Entrepreneur Dawn Meifert turned her germaphobia into a genius idea for gyms rats everywhere

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor jones@dallasvoice.com

DON’T TAKE HER WORD FOR IT  |  Phit Grip inventor Dawn Meifert believes in her product, but so do muscle men.  (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)
DON’T TAKE HER WORD FOR IT | Phit Grip inventor Dawn Meifert believes in her product, but so do muscle men. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

Not since that schoolteacher added Alka-Seltzer to vitamin C to create the billion-dollar Airborne remedy has germaphobia proven to be such unlikely business inspiration.

In the case of Dawn Meifert, an obsessive hatred of germs became the mother to her invention.

About three years ago, Meifert was at the gym with her workout partner when she noticed a man nearby.

“He was on the bench next to me and obviously sick — sneezing, coughing. He just wiped his nose with his hand, went to the barbell and lifted it. All the hair on the back of my next stood up. I was totally skeeved out. I just thought, ‘There has to be a way for me not to touch his stuff and work out.’”

Meifert knew that she could wear weight-lifting gloves, but her paranoia about bacteria made that a hollow option.

“The guys I’ve talked to who work out with gloves only keep them five to six months because they get so nasty,” she says.

You might as well carry around a Petri dish in your gym bag for all the protection it supplies.

No, she thought. What I need is a barrier between me and the germs. And she started looking in the marketplace.

“All that’s out there are gloves and straps — they’ve already been done,” she says. And there was no germ combat. “I wondered what could I do that’s new and original.”

And that’s how Phit Grips were born.

Sold in pairs, Phit Grips are lightweight rubber tubes that wrap around dumbbell handles, barbells, jump rope grips — almost anything at the gym your hands might come in touch with. And to steal from another product, they kill bugs dead.

“The idea came from the shape of a bicycle handle,” Meifert explains. “When I ordered new grips for my mountain bike I wondered how I could alter them and make them something we could use.”

Three years later, she’s on the market with her product.

“People are surprised it has taken three years, but you try developing a product,” she says. “The first feedback we got was that the grips were too thick. Then they were too thin. As we started moving through the manufacturing, we talked about making them antimicrobial.”

The solution was ingenious.

“All the rubber on the outer edges are anti-fungal,” she says. “The antimicrobial agent is in the ink. We had to start over a few times — how do we make the ink vibrant and thick enough? The amount of ink is now five times what it was.”

The idea’s simplicity is also its benefit: Every time you touch the logo is like wiping your hands with a sanitizer; when the ink on the logo fades completely, it’s time to replace your grips. People who work out regularly can expect a pair to last four to six months — as long or longer than a pair of gloves’ usefulness, Meifert estimates, and a lot less expensive (they sell for about $10/pair). And they don’t trap moisture, which leads to callousing. And then there’s the progressive politics of them.

“I’m working with a manufacturer in this country,” she says, though for business reasons, she’s keeping its identity a secret. The antimicrobials are also mineral-based, non-toxic and natural, adds Meifert’s partner and chief cheerleader, Philomena Aceto. Both see potential in the concept.

“We have many more products coming down the road,” Meifert says. Other modifications, including a variety of colors, are also in the works.

Although Meifert rose to prominence locally with her gay-centric Merge Media advertising company, Phit Grips is taking a guerrilla marketing approach to mirror its gorilla mascot. In addition to testimonials and endorsements from bodybuilding professionals and interest from major health magazines, for now the company is focusing on social networking and P.R. through the Cooper Smith Agency. The gay community in particular has embraced the product.

“We want to build our base from here,” Meifert says of Dallas. “We’re selling really well in New York City, but it’s expensive to buy advertising there.”

And there are all those germs there, too. Oh well, just makes for more customers.

For more information and to place an order, visit PhitGrip.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 17, 2010.