You may not have heard of Marilyn Mance, but there's a chance you've heard her.
Because of what she describes as a malformation in her windpipe, Mrs. Mance's laugh sounds very much like a car horn, a trait that has landed her on nationally syndicated television and has immortalized her laugh on a YouTube video that pops up when you Google her name.
These days, however, Mrs. Mance is more interested in muffling noise than making noise. Inspired by her husband's snoring, and what she believes was divine intervention, the Upper St. Clair resident and hair salon operator has developed an ear plug that she says all but drowns out bothersome noises.
Called EarMuffers (www.earmuffers.com), the product is made of foam and medical adhesive and resembles a guitar pick.
Rather than going into the ear, EarMuffers goes over the ear, gently pressing down the tragus -- that protruding cartilage near the ear opening -- so it covers the ear canal and allows for a good night's sleep. The next morning, the user peels the EarMuffers off and throws them away. Currently, a package of seven has a suggested retail price of $6.99.
"This will be the first of its kind. It works," said the enthusiastic Mrs. Mance. "That's all I can say. It works."
She came up with the design with her father, George Carder, who has a background in architectural design. Part of the process involved asking customers at her hair salon if she could measure their ears, so they could come up with a covering that would fit most ears.
Still early in its launch, the EarMuffers -- sold and marketed by MMearTech -- have made notable progress since spring, when the product was on the shelves at a few South Hills hardware stores and independent pharmacies. Just in the past month, she has received a patent for EarMuffers and a few weeks ago she convinced Rite Aid to test market the product in 21 local pharmacies.
She also sees the potential for wider use, from hospital patients trying to get rest to railroad workers, military personnel and others who labor in high-decibel work environments.
She is particularly proud that she's doing this using all regional vendors, from the manufacturer to the packager. "That's the cool thing. We've created so many jobs right here in Pittsburgh," she said.
EarMuffers itself employs five, including Mrs. Mance and her father, although no one is collecting a salary yet as all the money is being put back in the business. She described her personal investment in EarMuffers so far as "a whole lot" but hopes to recoup that investment within a year. Eventually she would like to use some of the proceeds to establish a non-profit for the less fortunate.
EarMuffers' unique feature is that it covers the ear, rather than going in the ear, which she says greatly reduces any infection risk. And while it doesn't completely block out noise, sounds are muffled enough that you can sleep, she says.
Mrs. Mance thinks EarMuffers may have saved her marriage. Husband Manny has been a snorer for their entire 20-year marriage, she said. He has not been diagnosed with a sleep disorder, so he's never used devices such as positive airway pressure masks, but she said he has tried just about everything short of that, including nose strips and nasal sprays.
She tried traditional ear plugs herself "but they were so uncomfortable," she said. At one point, she said, she contracted an infection from the ear plugs that required a trip to the hospital.
Meanwhile, her husband's snoring had driven the couple into separate bedrooms, and she suspects there are many other marriages that are under the same strain.
"I got sick because I wasn't sleeping. I prayed and asked God to help. I said, 'Lord, please help me. I need a miracle.' " The idea finally came in a dream, she said. "Now I'm a new person."
At the moment, Mrs. Mance is not taking a salary for her CEO position and she plans to use any proceeds to help a local ministry where she volunteers, helping feed the homeless once a week Downtown. She's eager to get the word out, though, with an invention that she believes could save more marriages than any counselor. Among her immediate plans is giving away 5,000 samples outside Heinz Field before the Steelers-Ravens game on Nov. 18.
"I want to help everybody," she said.
Steve Twedt: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1963.