Marketing a product that deals with a primary bodily function can be tough, but after an appearance on the entrepreneurial TV show Shark Tank, Robert Edwards found tremendous success with his invention: Squatty Potty. It's a product name that elicits giggles from people, until they hear the science behind the product.
"Necessity is the mother of invention," Edwards told PlasticsToday. "My mother had suffered from chronic constipation all her life. It got to the point where she was uncomfortable and tired of taking pills all the time. Finally a physical therapist told her it could be a mechanical problem and explained to her that most of the world squats to have bowel movements, which physically puts the body in a position to make elimination easier."
At first she tried a small stool and found it was very helpful. With just a change in her posture, Edwards' mother was cured. However, the stool became a problem because it didn't fit around the toilet properly so that the feet could be on either side. "That's where I came in," said Edwards. "I made a prototype from wood at first and we tried that. I designed the stool to her specs. Then she started giving them away as gifts to friends, who really liked the product.
"More and more people started coming to us for the product, so we did some research on the subject and talked to medical professionals. We were told that yes, this is the way people are designed. Anatomically it's correct, and two-thirds of the world squats. There was a need and we took on the task of changing the way the world poops."
To mass produce the product, Edwards knew it would have to be made from plastic. His mother went to China with the wood prototype and asked if they could make it. A plastic design was drawn up and the first single-cavity molds were made there. Last year, Edwards' company, Squatty Potty, sold 700,000 units injection molded in polypropylene.
Manufacturing in China became a problem as demand increased, so about a year ago, after molding the Squatty Potty products in China for a year, the company moved the molds back to the USA. "Manufacturing in the USA makes everything so much easier," said Edwards. "Filling orders and controlling inventory is easier, and the shipping is much less when products are shipped from Utah."
To help the St. George, Utah–based company attain the capital and expertise needed to meet rising demand for the Squatty Potty, Edwards and his mother dived into the Shark Tank, and came up a winner with Lori Grenier, "Queen" of QVC and an inventor in her own right.
"The experience was great with Shark Tank and I'd absolutely do it again," said Edwards. "The power of that medium is amazing; you can't buy that kind of publicity. Our partnership with Lori Grenier is great, as she has excellent relationships. She has helped us tremendously. She likes our product and after airing that show we sold $1 million in Squatty Pottys in one night. Over the next five weeks, we had sales of $3 million."
Edwards said the company did not have to give up too much equity, and the return has been far more than he expected. "The big obstacle is just getting the credibility for your product. There's so much stuff out there," he stated. "We're now getting more backing from the medical community, which has been a big help. I really didn't expect this kind of success and it's so amazing."
Marketing a product like this has some inherent obstacles, as well. Edwards noted the "taboo" around "potty talk" and how, at first, they "got a lot of strange looks" when they mentioned the product. That means that marketing involves a lot of education about the body and how it functions. "We're teaching people something that they didn't know about themselves," he said. "We get e-mails daily from people who had this [chronic constipation] problem and who found the solution in Squatty Potty. We have a 5-Star rating on Amazon."
Obviously success this big and this quickly also has challenges. Squatty Potty comes in two sizes, but he had only two, single-cavity molds to manufacture the products. And he had only one molder. With orders pouring in, the product was soon backordered and Edwards knew he needed some redundancy built into the manufacturing. He had several more molds built and found another molder. Now with two molders—Research & Results Engineering in Leeds, Utah, near St. George; and Silicone Plastics Inc. in Logan, Utah—Edwards is able to maintain a reasonable order-to-ship timeframe.
Edwards noted that he is currently designing an "adjustable" Squatty Potty that will offer a smaller footprint to add to the product line.
Research & Results Engineering has added presses to accommodate the increase in Squatty Potty business, notes president Roger Watters, who molds the 2.1-lb PP product. Watters told PlasticsToday that he has purchased four new presses over the past year that include two 400-ton and two 125-ton Cincinnati presses. He currently operates 11 machines total. He runs two eight-hour shifts molding Squatty Pottys, with the largest mold in a 550-ton press and two others in the 400-ton Cincinnati presses.
Watters, whose molding firm makes products for various markets, commented: "I've never worked with such nice people as the folks at Squatty Potty."
Another challenge came from Edwards' year-long manufacturing stint in China. When asked if his intellectual property had been compromised, Edwards acknowledged that it had. "We have the problem," he said. "There's an identical one being sold on Alibaba. Trying to stop this has become a game of Whack-a-Mold."
Edwards and his Squatty Potty product prove that there is always room for another great idea to become successful. And, of course, plastics helps entrepreneurs and inventors like Edwards make their ideas a reality.