CHARLESTON, S.C. — It’s an astounding product, and likely one of the best home or commercial safety devices to enter the marketplace in generations. The WaterSafe’s proven capabilities and potential amount to a breakthrough in leak prevention and automatic water shut-off system technology.
Yet, even with so much going for it, The Watersafe almost never made it to market! Which proves a point: even the cleverest devices can fail without proper positioning, product strategy and marketing.
The WaterSafe was a result of inventor, Andrew Fuller’s Charleston based business, Claycor Contractors, Inc. and its experience remediating mold caused by water damage. Andrew and his partner, Bobby McBride, formed Global Moisture Management Systems (GMMS) and invested eight years and lots of capital into product research and development. They endured several start-and-stops and engaged two engineering companies to build and manufacture the then untitled device. The result: many failed attempts, wasted years, and mounting company debt.
Finally, Fuller discovered the South Carolina Manufacturing Extension Program (SCMEP), a private, not-for-profit group that provides a range of product development and cost-cutting ideas. SCMEP offers more than partnership; the group offers answers.
SCMEP followed a three-step process – concept, development and launch – to evaluate and introduce the product to the marketplace. This, as well as McBride’s incredible financial expertise and staff, positioned Fuller and his company for incredible growth. Good thing, too because prior to SCMEP’s involvement, GMMS’ window of opportunity with The WaterSafe was about to slam shut. “There was a large concern with people catching it or stealing it, slowing you down, or somebody building the same technology you did, and getting into distribution,” Fuller says.
Launching the campaign
In coordination with Fuller, SCMEP’s creative team suggested “The WaterSafe” as the invention’s name, allowing branding efforts to start. “(The label) just locks down what the product does,” said Fuller.
The WaterSafe is an extraordinary product, and works by using advanced technology and easily installed remote sensors to continually monitor moisture levels around major appliances. If a leak occurs, it is immediately detected by the sensors, and a wireless central controller is activated. The controller’s alarm then interfaces with an online monitoring system that sends alerts via text, email or phone to the homeowner, and simultaneously shuts off the main water supply. The system even records event data for insurance purposes.
Such a device is greatly needed. According to the Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS), the estimated national cost of damaged property due to water came to $6.8 billion last year. A tool such as The WaterSafe could offer absolute deterrence.
SCMEP was quick to recognize the device’s promise. The group put its muscle behind Fuller, launching a robust marketing and public relations campaign that helped the inventor win one of South Carolina’s most coveted business awards: Lowcountry Regional Innovator of the Year. Fuller was awarded the prize in August 2008, assuring immediate legitimacy or better known to SCMEP clients as the “real reason to believe.”
Before Fuller’s triumph, speculation surrounded his product. Industry insiders wondered if it would work. Would it be practical? Was it – gulp – just a grand concept? “That (award) pretty much gave me, as an inventor, a tremendous amount of credibility,” he says. And, Fuller concedes, SCMEP’s connection and commitment helped turn his investors’ faith into cold hard cash.
“I had a large investor – with a selling and installation team more than 2000 strong- who was looking at coming on board, and I did not even have to demonstrate the product,” Fuller says. “The marketing alone pretty much took care of that.”
‘A nightmare without SCMEP’
Given the product’s reach, SCMEP sensed the call to urgency. SCMEP joined with its resource partners to concurrently engineer the device and begin additional promotional efforts, so that orders would be secured by production launch. SCMEP delved into the effort, conducting 1:1 research groups with potential distributors and end users. Their marketing agency devised a website for The WaterSafe, 3D product animation and other renderings, as well as an Enterprise Marketing Management System and product brochures to solicit potential distributors. “Without SCMEP, marketing would have been a nightmare. I don’t even want to think about it,” Fuller says.
SCMEP worked to narrow the market, focusing on the residential/commercial industry – a vital point of business strategy. “There were so many diverse avenues to choose from for this product,” Fuller says. “But when you can focus on the market, and bring it down to one (industry), we can set out to corner the market.”
Soon the message clicked- and the launch was bigger than most inventors could ever dream. This was due to the marriage of expert marketing, financial expertise on the part of McBride and his staff, and a revolutionary invention-The Watersafe.
McBride and his sales staff landed GMMS a distribution deal with Ferguson Enterprises, the nation’s largest supplier of plumbing products. Ferguson, whose annual revenues exceed $7 billion, has shown remarkable faith in The WaterSafe. The device will become the first in Ferguson’s history to be stocked or carried nationally prior to the product’s first production run. “Other than getting the product financed,” Fuller says, “getting the product to market is the single biggest hurdle. SCMEP’s marketing department has helped with all of that.”
SCMEP’s total product cycle
The financial forecasts vary, but all reports point to significant returns. “It’s bigger than the average guy could anticipate for first-year sales,” Fuller says. “We hope to do more the first year than we ever thought possible.
Moreover, GMMS and Fuller are primed to benefit from emerging opportunities. SCMEP recruited and positioned a national sales force, assisted with training of staff, and developed an installation manual and training program. The WaterSafe’s first production order is due in August. SCMEP’s total product cycle- concept, development and launch- is almost complete. “SCMEP was instrumental in getting us where we are today- especially their marketing capabilities,” Fuller says. “If you’re not with SCMEP, you’re going to miss out on a lot. They’ve got big clients, they’ve got small clients, and they know how to get it done. Hopefully in a few years, history will show this to be a start-up to remember. Believe me, they hit a home run with all of it.”