Purpose of this blog
Let me assure you, I don’t do diaries, but I guess I need a business diary, describing the evolution of Green Gobbler products. I will use this to let you know of our continued product improvements as we progress. Check in once in a while to see what’s up!
I graduated from MIT, not in engineering but in management. My first job was with Junior Achievement, a not-for-profit economic education organization. It was an opportunity to give back to society, a chance to thank those had helped me when I was young by paying forward. When I met my now-wife, I transitioned into the for-profit sector. After working for a software start-up, a couple of Fortune 500 firms, a family-owned firm, some small private companies, even an international company, I accepted the fact I don’t work well for others! I want to go one way, they don’t! Along the way I ended up in the laboratory furniture industry, working for several companies and chairing the industry association. Now I am on my own, bringing innovative products to this market. I am proud I profitably created new jobs while growing sales and profits every step along the way. Green Gobbler Safety products are one of my current endeavors. It was hearing complaints about safety shower testing that got my attention. I like solving problems, so here I am!
I am always interested in the customer’s “operating” budget, meaning, how do you use the product? Are there issues we could fix and at the same time differentiate ourselves from competitors? Continuous improvement. Evolve as customer needs evolve. I probably first became aware of safety shower testing requirements while at a laboratory design conference, or maybe a facility manager conference. Besides exhibiting, I like attending the sessions to learn the environment where the customer works. Walk in their shoes. Maybe get an idea we could develop into a product, or use to improve products or services. I don’t know how it specifically happened. Maybe as a speaker’s throw-away comment, explaining weekly testing for safety showers usually doesn’t happen because of what a hassle it is. I perked up – hassles provide opportunities. I saw a photo of “state of the art” testing. Seriously? THAT is how people test safety showers? Hold a curtain up around the shower head? Try to catch the water in a bucket? And then carry it to a sink? If this is “state of the art”, it looks like an opportunity for someone. I contacted an engineer friend of mine. Thus, was Green Gobbler born.
Our First Trade Show
I am SO excited! It seemed to take forever, but the Green Gobbler is ready to go. The facilities folks at Duke University were our beta testers and gave us great guidance, feedback and enthusiasm. Now, I am ready to exhibit at CSHEMA 2017, the association of university EH&S staff. The exhibit hours begin and all of a sudden, I hear, “Why didn’t I think of that?” And it just continued – lots and lots of interest. But I learned the Gobbler wasn’t their top interest. In fact, 2 out of 3 people said, “You’ve only solved our #2 problem.” My mother didn’t raise a dummy; that’s a sign maybe there’s another opportunity here.
I ask, “What is your #1 problem?” “Testing eyewashes,” they responded. Duh! As they each explained to me, eyewashes are more important because they are more likely to be used. Uh-huh, makes sense. But why is testing a hassle? Pedestal eyewashes have a bowl to catch the water, which goes down to a T in the pedestal. “Yes”, they said, “BUT THE T IS NEVER CONNECTED TO ANYTHING!” The water goes all over the floor! Oh, my goodness, I just backed into another opportunity! Before I can even think to ask, people are offering to help me develop a solution. I leave the show with a lot of leads and an identified, needed line extension.
Immediately, I mean “right-now, pack up at the CSHEMA show in Tucson and go right to San Francisco for the APPA show” immediately, I am on to the next opportunity. APPA is the association for higher education facility managers. Again, great response. I quickly have it confirmed why. EH&S is responsible that testing gets done, but Facilities does the work. That’s what I had hoped. But I ask questions and listen. Productivity issues in “state of the art” testing of eyewashes and safety showers. Health issues, repeatedly carrying heavy water a distance. Or problems due to wet, slippery floors. And staff, faculty or researchers really don’t want to cooperate because testing takes up so much of their time. Always listen to what the people who actually do the work have to say. They point out our casters need to be larger to get the Gobbler over electrical cords, elevator door gaps, cracks in sidewalks, etc. The axle needs to be protected so a foot can leverage the cart over those cords, gaps and cracks. I contact my engineer from the show and tell him what we have to do next. as I leave, all pumped up after two successful shows in two weeks, I have to make a decision. Keep marketing the solution for problem #2, or wait until we have a solution for problem #1.
This was so, so cool! At the APPA show, during a break, an exhibitor came over to chat. He was excited about our Gobbler because his old industry really needs the Gobbler – power and chemical plants have safety showers all over the place, all over large buildings. It was exhilarating to see him so enthused over the Gobbler. And then it happened again! No joke. Another exhibitor came over to tell me his previous market, healthcare, really needs this because they have to do testing, but really don’t want water all over a hospital! I can’t believe it! Two unsolicited new market suggestions. My adrenaline is flowing! I realize I wasn’t thinking large enough – there are many more markets to target.
Never As Easy As You Think
After getting home from the shows and sharing notes with my engineer John, I realize a solution for testing eyewashes is a bigger challenge than I had thought. Not every manufacturer makes them the exact same way. Some have bowls to catch water, some don’t. Some are pedestals on the floor, others are recessed into walls. Some pedestals don’t have drain T’s, while others do but at different heights. Stem bases are of different sizes and shapes. Some recessed versions have catch trays, some don’t. This is getting complex. This might take longer than the six months I had estimated.
