BRIAN Measday well remembers his “light bulb’’ moment while watering his tomato plants in the backyard of his suburban home in 1996.
Within weeks he had developed a prototype of his idea. Now, 18 years later his patented invention is approaching the magical mark of 1,000,000 units sold in Australia.
The AUD$11 plastic ring is stocked in every major hardware store in the country and is only weeks away from making its debut in the United States of America.
“Looking back it sounds much simpler than it was – much simpler,’’ the former chartered accountant said.
“The idea was definitely the easy part. Getting the product to market was a lot of hard work.’’
Brian’s beautifully simple idea occurred as he watched the water from his watering can run off his tomato plants and under his neighbor’s fence, a common problem in his hometown of Adelaide, South Australia where annual rainfall is no more than 21 inches (553 mm) and usually falls during a few winter months.
“I thought to myself ‘What a waste! There must be a better way,’” he said.
His idea was to create a plastic “collar” or “well” that would encircle the plant and stop water escaping. This allowed the water to seep down to where it was needed most – the plant’s roots.
“I believe you need to be bit more lateral with your thinking in those circumstances. You need to find people who can help, improve and move your idea forward".
“At the time one of my accountancy clients was working in the plastics manufacturing industry so we had a chat and I told him what I trying to achieve.
“We came up with something that worked but was still a fair way off what I wanted. But I felt I was on the right track and it gave me the confidence to design a prototype.
“I was a bit excited because I did some research and there was nothing like it on the market, it worked so well I really thought it would take off.’’
“But I wanted proof there was a demand for it, that a market did exist.’’
Brian drove from 400km from Adelaide to Port Lincoln stopping at councils along the way and showing them how it worked.
“Many of them said they could use something like that and they would be keen to buy the product,’’ Brian recalls.
With a definitive market he then turned his focus to manufacture.
He engaged a plastics engineer to design the product and eventually secured intellectual protection for the product in Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States of America.
“From speaking to the councils I realised it would be more cost effective for the client if the product could be re-used,’’ Brian said.
“I incorporated a type of hinge, or zip join, so the circular Greenwell could be opened and closed. That way it could be easily moved from one plant to another.
“Many councils use the Greenwell on newly planted trees for the first two to three years, when the tree is established they reuse the product on the next planting. It was also important to ensure the product was made from recycled plastic.
Initially he made the decision to make the product himself and outlayed $40,000 on “tooling up’’ and creating the mold that would produce the Greenwells.
Brian started churning out the Greenwells at the rate of around 20,000 a year and sales grew as councils began reporting that they were saving up to 25 per cent on their watering bills once the rings were in place.
“I soon realised I had no hope of succeeding by just sitting in Adelaide with a telephone in front of me,’’ he said.
“I knew the potential market was huge but I couldn’t tap in to it. How would I get the product to Queensland or Sydney? There were major logistical problems for a small operation.
“I began negotiating with HR Products in Royal Park, Adelaide - a large and successful national irrigation company.
“I decided the best thing was to hand over production and distribution to them and they would pay me a small royalty for every unit that was sold.
“It greatly reduced what I received per unit but it greatly increased the number of units that could be sold.’’
In the first two months of this financial year over 16,000 units have already been sold in Australia – and now America beckons.
“I have just approved a license to Myers Lawn & Garden to manufacture and distribute the product in North America,’’ Brian said.
“It will work the same way as in Australia – they’ll do most of the work and pay me a small royalty on each unit sold.
“The potential in the USA is so big it’s scary. There are some big numbers being bandied around about how may units could be sold. But time will tell.’’
While Brian admits he doesn’t own a holiday house in the south of France as a result of the success of Greenwell – he doesn’t regret his business choices.
“Honestly, I believe there are about five per cent of inventions that make it and only a small percentage of those become profitable,’’ he said.
“People think as soon as they come up with an invention they are going to become millionaires overnight.
“They don’t talk to other people about their product because they want to keep it secret and they’re worried someone will steal their idea.
“I believe you need to be bit more lateral with your thinking in those circumstances. You need to find people who can help, improve and move your idea forward.
“I haven’t become millionaire from this product and I doubt I ever will. But I have done well out of it and enjoy a comfortable lifestyle. It’s been a great and interesting journey.
“Maybe the key to being successful with a new idea is not to be too greedy.’’