Brad Whitham and Jennifer Kluttz hold the protector they designed and Campo Sheet Metal Works manufactured to protect the catalytic converters on the Toyota Tundra behind them. Photos by Tom Broad

– Brad Whitham wants to revolutionize how trucks are made –

When inventors create, they typically sketch out their design. Many use computer modeling software or involve a whole engineering team just to get their brainchild to market.

Brad Whitham of Kingwood sketches ideas out in his head.

“I have always been very electrical,” said the founder of American Design Décor of Kingwood. “I can see wire diagrams in my head. They are all in my head before I put them in the computer.”

That is how Whitham created his catalytic converter shield in his Kingwood garage.

Catalytic converter thefts have increased dramatically in the last year, according to the Houston Police Department — up 300 percent. Converters can be discreetly stolen from a vehicle in less than two minutes, police reported, and the small amount of metal found inside the converters can sell for hundreds or thousands of dollars.

Replacing the converter, on the other hand, can cost $3,000 to $10,000, according to Houston Police.

A thief’s favorite models to steal the converters? Houston Police said Toyota Tundra, Toyota Prius, Toyota Tacoma, Ford F-250, Honda Element and Honda CRV top the list.

Whitham has spent a goodly portion of his young career around Toyotas, one of a thief’s favorite models. He saw an opportunity.

“I had been working for Toyota for 23 years and kept getting promoted,” he said.

Whitham already had a home garage business where he created beautiful metal art including candle holders, bottle openers for some of the local breweries, unique rear hitches and audio systems. He spent a lot of time fitting parts to vehicles and installing the systems. He even built gorgeous custom Harley Davidson motorcycles from wrecked ones.

In what free time he had, Whitham earned his certification in mill/lathe operations and is an automotive service excellence certified master technician.

Those skills came in handy when Whitham discovered there was a demand — for catalytic converter protectors — that just was not being met. That shield idea was the opportunity he was looking for and, in the last few months, his company transformed from creating art to preventing catalytic theft.

First, he designed the shield. Then Whitham searched the internet for somebody to make the shield. That is when he found Campo Sheet Metal Works, a family-owned, 95-year-old custom metal fabrication shop located across from the University of Houston that would custom-make his design.

“My first batch of shields totaled 200. Campo did a great job. I sold them all and created another 200. I put every penny I had into this business,” Whitham said. “You front everything to produce the parts that make up the shield, and then hope to sell them all.”

After moving to Texas, he found himself working for a company specializing in building custom home theaters for affluent homeowners in River Oaks.

One of Whitham’s home theater clients was the owner of Gulf State Toyota, one of the world’s largest independent distributors of Toyota vehicles and parts.

“That is how I got to know Toyota,” he said.

Whitham built high end car audio systems for the Toyota model line. He was in production engineering/process management, eventually moving into quality control production management, developing products for the entire Toyota line. That is when he realized the potential for his catalytic converter protector idea.

“The converters of a neighbor’s church buses were stolen, so I designed a shield for the buses, too,” he said. “That church spread the word to other churches, and I am working with their mechanics to prevent more theft.”

For Whitham, the catalytic converter shield is just the beginning.

“I have quite a few new products in my mind that I would like to design and start building , things like custom-made running boards, folding tailgates and bed toolboxes that would include charging batteries and some concepts that I can’t talk about yet.”

And then, Whitham said modestly, “I want to revolutionize how trucks are made.”

To see Whitham’s skill in designing products — including his catalytic converter protector, visit americandesigndecor.com.

Tom Broad
Author: Tom BroadEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Columnist
Besides being a proud graduate of The University of Nebraska-Lincoln and, therefore, a Cornhusker, I am retired from Memorial Hermann. I am a correspondent and columnist for Lake Houston's hometown paper, The Tribune, as well as a director of the Lake Houston Redevelopment Corporation, a member of the board of the Humble Area Assistance Ministries, and Volunteer Extraordinaire for the Lake Houston Area Chamber.

Comments (1)

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$400 for a Tacoma shield? Since I have a high $1000 deductible, this shield would be most in my favor. Since I doubt more than 40% of Tacoma’s experience theft (where the odds break even), it is best for me to go without one. I am guessing the...

$400 for a Tacoma shield? Since I have a high $1000 deductible, this shield would be most in my favor. Since I doubt more than 40% of Tacoma’s experience theft (where the odds break even), it is best for me to go without one. I am guessing the odds are less than 10%.

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