Kid-inspired trays finding audience at home, abroad
Business First of Columbus - by Jan O’Daniel Freelance 8/14/2009
Three rambunctious and ravenous kids, a trip to a Giant Eagle grocery store, and one harried mom equals chaos. Unless you’re Laura Hamrick, in which case it becomes the catalyst for a stay-at-home mom to become a successful inventor and entrepreneur.
“I spent an exhausting and unsuccessful grocery trip handing out snacks one by one to my young sons while trying to look through coupons and fill the cart,” she says. “I left the store frazzled and frustrated with only half the items on my grocery list.”
Vowing never to go through that experience again, Hamrick put the kids down for a nap on that November 2005 afternoon and jumped on the computer looking for anything she could use to help pacify her boys while shopping.
Expecting thousands of search results, she was astonished to find nothing that fit the bill. So she quickly sketched a design for a durable, portable plastic tray to clip onto any grocery cart handle, and OnTray was born.
Small and lightweight, it features a sliding, attachable lid and tray clip for toting snacks, toys, crayons and coupons to the store while keeping them within easy reach. But becoming an award-winning inventor practically overnight was never the plan for this former sales executive with a degree in early childhood development.
“I was happy being a stay-at-home mom,” says Hamrick, 35, who sells the product through her company named 42 Kids. “I thought I would go home and find a simple product online. When I didn’t, I came up with my idea and then I felt so strongly I thought, ‘I’ll go crazy into debt and make this thing.’ ”
Running out of money is common among inventor wannabes, says Bret Bordner, vice president of the Gahanna-based manufacturing company Laser Reproductions.
“Very few inventors make a profit,” he says. “The biggest obstacle is coming up with the funding. I’ve seen many people run out of money before the idea gets to market – even if it’s a good idea.”
Working with Bordner, however, Hamrick was able to tweak OnTray’s design in just a few iterations and ready the product for production in a few months.
“The first thing people don’t do,” Bordner says, “is due diligence. They need to make sure they’re not infringing on something in the marketplace. Maybe the product is identical to something else but with a totally different application. That’s OK, but few people have an idea that I haven’t seen already.”
Hamrick’s idea, however, was the only of its kind, if not surprisingly simple.
“Why didn’t I think of that,” says Bordner. “It’s like the paperclip. But I have to say she did a very good job of getting it in front of the right people.”
Although Hamrick incurred about $75,000 in debt – using personal savings, credit cards and equity in her home – getting the patent and manufacturing processes started, she’s now profitable and it’s just her second year in business. That success is thanks to online sales and retail sales from 200 baby boutiques throughout 17 U.S. states, Canada, Australia and France.
And 2009 is shaping up to be a milestone year with brisk sales – Hamrick estimates sales of $80,000, double last year’s – and a freshly inked distribution deal with Hamco. The national baby products distributor based in Gonzales, La., will sell OnTray in major retail stores such as Meijer, Babies”R”Us and BuyBuy Baby.
“There’s a middle man,” says Hamrick, which in the end will decrease her profit. “But it’s such a great opportunity to partner with a company who’s done everything, including fulfillment. It just made sense to take a lesser profit margin.”
In addition to the Hamco U.S. deal, Hamrick says partnerships with distributors in Australia, Singapore and the U.K. have helped with her projections.
“I’m so thankful this is happening in my second year of business,” she says. “If it had happened when I launched, I wouldn’t have known the questions to ask or the research to do so. And I might have gotten excited and said, ‘Yeah, pay me whatever.’ Now I know to get references and talk to other companies they’re representing.”
Securing a distribution agreement and then waiting for the money to roll in can be a fatal mistake, says Jason Ricci, president of Columbus-based Titan Logistics distribution company allows you to receive email alerts with stories related to your companies of interest.
“The business of fulfillment and distribution is about preparation and organization,” he says. “While it may look great on paper, there’s always something that happens. It’s important for business owners to be aware of what’s going on with distributors, stay in good communication with their vendors and customers and to keep track of time frames.”
That’s why Hamrick maintains a home office from where she manages distribution, monitors Internet sales and does small-order fulfillment. She’s also planning development of complementary products beginning in early 2010.