Tim Clegg believes in bells and whistles. But the Manhattan Beach entrepreneur doesn’t believe that they’re just gingerbread,. He has built a fortune dressing trimming up greeting cards, and advertising campaigns with pop-up figures, electric lights and microchips that play the Four Tops and the Partridge Family, ring like a telephone, sound like lapping waves, howl like a coyote and tweet like birdies.
Inventing and marketing novelty gizmos for birthday jollies and Yuletide yuks was just the beginning for this 39-year-old bachelor.
“Voice recognition will replace the keyboard,” he says, speaking volumes in his quietly unassuming way. “Sprint, AT&T, Intel, Verizon and other companies came out with audio logos to help brand their products.” A little while later, he says, after some prodding, “We are working on some things for the government.” Which branch? … Well? … “The military,” he says. “I can’t tell you anything more than that about it.”
Americhip Inc. and Clegg Industries in Torrance employ about 120 people, up 119 from Clegg messing around in his 500-square-foot apartment in Houston. “It has been tough,” Clegg says. “I’m always trying to grow, from the inception phase to the product phase to integrating new technology. I feel like a guy juggling and walking uphill.
“Everything you see here has a thousand details to it. From day one I’ve been privately held. People have wanted to buy me out all along the way. But I’m an entrepreneur who finances everything off of profits. I want to keep growing.”
The growth right now is in innovative uses of hypersonic sound, expanded memory and radio frequency transmissions. Clegg invented the first blinking beverage cap, first talking lid, first talking packaging, first talking greeting cards, first 10- to 20-second talking direct mail, first cards with orchestrated lyrics and first talking video box. He put the roar in the box of the 60th anniversary video release of the original King Kong.
The blinking lights were his first big success. He sold them off the bat to McDonalds Restaurants for their servers to wear, to Anheiser-Busch and Coca-Cola to put on beverage caps and to Frank Sinatra to underscore his name for concert-ad items.
“I remember thinking, ‘I’ve sold to the biggest fast-food operation in the world, the biggest beer and soda companies and the biggest entertainer – there could be a business here.’ At that point, I was just doing it at night in my apartment. I was working for my cousins’ company in Houston buying and selling integrated circuits in Asia.”
He came west after he sold an order of promotional music chips to the former International Video Enterprises to capture Michelle Pfieffer’s voice singing “Making Whoopee” from the movie The Fabulous Baker Boys (1989). Those musical inserts were placed in issues of Daily Variety and The Hollywood Reporter and on displays in Blockbuster Video outlets. Clegg headquartered the business in downtown Los Angeles in 1990, then in Santa Monica from 1991 to 1993, when he moved to his first Torrance location, and then to his present Normandie Avenue site.
Hallmark Cards, Inc. called in 1992, and Clegg Industries began selling the greeting card giant modules for their sound cards. In 1993, Clegg developed an idea for business cards, a black, folding sheath with the words “When you’re looking for the best …” on the cover and, when opened, displays the inserted card and rings like a telephone.
“We developed a library of hundreds of sounds,” Clegg says. “The business kept growing. In 1994, we started distributing all sorts of sound chips, music chips, talking chips. Now, we believe, visual will migrate to audio. We’ve created audio logos and push them to create an audio-visual dimensionality that will influence the decision-making process. Supermarket displays will talk to you and you’ll talk back. Menus will talk to you. We’re doing a lot of work in hypersonic sound. I come up with most of the application ideas and I have a vision of knowing what I want to do. I have an audio engineer, visual technicians, and a paper engineer.”
The sound chips cost anywhere from 50 cents for a melody chip to $5 for a talking chip. “We license a lot of technologies as intellectual properties to other companies,” Clegg says. “We have our own sound studio, art department, assembly plant, distribution, shipping and receiving – everything under one roof. We need everything right here and we need it quickly sometimes, so it’s difficult to out-source any of the things we do. We also have assembly facilities in Mexico and China, an office in Hong Kong and sales offices in New York, Chicago and other cities. We’ve sold way over 100 million chips, and will sell 10 million to 15 million a year. Most of our business is done with Fortune 100 companies, for which we solve audio-visual dimension solutions.
“Right now we’re doing a lot of advancements in RFs or radio frequencies, the kind that Rolex watches have to prove they’re authentic, and the way CDs have product control tabs,” he said. Recording most of the voices on the chips that leave Clegg Industries is Michael Ronk, a Hawthorne native whose boyhood was spent loitering around 27th Street and the Strand in Hermosa Beach. “All I did in those days was skateboard and get thrown out of the Green Store.”