Melissa DuVall of Republic obtained a U.S. patent for her invention of the Ponchairo. (Photo by Steve Pokin/Hauxeda)

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OPINION |

April is not always kind to Midwest parents motivated by love who venture outside to their child’s first spring baseball game or soccer match.

It can be cold and windy.

I remember when our son played baseball and I sat, teeth chattering, pondering the legal definition of child endangerment.

That’s the place where Melissa DuVall, now 53, was at years ago in Republic.

It’s what drove this mother of three to innovation and an actual United States patent. It led her to the creation of the Ponchairo — trademark pending.

The Ponchairo — a poncho that attaches to a lawn chair or stadium chair — was invented by Republic's Melissa DuVall. (Contributed photo)

The company’s website is Ponchairo.com.

Sure, that fateful day started out deceptively sunny, DuVall recalls, but it turned cold and baseball is a game that does not abide ties.

Deep down, she wanted to go home and be warm but something happened that had never before happened.  Her son Jace was called upon to pitch for his Republic team.  This was something new. And, of course, this was her child.

So she stayed. She was cold. She had an idea.

“They make lawn chairs with foot rests, cup holders, little fans and overhead shade,” she says. “I just wanted a chair with a blanket.”

Nevertheless, she did nothing.

“I just sat on it,” she says.

Some of you might recall that DuVall once was a TV weather person first at KSPR and later at KY3.

“God bless Ron Hearst,” she says. “He was the one who mentored me.”

She became sales marketing director at KY3 and later left TV to become a pharmaceuticals representative. 

Her full-time job in recent years has been as national accounts director for Sobi, a biopharmaceutical company based in Sweden. She and her husband David live in a rural area west of Republic.

She shared her idea with a co-worker who not only liked the idea but told her that if she didn’t pursue it, someone else likely would.

She asked herself: “How would I feel if someone else brought this idea to life?”

So she went to work and decided to focus on a poncho that attaches to a lawn chair or stadium chair. It has been a long and challenging trek, she says.

“I have always had an entrepreneurial spirit,” she says. “But what I think I did not have — and I have now — is the entrepreneurial gut.”

As in “guts,” or courage.

“In my heart, I am not a risk-taker. I had to find the courage and the gut to do it.

“In all of this, failure happened in some way every day.”

Not unusual to have patent application rejected

Objective No. 1 was to patent her idea with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

She hired an intellectual property law firm in New Jersey.

She submitted an application, which was rejected. Her lawyer told her that happens often.

Melissa DuVall of Republic obtained a U.S. patent for her invention of the Panchairo. (Photo by Steve Pokin/Hauxeda)

But re-applying would cost more money. She persevered. She worked with her lawyer and re-applied.

In 2019, it was approved.

This is somewhat unusual if only for the fact that few patents are in the sole name of a woman.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office filed a 2019 report on “A Profile of Women Inventors on U.S. Patents.”

It stated that only 4 percent of all patents are credited to a single female. It also stated that the number of patents with at least one female inventor increased from about 7 percent in the 1980s to 21 percent in 2016.

Many patents are filed with multiple names on them.

“I think it's probably the fact that women do not pursue it,” DuVall says. “It's not that their ideas have less value.”

Once her patent was approved, the next step was developing a prototype.

DuVall says she first worked with a woman who did car seat upholstery, then someone who did furniture upholstery and finally with someone with a background in costume design.

She had specific demands. The poncho’s hood had to be large enough so a woman wearing a ball cap and with a long ponytail could easily wear it.

Second, the hood had to allow peripheral vision. After all, no parent wants to miss that split-second moment when their child makes the play of their baseball career.

It had to be one-size fits all.

It had to have interior and exterior zippers and allow for someone to use an interior zipper to open the poncho to look at a cell phone.

It had to have two snaps on the back of the poncho — which connects to an attachment placed on the back of the chair — and the snaps have to easily uncouple for that moment of exultation when the winning goal hits the back of the net and you have to stand and cheer.

Learning the intricacies of manufacturing

DuVall says she searched the nation for a manufacturer and was fortunate to find one only 2½ hours away — American Stitch Co., Inc. in Mountain Home, Arkansas.

She says she was asked often about things like “zippers, snaps and elastics.”

During this process, she and her husband decided not to seek co-investors.

DuVall declined to reveal the amount of their investment.

The first sale was in 2021. Today they are in the “hundreds,” she says.

“It was a big marker when we had a sale in Massachusetts,” she says. “I had no idea who they were. I had no idea who they were connected to.”

The Ponchairos attach to chairs. They come in seven basic colors ($139 each) with one patented camouflage color ($159) that is being used with the permission of its owner.

The fabric is washable, waterproof, windproof and breathable, DuVall says.

To buy one direct, they are offered at Harrison House Market in Springfield, 1717 E. Cherokee St., and at Main Street Boutique, 202 N. Main St., Republic.

They fit over folding chairs and stadium chairs and are intended for use by campers and hunters — as well as during those early spring games when you just might have snowflakes in the outfield rather than angels.

This is Pokin Around Column No. 23.


Steve Pokin

Steve Pokin writes the Pokin Around and The Answer Man columns for the Hauxeda. He also writes about criminal justice issues. He can be reached at spokin@hauxeda.com. His office line is 417-837-3661. More by Steve Pokin