The Invention that Reduces Draught and Improves Stove Efficiency.

A cautionary tale of one man’s journey bringing his product to the The-Invention-that-Reduces-Draught-and-Improves-Stove-Efficiency 1marketplace. “Hi David, what are you doing? You’re here propping up the bar every time I come to this pub!  Haven’t you got a home to go to?”

That was me for the last 5 years! The fat git sitting at the end of various bars round Cheshire scribbling away in the back of a diary. I started installing stoves in 2008 after a career in printing and advertising, (don’t ask why, haven’t a clue!), and got really fed up with the number of people who refused to have a stove above 5kw because of the resultant draught, and then called me back complaining that the room wasn’t getting as warm as they had wanted. (To find out more about common problems involving draught around the stove click here)

I used to get up at 6 am to do all my quotes, then I would do an install, and finally, after finishing doing the surveys, (recognise the life-style?), I would always stop at the last pub that sold a decent pint (I like beer from micro breweries) to write up the surveys, and plan the days ahead, before getting home. When I had finished that I would doodle away with alterations to the design.

When i had a moment I would make the “latest” idea, (and if you have seen one of our vents you will probably realise how difficult it was to make one by hand), and test it out by fastening it to a hole in the garage wall, placing a candle inside, and aiming a garden blower at it.  It took 21 attempts, hence the name, although I pinched the idea from WD40, which was their 40th attempt at making a Water Dispersant, or so the story goes.

I was really chuffed when on test I once not only blew the candle out, but blew over the candlestick as well (which was a chuck from an old drill), and then, when I carried out the same test with the vent in place, the candle didn’t even flicker.

I thought people may just be interested in what it takes to get this far, it’s not easy, I’ve lost count of the number of times I thought of giving up, and I’ve been here many time before so I don’t give up easily.

The Invention that Reduces Draught and Improves Stove Efficiency 2Basically, the first thing your should realise is that “they”, the establishment, seem to have a single minded dedication to making sure that if anything is going to be invented, then only “big business” benefits, and not some little man like you and me. I remember we had a good friend who used to work for a huge multinational. He always argued that there was no place in the world for small businesses, to which my wife, who loves an argument, would reply, “:So did XYZ start as a big business then?”

There is of course, no answer to that, but, increasingly it is big business or nothing, even though small businesses employ far more people and make far more money for a country.

“No look", I would say,  "it’s a vent which lets air through from the outside to the inside if it’s sucked, but it won’t allow air to be blown through from the outside to the inside”,

"Yeah Yeah, very clever.  It won’t work of course!  It’s impossible”, and, on the face of it, it is.

I am hoping that by reading this, anyone wanting to travel the same road, anyone who has a good idea, will see the mistakes I made and, hopefully, be able to avoid them. So remember the above, society will move heaven and earth to stop you succeeding, but, unfortunately, it doesn’t stop there as your friends won’t really want you to succeed either. Sad, but a fact.

The first thing you must take on board is that, until you get your idea protected by a Patent Pending you must  not mention how it works to no-one.  No-one at all.  No, "What do you think of this? Do you think this will work?” Even if the person you are talking to is 1000% trustworthy, are you sure no-one can overhear? I tell you what, if heard anyone talking about an idea they had had I would check it out the next morning without a second thought.

So, the first thing to do is to get a Patent underway. Ever watch Dragon’s Den? The first question an applicant with a business plan involving an invention is asked is: “Have you got protection for your idea?” and by that they mean, is it patented.  It the answer is no, they just lose interest, but the cost of getting it patented is probably why the applicant is seeking financial aid in the first place.

I understand that it is possible to do it yourself. Well, I wouldn’t know how to start and I’ve been here before. What I do know is that you can very easily leave a footprint, and that footprint will tip off other people that you are working on an idea in a certain field, and they will be only too happy to steal it off you if they can. You really do need the services of someone who knows what they are doing.

Lacking funds, I went online looking for an affordable package. There are many companies offering this; the normal offer features a starting price of c£250 to get you hooked, which rapidly becomes £750, then £1000, then up and up and up it goes. I did this and thought I was safe, and I was, to a certain degree. I had a Patent Pending Number which definitely puts people off as they assume it's “right", but when I really started to go deeper into it and sought good reputable outside advice on all aspects of the business, I began to get worried about my protection, so I approached a Patent Attorney, and, of course, I was told what I already suspected, that my patent pending wasn’t worth the paper it was written on!

£5000 later I had proper protection. If anyone is thinking of going down the same route, it’s an old saying I know, but if it looks too good to be true it probably is!  That £5000, by the way, isn’t for a Patent, it is only for the Patent Pending!

