Once the Spin Clean found its way into local stores, Dudley made a video demonstrating what a great job it did. In 1997, he sent that video to big pool-store chains. A year later, Leslie's Pool Mart placed an order for 2,550 Spin Cleans, to be sold at a retail price of $29.95 in its 500 stores. Robertson and Dudley were looking at their first big order.
There was only one problem: Techniques used in manufacturing the Spin Clean's initial production run weren't right for a bigger one. The temporary mold also couldn't make a lot of parts. That was when Robertson's decision to bring Dudley on as a partner truly paid off. Dudley arranged for a more permanent mold to be made and for a manufacturer to create the injection-molded parts for mass production.
Of course, it wasn't all smooth sailing. Robertson explains: "We got the parts made and gave them to an injection-molder to finish, but we still had to do the final assembly. Also, we didn't have a place to store the finished product, and we didn't have a manufacturing facility."
The solution: Robertson dispensed parts to about 20 friends, neighbors and relatives who helped assemble the Spin Cleans, which were then stored in three neighborhood garages. The order went out in time, and Leslie's Pool Mart ordered another 5,000 units in 1999. Not a bad trade-off for Robertson and Dudley-their initial "looks like, works like" prototype was key in landing them their first big orders.
The Right Steps
In 2000, with business picking up, Robertson and Dudley had some decisions to make. They could either give up their current jobs and run the business themselves, or sell out to a pool-supply company that could give the product full nationwide exposure. They opted to keep their jobs and licensed the Spin Clean to a major supplier. Finding a licensing partner wasn't too difficult, because the Spin Clean had proven sales success.
The inventors and the licensor redesigned the Spin Clean, both adding features and reducing cost, and the company plans to launch the new and improved product in the summer of 2002. Robertson and Dudley don't mind the delay, as the licensor is tooling up for major production, which the partners hope will translate into big royalty checks.
Robertson gives Dudley a lot of credit for Spin Clean's success. "I would never have gotten anywhere without Dave," he says. "I just couldn't have made a professional-looking product. And I didn't have the money to have one made for me."
As Robertson's tale illustrates, when it comes to prototypes and manufacturing, inventors can't know it all, and they need advice from knowledgeable people to succeed. If you don't have a friend like Dudley, attend local inventors' clubs and talk to people to get ideas and contacts.
The downside to Robertson's strategy was that he gave away a major portion of his idea. The upside was he spent very little upfront money, and his invention did finally make it to market. Getting the help you need doesn't guarantee success, but you have only a slim chance of success without it.
Don Debelak is a new-business marketing consultant.