Bellport High School graduates and near-lifelong friends Jamie Thomas and Joe SanFilippo didn’t invent their product in a garage, like Bill Gates and Paul Allen.
They invented it over text message.
Both Jeep lovers, they had each noticed the cockamamie ways Wrangler owners were finding to decorate the protective inserts behind their grilles.
Some would even tie perforated strips of gutter-guard together using plastic zip-ties
That was whack, they concluded in Jeep parlance. (Not really Jeep parlance.)
“We saw some painted ones on the internet, but it was literally garbage,” SanFilippo said.
Soon, and with surprisingly little trial-and-error, the two honed in on the perfect type of heat-resistant and paint-friendly aluminum to offer a high-quality, and yet decorated, insert for the Jeep Wrangler JK.
And now their Under the Sun Inserts company is taking off, with both men working nights and weekends to keep up with the demand.
In a garage in East Patchogue, they churn out variations of the American flag, the Canadian flag and the Diver Down flag, among others, as well as custom inserts made-to-order.
They’ve sold inserts in almost 30 states, as well as the Canadian Province of British Columbia.
They also have a patent pending in the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office.
“In the Jeep world, there’s definitely a buzz about us; there’s no doubt,” SanFilippo said.
The friends started developing their product in August. It was pretty much then that they knew they had a hit on their hands.
Thomas was driving home to East Patchogue from Hampton Bays one of those days.
“I counted liked 30, 40 Wranglers,” he said. “I was like: There’s money. There’s money. There’s more money.”
He later texted SanFilippo: “Dude, we have to do this.”
SanFilippo didn’t need convincing.
He soon came up with the company’s name while sitting in traffic.
“I was driving up to Camelback [in the Poconos] for a weekend with the family,” he recalled. “It was a beautiful day in August. And if you love Jeeps, you know the best part is driving with your top off, topless. And i’m sitting there, in my Jeep, under the sun.”
Immediately upon arriving at the hotel, SanFilippo sketched this out on an envelope in his room:
The partners — who do most of their business through social media — have since refined their logo. And, just in time for the holidays, they launched a website.
The inserts sell for about $110 to $160 for custom designs.
They agree that probably the best thing about their product is that anyone can install one in a Jeep Wrangler JK, which is currently the only model their inserts work with.
“The install process is less than 5 minutes, with only using a flathead screwdriver,” Thomas said.
But they do have more products planned for 2016. And over the summer they’ll be at Jeep Week in Ocean City, Md., which is among the biggest Jeep meet-ups in the country, they say.
In Maryland they will be welcomed as vendors, moving as many inserts as possible, maybe 100 or more.
And if there’s time, perhaps they’ll have a little fun under the sun.
Top photo: Jamie Thomas puts the finishing touches on an insert in a garage in East Patchogue. (Michael White)