This is not the first idea I have come up with but without the internet, via which to sell a product, it was very difficult to proceed, unless you’re James Dyson of course. Without the means to distribute an item you need an established distributer, big business, but “they” don’t want to pay anything, so they just hang on till you run out of money, miss one of the payments for the patent, and steal the idea. They have the deep pockets, they have the time and they have the means to watch your birth struggles till they can pounce. To be fair, I knew this and was prepared.

You know those drill bits with the hex end that just slots into a quick fit chuck?  I invented that some 15 years before it was “invented”. I have one in a sealed and dated Registered Post envelope (which was a good way to prove when you made it) but the person I went to for advice told me there was no market and it wouldn’t work!  I’ve often wondered in whose name the patent for that is. I don’t really want to know!

With my background in marketing and advertising, a son who had a wide experience in a similar, but more updated, field, and an invention that it was simple and possibly affordable to have produced, I reckoned I could probably get it to the market, so I decided, this time, to go ahead.

I did have the invaluable help of my son and we (he) tried to obtain government aid to help finance the project, and we almost, but not quite, got it.  To be totally honest I would not have got anything like as far as he did so unless you know what you are doing, as he did, it’s just not worth trying.  There is very little money for the government to give to any project and the number of hoops you must jump through, and number of boxes your plan must tick, is immense.  You get two goes, and then that’s it.

I was offered financial aid from people I knew with money, but in return I would be parting with half the business, some The Invention that Reduces Draught and Improves Stove Efficiency 3wanted me to use their premises, which would mean a daily commute through Manchester, and I would have to work with someone else.  I just didn’t want to do that.  Maybe, if I had been 30 instead of 70 and had wanted to create a large successful business, that may have been a way forward, so you must think what you want out of any business. I knew that there were three possible outcomes.

One, it could totally fail. It still could but I think that’s unlikely. Two, it could be a roaring success selling world wide in vast quantities and making millions of pounds. I doubt that happening and, at my stage of life, it isn’t really what i want. I just no longer have the energy.

Three, it could just tick along making a bob or two to subsidise my pension and giving me an interest.  That is the outcome I would like to happen, but at the moment I’m starting the only way I know how, foot planted to the floor going flat out to get it off the ground!

So back to finances, I knew of a good old fashioned way of getting some money!  I continued to work for an additional eight months, even though both knees had packed up and I was approaching 70, sold sold sold on ebay, (fortunately we are hoarders), and cut spending.

I knew the initial production costs, the mould to make the parts would be very high. I fiddled about online for a bit, then, being old and old fashioned, I just got in the car and drove round seven Plastic Injection companies all over the country.  All were good. All were helpful. I listened and I learnt. The prices I was quoted for the same thing varied from £20,000 to £38,000.  I didn’t expect that much of a difference and still don’t really understand it.

Doing business isn’t all about money, though.  It’s about relationships, so I chose a small company with whom I felt comfortable, another advantage of driving round each one, something you just don’t get from the internet. The owners are mould makers and they make the moulds themselves.  They had the machines to produce the product so the whole thing is made in-house, ENTIRELY IN THE UK.  I like that.  It may not have been the cheapest, but, hopefully, I will be working with them for some years and feeling comfortable is all important.

I might have saved a penny or two if the mould had been made in China, but one has to bear in mind that China, and many Asian countries, do not abide by Patent Laws; they steal ideas developed in the West. One can only imagine what is going to happen when the West stops developing ideas because there is no longer a profit in doing so.

In general, Asian countries which do not abide by Patent Laws cannot sell a patented product in the West, only in other countries which do not abide by the law. Someone in China can sell individual items direct from China to someone in the West, it is the buyer who is actually breaking the law, but, with the DR21 VENT which is light but bulky, the cost of individual shipping would push the cost above a home-produced item. What Asian countries cannot do is to bulk ship stuff to a warehouse in the West and post it out locally. Doing that infringes patent laws and they can be prosecuted. The penalties of a successful prosecution are high so it just isn’t worth doing.

So here we are. We’ve now got the mould. We’ve got the product, albeit in only one colour so far but other colours will come, and all we need to do it sell it!! All we need to do.

Remember, I’ve spent the best part of my life doing just that, and I can tell you that it really isn’t easy. There’s a saying in marketing, or there was, that "if you make the best mousetrap in the world people will beat a path to your door.” I never really believed it, but there is an iota of truth there. If your product is good, and you can let people know that it exists, it will sell itself. The question is, how long will it take.

