I had to compromise my designs. I argued with the mold makers for like 3 weeks, until we settled on the final design.
After design was finalized James had to source a few pre made components and figure out how to manufacture the rest. He wanted to keep production domestic. However, a “made in the USA” light would have cost $500 to build. China was the only option to produce a light at the right price point for dent guys. Finding companies overseas that would produce a high quality product at a reasonable price was exhausting. James tried 3 manufacturers until he found the right one. He got ripped off twice and wasted a ton of money and time researching and learning how to make a part in China.
“The biggest challenge was finding manufacturers that specialize in your area of product and are willing to work with you on a lower production bases. Hey, I’m not Walmart. I was taken advantage of by a couple of companies that never sent the product I paid for. Some sent product of such poor quality I couldn’t even use. The sad part is I was bait and switched. They sent a very good sample but the actual bulk product was terrible. I had to toss it because I would never pass that junk off to my customers.”
Protecting your ideas is also expensive
James knew he had to protect his unique design, so he hired a team of patent attorneys to make sure he was protected and wasn’t infringing on anyone else’s product. When you’re using components from major industrial manufacturers like Loc-line and Makita, you want to make sure everything is copacetic. The research and legal help proved to be super valuable when James’s was sued by another PDR Light manufacturer 1 week before his release at MTE 2012. James’s and his team actually proved the plaintiff’s patent was invalid and won the case, $6k later.
Did you know? Once you disclose your idea to the world, it is considered public art. You then have exactly one year to protect your intellectual property with the United States Patent Office.
3D printing is great for prototyping
“3D printed prototypes are expensive but the fact that you get a physical copy of your design quickly is great. You can get it exactly right before you make molds, which are really expensive. Once the molds are made, you can only make minor adjustments.”
Finding the right distribution partner is key
“I posted a video of our light on Facebook about a week or two before going to our first MTE. It started getting shared rapidly and people were showing a lot of interest. So much so that Ultra Dent Tools found me and reached out for a distribution deal. I can’t go into details about our agreement but I can say Ultra is a stand up company and Steve the owner is a great guy to work with. I hope we continue our relationship for years to come.”
James’s deal with Ultra really helped him hit the market fast and get worldwide publicity and distribution. Included in the deal, James was able to sell his light along with Ultra’s tools on his own online PDR tool store, www.elimadenttools.com. The fact that the exact same light was sold and branded under two different companies caused a little bit of confusion, but in the end it was the right move.
“Guys online would argue, “That’s an Ultra light, No that’s an Elim A dent Light.” Some guys would call me, “I’m confused. Did you make this light? Is it an Ultra light?”
Customer service and feedback is essential
Speaking of online chatter, dent guys on Facebook are always complimenting James on his customer service. He is always available to answer questions and resolves any issues quickly. He also welcomes criticism and suggestions on how to improve his lights.
“Without a customer base, I have nothing. It’s the way I was brought up. I always treat people with respect. Do good and good will follow you, has always been my philosophy.”
“Most guys have been super cool. I’ve gotten a lot of compliments and improvement suggestions. I take them all to heart. I don’t take offense.”
Thoughts on investors
James has fully funded his tool company and online store by himself without investors. It was a really scary and overwhelming process. James drained his bank account in order to get the first light built and ready for MTE 2014. Since then he has reinvested all of his profits to improve his lights and develop new products. Those new ideas would definitely move more quickly if James had more capital to contribute. Instead of getting investors involved, James selects what he thinks is most in need within the PDR industry and focuses all of his time and resources towards that project.
“Investors are going to be profit driven. I’m trying to bring quality and innovation. I’m not looking to make the biggest profit off of each product. I just want it to be good. Yeah, I need to make some money, but I’m not going to cut corners to increase profits.”
I think James is on the right track. He is selling way more lights than he ever thought and has transitioned from “dent guy” to a full blown tool maker and online tool store host.