Three years ago, recreational inventors Bryant Troutman and his father, Bill, spotted a hole in the appliance market.
“We saw these items showing up – automated paper towel dispensers – and we said, ‘Why isn’t this in the kitchen?’ ” recalls Bryant Troutman, 43. A quick online search confirmed their hunch: Most dispensers were being made for offices and commercial use, not for the home.
The turning point for their business came when they brought their idea to local product development firm Enventys, which helped take their back-of-a-napkin brainstorm to prototype, product and retail success.
Brookstone’s online store was the first major retailer to sell their Innovia Home paper towel dispenser. Then came the online stores for Lowe’s, Target and Amazon. Earlier this month, their product debuted on Lowe’s in-store shelves nationwide.
“I’ve heard it’s like sheep – once you get one, the others follow,” Troutman said. “That’s what we’re hoping.”
On finding Enventys: Founded by Charlottean Louis Foreman in 2001, Enventys operates out of a renovated mill in Third Ward. People with ideas bring them to Enventys, where a staff of more than 50 industrial designers, engineers, graphic artists, marketing experts and attorneys help see the idea to fruition.
The Troutmans, who own the local printing services company Graphics International, had tinkered with their idea for a household paper-towel dispenser, but the technology they envisioned would have been costly to make.
The father-son duo paid Enventys an hourly rate to help them simplify their idea and build a basic, affordable model.
On finding a solution: The main qualifications for ideas at Enventys are simple: They must meet a widespread need and be new, so that they qualify for a patent.
The Troutmans found inspiration in everyday situations, says Ryan Gorman, a project manager at Enventys. Picture it: Your hands are wet, you fumble for a paper towel and the roll ends up soaked. Or you’re a parent, and your child grabs for a sheet and accidentally unfurls half the roll across the floor.
The Innovia paper towel dispenser is a sanitary and environmentally conscious answer to mishaps, as it metes out any brand or texture of paper towel according to its perforations, with the wave of a hand, Gorman said. It then retracts the excess and learns the number of sheets you normally require.
On finding the right price point: The first 3,000 units of the Innovia paper towel dispenser were shipped in June 2011, and the Troutmans touted the device on their website, generating interest via social media. Each dispenser was $139.
Sales were slow, but it wasn’t until a $15,000 local TV commercial ran for six weeks and yielded only two orders that the Troutmans decided to change their price. Innovia sold $160,000 worth of dispensers last year. Now, the company is selling three to four dispensers every day for $99 each, free shipping included, without running any ads.
“It’s gaining momentum as it’s getting in people’s houses,” Troutman said.
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