July 03, 1989 12:00 PM

Dennis Green first got on the scent three years ago when his wife, Mary Lou, delicately hinted that it was time he laundered his gym clothes. “There’s a funny smell in the car,” said Mrs. Green, a grade school teacher in Denver. It seemed that Mr. Green, a free-lance greeting card designer, unpublished novelist and ex-Idaho State basketball player, worked out regularly at a gym, then tossed his soiled exercise togs into the car.

Prompted by his wife’s remark, Green began to ponder the whole question of stench warfare. “There should be a product for lazy people who don’t want to wash their clothes,” he decided. “I started looking around for air fresheners, but no one had thought of one to use in a small space like a tennis shoe or gym bag.”

Smelling a market out there, Green devised a product called Sneaker Balls, deodorant spheres about the size of a golf ball. By adapting industrial discs that gradually release a scent, Green set about designing a prototype, a year-long process that put him $30,000 in hock. Happily for him, Sneaker Balls were a hit at a 1988 Los Angeles trade show, and K mart soon put in an order for 350,000 of Green’s product.

Since then, the Dennis Green Design Group Ltd., through a Colorado subcontractor, has sold 1.5 million Sneaker Balls at $2.50 to $4 apiece, with back orders for 5 million more. Inserted into disgusting gym bags and ripe lockers, they last up to three months and come in six nose-tweaking fragrances: Ocean Breeze, Evergreen Mist, Lemon Sprint, Pink Glacier, Fire Fighter and Night Wind.

Sneaker Balls have made the 45-year-old Green a millionaire, but he’d rather be a published novelist. He recently completed a manuscript titled Double Bind, which he describes as a psychological thriller, and is seeking a publisher. In the meantime, Green must make do with the sweat smell of success.

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