Inventor Dad Gets His Invention Into Walmart
After my secure structural engineering job dissolved in the recession of 2008, I spent a lot of time at home with my infant son. He had chronic nasal congestion, and I discovered that the standard bulb and battery-powered aspirators did not work very well for the reason that they didn’t produce sufficient suction to get out the deep nasal mucus.
It pained me to see little Benjamin in distress and not able to breathe (babies are obligate nose breathers, so they are much happier when their noses are clear). I had an idea for a better kind of nasal aspirator that would use the parent’s own suction. I went down to the basement and cobbled together a device with silicone tubing, duct tape and a nose tip, and lo, it worked really well. In some respects, the concept was not unique, as it’s common in some cultures to use direct mouth suction to remove baby nasal mucus. But the point of this device was to use your own suction without getting the snot in your mouth.
“I couldn’t have conceived that in a few years, the Baby Comfy Nose would be available in 7,800 Walgreens stores”
I knew that the concept of a self-suctioning nasal aspirator worked well because I used it extensively on my own son. But the next step was to test a working prototype of the “snot trap” component (the part that prevented the snot from getting in the user’s mouth). Creating a prototype a few years ago might have cost tens of thousands of dollars, but today’s rapid prototyping on a 3D printer did the job faster and better at about the cost of a nice dinner out with my wife. With a working prototype in hand, I knew that I had a viable product and I could confidently approach manufacturers. I couldn’t have conceived that in a few years, the Baby Comfy Nose would be available in 7,800 Walgreens stores nationwide and would be the core of an expanding brand, Baby Comfy Care, www.babycomfycare.com.
The playing field has evened out in the world of product development and an individual with an idea now has the resources of design, manufacture and marketing that formerly were only available to large corporations. These resources include online services that allow connection with talent everywhere in any geographical location, directories of every conceivable supplier and manufacturer in the world and 3D printers that make rapid prototyping affordable.
Many people advised that starting a new business in the depths of a recession was a bad idea, but I found the opposite to be true. Had the economy been robust, it would have been difficult to find a manufacturer willing to take on my miniscule project and do small production runs. But because business was slow, a plastic injection molding company in my area was willing to accommodate tiny initial orders. I would have been financially unable to meet the minimum quantity requirements of tens of thousands of units, but a few hundred I could do.
I had concerns that the device might not gain acceptance because of general resistance to the concept of using one’s own lung suction to extract boogers. But it was around this time, 2008-9 that the phenomenon of Mom Bloggers was taking off (or at least the first I had heard of it) and with it, the ideal marketing platform for a new baby product. Discussion boards, Yahoo mom’s groups, blogs and baby forums of every kind were proliferating and the internet appeared to be a natural extension of the coffee table around which women have always shared child rearing tips.
My main marketing task was to get free samples into the hands of as many interweb-savvy moms as possible, and then cross my fingers. The danger with this approach is that it could go either way; you do not have control over what folks are going to write and say about your product. This has always been true of new product launches, but more so now, as advertising is being replaced by organic social media.
One of the things going for the product was what I call the “eww” factor. Bloggers are on the lookout for unique and edgy topics to write about and the “snot-sucker” was a natural. Whether the blogger liked the product or not, it was a sure comment-generator to detail the first time they put the device in the child’s nose and … sucked. Even if the conclusion of the blog writer was that this was a disgusting practice and that they would never use the product again, there was no denying it removed large amounts of mucus. In other words, it worked. Negative reviews were rare and the product went viral. A YouTube video that I shot of our neighbor Amanda using the Baby Comfy Nose on her son exceeded 160,000 views in short order, which is saying something for a video featuring a nasal aspirator http://youtu.be/wcO2wOjT5ek.
I submitted Baby Comfy Nose to Walgreens via their online new-item submitter and almost immediately received a terse email stating they were not interested. While this was disappointing, I was impressed that a mega-corporation appeared to have reviewed my submission and took the time to respond.
I submitted again a year later and received a similar response. It was not until I found a sales representative at a meet-up group that we got a sit-down meeting with a Walgreens buyer and things started to happen. In retrospect, I was not ready to fulfill the large orders that Walgreens requires and am thankful that I had a couple of years to incrementally improve the product and my manufacturing and distribution channels.
We are entering an exciting and unprecedented period of creativity in the world, which is being made possible by free access to connectivity and information. I’m continually astounded that I can plunk down in a coffee shop with decent wifi and Skype with my web designer in Bangladesh, email my manufacturers in China, transfer funds to pay them all and process new orders while enjoying my favorite caffeinated beverage. My next goal is to more fully automate and integrate all of the components so that I don’t even have to be all that involved. The benefits of this technology are only useful if they liberate us from the daily grind. Next stop, the three-hour work week.
Baby Comfy Care is a Longmont, Colorado-based company that specializes in unique baby care products. Founded by a dad and engineer, their premier product line includes the Baby Comfy Nose nasal aspirator, which is uniquely designed for effectiveness, comfort, and hygiene. The products were designed as real-world solutions to problems that their family encountered with their children. For more information on the company, visit their site at: www.babycomfycare.com.
Peter Champe was trained as an engineer and developed his first baby product, Baby Comfy Nose nasal aspirator when he was searching for a better way to clear his infant son’s congested nose. Baby Comfy Nose is now carried in 7800 Walgreens retail stores nationwide. Peter and his wife Elise run Baby Comfy Care Baby Products and Eclipse Sun Products. They live with their two children, Uma and Benjamin in Longmont, Colorado.