($13.99), is a customized camera holder that has advanced in Walmart's Get On The Shelf contest. The entry is among 56 submitted by Utah companies in categories including kitchen, automotive, pets, baby, electronics, apparel, health and sports.
TetherCase has a built-in elastic tether cord that attaches to a digital camera to keep it from falling.
Walmart selected the camera case to move onto the audition round, determined by online votes. Online voting at https://getontheshelf.walmart.com/ through Sept. 2 will determine the fate of thousands of products in which the grand prize is nationwide distribution in Walmart stores.
This fall, the public will again have an opportunity to vote for the finalists, choosing up to five winners to be carried online at Walmart.com. Of the winning products, whichever has the highest number of pre-orders on Walmart.com will be crowned the grand-prize winner, said Walmart spokesman Ravi Jariwala.
"This contest is about nationwide exposure for a product that solves a problem," said Jones. "Who hasn't dropped a camera? TetherCase helps people stop the drop."
Not long after Jones founded Alpine Innovations in 2001 in the basement of his American Fork home, he was working on another problem. This invention became his company's most popular product.
Jones, 45, was having a turkey and avocado sandwich with extra mayo, which splashed on his glasses hanging from his neck. Jones searched for a microfiber cloth to clean off the big glob on the left lens. When he came up empty-handed, he spent the rest of the day pondering this question: How could he keep a cleaning cloth handy so next time he wouldn't have to use his cotton shirt to wipe off dirty lenses?
He again turned to his wife to stitch up another prototype. By attaching a corner of a microfiber cloth to the inside of an eyewear case and fastening a small plastic hook to the top of the holder, Jones now had a lens cleaner that he could attach anywhere.
"This prototype was pretty straightforward," said Shellie Jones, who added that she's more involved in decisions since employees surpassed what she did early on for the company.
The eyewear pouch looks like a small potato, hence the name Spudz. Since its creation, Alpine Innovations has sold 4 million protective holders all over the world.
Today, Alpine Innovations has a line of products that are sold to Disney, Sony, Nikon, Leica, Cisco, Fuji, Canon, Cabela's, Sportsman's Warehouse, Big 5, Amazon, and Adobe and Walmart stores, said the company's marketing manager Mitch Park.
At the heart of Alpine Innovations is finding solutions to everyday problems.
Darren Jones began his quest when he was 14. He had wanted his own phone line so he figured out how to reroute the telephone on the outside of his home through his bedroom window. That innovation got him in trouble with his parents, who decided the second youngest of their six children had too much time on his hands.
Jones ended up doing a lot of weeding and picking up more chores on his family's 5-acre farm plot in Lehi, which included beef cattle, pigs and chickens.
Later, after taking business classes from Utah Valley University in Orem, Jones went to work for a telephone installation company before founding his company.
"I had a propensity to work on phone lines so I told the company I would work for free if they would teach me how to legitimately work on phones," Jones said, laughing.
Today, his company employs 15 workers, and contracts with 12 people who sew products at home. (Jones' three sons, ages 8 to 14, also give lots of advice.) Annual sales are nearly $3 million.
Alpine Innovations patents
The Lehi-based company has more than 25 products available at www.alpineproducts.com:
Custom cover • Protects stethoscope heads.
Eyewear • Storage pouch has attached cleaning cloth.
Golf • Clip-on pouch, squeeze to release each of four balls.
Ear buds • Case holds ear phone cords, eliminates tangles.
Tripod • Portable camera attachment fits into purse or glove box.
Cellphones • Microfiber cloth cleans gadget while the case protects it.
Microfiber cleaning cloth • Can be clipped to key chains, purses, camera bags.