Oops. Customer feedback – we have to change the Gobbler. I consider myself average height; the rest of the world calls me short. We have to make the Gobbler taller for the “normal” height people who will use it. Thankfully this is a relatively easy change to make for the next batch of product. Engineer John also makes a kit so our first customers can modify their Gobblers in the field. I remember LL Bean’s first batch of products, outdoors boots, leaked. He brought them back and fixed them. This was a learning experience for him, and we had a similar learning experience. We offered the modification kits to customers who hadn’t complained, and who were now surprised we would actually just send them the modification kits, no charge. Frankly, this was great field feedback. I have to admit, though, I’m glad the feedback came early in the process!
Engineer John has figured out how to test most – most, but not all – types of eyewashes. Well, John had a few helpers. Three of the CSHEMA volunteers helped us with beta testing and product refinement. [They also explained how many eyewashes and safety showers are on a typical research university!] This is probably small change to others, but for a couple of guys like us, this is worth the risk. We only need two solutions for eyewash testing, and the first is also a part of the second. I cannot describe to you how complicated this was. Not just variations in the eyewashes, but also how to ensure water would flow properly for collection and later disposal. Especially great: both eyewash testing solutions can use the Gobbler for water collection. Again, this means improved productivity by the people actually doing the testing. It continues to be easier to get rid of the collected water. We again, though, need to make minor modifications to the Gobbler. That’s okay, we keep improving the product.
Aaaah! I cannot believe it is so complicated to make molds! We need molds to make the eyewash solution. Thankfully, Engineer John is more patient than am I. John works with our vendor and together they figure it out. We won’t be ready to exhibit at the CSHEMA 2018 show [the university EH&S folks], but I am still there helping a client I convinced to exhibit with their product. I am pleasantly surprised how many people remember me – and the Gobbler – from last year. I tell them we are almost ready to re-launch the Gobbler because now we have solutions for testing eyewashes also, not just for testing safety showers. I am frustrated to miss this opportunity, but I am excited people remember me and, more importantly, the Gobbler. I am also excited they are excited to know we have eyewash testing solutions.
How are they finding us?
WHAT is going on? All of a sudden am getting calls and emails, asking for pricing. But we don’t even have our website up and running yet! How are they finding me? Wait. What’s that Sherlock Holmes quote? Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth. I call our web developer. Ah-ha! To fine-tune the web site, it is visible on the internet but it isn’t really being pushed “live” out there yet. Yet people are finding us, without us even trying to be found. This is a very reassuring development!
What a great fall! Sold a bunch of Gobblers, and almost every one with the eyewash solutions. This is so exciting! Ah, but there is more work to do. A customer called – a happy customer – to give us a suggestion. The rear wheels need to be larger still. Turns out when the now-taller Gobbler is full of water it is heavy, heavier than in our first model. Existing casters worked fine during testing on the shorter model. Again, Engineer John figured out two solutions. One for new product, one for product in the field. We of course sent the modification kit to the customer. He was pleasantly surprised we would do that. Shoot, he was surprised we even took his suggestion seriously! Turns out the one Gobbler they purchased was a test. They are located in the North, with five buildings on their campus. [They are private pharma.] With the new budget year, they hope to buy four more Gobblers so they don’t have to move anything around from building to building in the snows of winter. Isn’t that a nice thing to learn!
Largest Order To-Date
Hot diggety dog! [Sort of exposing my age, ‘eh?] A health care group just ordered three complete Gobblers, with the eyewash solutions! As my wife would say, whoo-hoo! Our largest single order so far! And the better news is, inquiries have been building! One reason is because people who want the Gobbler are finally getting to a new budget year and they hope to keep the Gobbler in the new budget. I can’t help but believe this is a slam-dunk argument to make on the productivity improvement alone. The other reason is our 2019 marketing has kicked off. You can tell when something new hits the market – inquiries go up almost instantly. Our first show of the year is coming up, giving us some visibility in new markets. I like it when people can “kick the tires” and I am hoping for a lot of tire kicking at the show!
An Order in the First Hour
I can get to the higher education market . . . but how get to the other markets? This is my first attempt, and WOW was this show successful! In the first hour one guy hands me his credit card to make certain he gets the one Gobbler we still have in stock. Another says he’s going to likely buy 2-3, but quote four to him! Another brings over a compatriot from another facility the next day. Another knew of the product and came to “kick the tires”; the next day her boss emails me to order a Gobbler! Lots of real good leads. But I am also exasperated. Over the last year and a half we’ve been asked several times to also help with measuring the temperature of the water while testing safety showers. We’ve put a low priority on it, but darn it all someone just asked for it again. If we get this figured out, we can help with the three key customer needs – water flow, clarity and temperature. I text John that we have to address measuring temperature.
A New Feature
John is such a good engineer! I’m not even home from the show and he’s pretty much got it figured out how to measure water temperature. Key is how to add it to our funnel/piping to measure the temperature while the water is coming out of the shower head, not after it has been sitting in the cart for a while. [And mixed with previously collected water.] I help John do some testing to make certain the temperature change on the thermometer is quick enough to happen before the water flow test is completed. It works perfectly, reacting almost instantly! We decide this will become a standard feature of the Gobbler. It doesn’t add much in cost and adds a lot of value. It is time for me to update pricing, literature and the web site. Great news is, we can make the change right away for the carts we will assemble in a couple of weeks and the next batch coming in a month. I am reminded of the adage to not wait to introduce a new product until it is perfect, or you may never get it to market. We got the basic product to market and then customer feedback told us where to go next with features. Two more shows for this summer and my fingers are crossed!