Also, everyone knows that bad new spreads fast, but funnily enough, not as fast as good news. Most people prefer good new to bad news. Let me tell you a story: Some years ago I needed some money fast. I bought a very run down sandwich bar for very little, it was taking about £1000 per week and the sandwiches were rubbish. I gutted the place and, doing all the work myself, refitted it so it looked clean and smart. I replaced all the raw product, the bread, the fillings etc, with fresh food which I cooked myself after we closed each day, poaching the salmon, roasting chickens and turkeys, and then arrived before 6 am to cook the hot food for the day.

Every Friday, after we closed, I went round cleaning the grout between the tiles, touching up any marks on the wood and walls, I replaced tiles if they had been cracked, it always looked as good as the day I had finished the refit.

To add to the fun someone had opened a smart Coffee Bar cum Sandwich Shop right next door rather than buy the existing one.

Alright, with my background, I marketed it very heavily, but it didn’t take long for the word to spread.  People were only too happy to say to others: “Have you tried that new Sandwich Bar, it’s fabulous”.  It made them look good, they had found it and they were doing “you” a favour by telling you.

The turnover very quickly trebled and then some.  The new shop next door closed down, and I sold out.  I had achieved what I needed to do, but the point is that, because the product was good, as soon as a few people knew about it the word spread round quickly.  It’s reverted back to where it used to be now, but it took 5 years for that to happen.  Good news spreads much faster than bad news. So, to finish, if you have an idea and think it’s worth patenting, go for it.

But, bear in mind what you will have to go through.

It is not possible to “test the market”, to see whether your idea has a market before spending your hard-earned money. If you try to do that and your idea is a good one, someone will very quickly steal it.  On your own head be it;  you will have to decide yourself and on your own whether there will be enough demand to make it work and repay your investment.

It is not even possible to get a totally accurate price as you cannot take your prototype to a manufacturer for a price to make it without first patenting it.

Don’t waste your time and money on a “Patent Package”.  They will carry out a simple patent search which anyone can do. If it comes back saying that your idea has not yet been patented you will sigh with relief and spend more to take it to stage two.  It is when you see how a patent attorney approaches the same situation that you realise why the package was cheap and why the attorney costs so much more.  The package covers a superficial look at the position, the attorney looks in depth, you will be sent details of a number of similar product; it is up to you to explain why yours is different, why yours has a novel advantage.  Once you have done this, and it can take a year, mine took about 9 months, then, and only then, will you have a patent pending worth anything.  A patent pending that can become a patent which cannot easily be broken.

And then you must sell it.

You cannot rely on your idea, however good, even if it is the best mousetrap in the world, getting to the top of a google search The Invention that Reduces Draught and Improves Stove Efficiencyinstantly. That is a chicken-and-egg situation.  Once your idea is recognised, once enough people are looking for it and buying it, then it will move up the google search engine.  There are short-cuts which may not be strictly legal but I’m sure some people utilise them.  I doubt they will be cheap.

eBay is user friendly and if you are used to using it, it is a good start, but, again, you will not sell all you hope to sell via ebay.
As I write this I haven’t managed to overcome the obstacles to Amazon selling.  The product started to sell well via a number of the methods we had identified and, as Amazon was making it so difficult, I put it on a back-burner.  I’ll get around to it!

Another thing I hadn’t realised, as I had bought very much more than I had sold on eBay, is that eBay, Paypal, an probably others, are totally biased in favour of the buyer. Totally biased to an amazing extent, and there are people out there who know this and use it to make money.  Not long ago I sold a heavy item on eBay, collection only, to a man over 140 miles away.  He didn’t pay.  He ignored all my emails. I started an eBay case against him which he closed.  I gave up, he hadn’t paid, I still had the item, so I had only lost eBay’s commission.  Then, a couple of months later,  HE started a case against me with eBay saying that I had not supplied the goods he had bought, (and hadn’t paid for).  I supplied documentary proof that I had not been paid, which he did not bother, and would have been unable, to counter.  eBay/Paypal found in his favour and removed the money from my account and gave it to him.

So, beware.  You need to build this into your costings.  You can do nothing about it.  You have to accept the situation.  It has cost me some £160 so far, not a lot but very annoying. I cannot tell you how to sell your exciting new product.  eBay an Amazon offer a good add-on, but you cannot rely on them for base sales.

Good Luck.

E-mail address, mail@dr-21.com,
Website  www.dr-21.com

For more informative articles on marketing & advertising check out our resident Fireplace Sales and Marketing Diarist
Julia Smith

 

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