Inventing A Powered Garden Tool And Growing to $10K/Month

The Story of The Maxbit

Hello! Who are you and what are you working on?

My name is Michele Morton and I am the inventor and founder of THE MAXBIT. With THE MAXBIT, we’ve introduced new technology in the garden industry.

THE MAXBIT attaches to a household drill. When the drill is engaged and THE MAXBIT goes in the ground the patented blade technology turns the dirt down and forms a perfect hole every time.

THE MAXBIT went from a little over $13, 000 in sales its first full year to over $60,000 in sales by the end of the second quarter the second year!

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What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

I was gardening on the weekends for extra money as a single parent and wearing myself out with hand held tools. This work led me to seek a solution, saying over and over, “There must be a better way??” This went on for months and then one Wednesday night, while sitting in church, this idea dropped from heaven. I ‘saw’ an image in my mind’s eye that conceivably would work!

The tools on the market were shovels and trowels and auger bits. None of which would dig a perfect hole, take the dirt out of the hole and leave a flat bottom. Time after time, I would dig, redig, and redo, to please the customer on the design of the flower bed.

Have a clear vision and purpose. This will keep you on track and keep others off your track. Having clear vision helps you say no to opportunities that don’t advance the vision. Do what you do best and always be available to help others do the same.

Once the idea landed, with the help of others we built a prototype. This was an arduous process. We must have built a dozen different prototypes trying to get it to do what it needed to do and what I ‘saw’ in my mind. By this time, I had etched a design, bought a book to document all our work and kept records of everything we were doing as we progressed.

Keep in mind all of this took place in the late 90’s before the widespread use of Internet and certainly no one had heard of social media. So, I was given a book, titled, “Patent It Yourself” by David Pressman and taught myself that summer, wrote the patent and submitted it to a patent attorney who finished it for me. Just 18 months later, we were awarded the patent. Meanwhile I held a provisional patent and began to demonstrate the product at inventor shows. The Provisional Patent ‘holds your place’ with the USPTO for a year, while you submit a patent. Once the year is up and no patent is filed, the invention can become public domain if it has been shown in public.

Everyone advised that I seek a manufacture for a licensing deal. After researching this process, I began to make phone calls and write letters to potential manufacturers in the US. With declined responses, reluctantly I began to look outside the US for a manufacturer. This proved to be a daunting task, because of the time it takes to get a response. But if you believe in your product, you just keep going! Remember, I was still a single parent and finances were tight. If it were not for family and friends, I could not have made it over the first few hurdles.

Describe the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing the product.

The doors closed one after another on trying to license the idea, but I continued to keep the prototype before potential customers.

We explored out of the country manufactures as well as all over the US. Then it happened! We met with a potential maker in our own state and he accepted the challenge to produce the tool - which still did not have a name.

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Our first run was only 100 tools and only one size. We wanted to test market it with customers at a local trade show. Keep in mind it is Made in America, made of steel, and individually hand welded. So, the initial cost was high, but gardeners in our state loved it and we sold out.

We ended up not licensing, but in essence outsource manufacturing and control the operations side. As we continue to grow we will streamline all processes under one roof to better control time constraints, costs, and delivery times.

Raising some money

We held a Financial Opportunity Meeting inviting family and friends to invest in the product with incentive paybacks.

Yes, we bootstrapped and launched our first run and marketing campaign one month before we launched in the first trade show. We sent invitations out, reserved a local meeting room, catered a meal and brought in a speaker that represented an agency that introduced us to the Mississippi manufacturer.

One of the items in the Opportunity Packet was an envelope they could use to put the investment form and check in. We wanted to make it anonymous among the group, yet personal in invitation. We raised just over $10,000 that day and a year later, another $5000. Our payback is built on a 3 year term with 10% interest.

We are on the cusp of offering private stock in the company and will approach our initial investors first as we offer stock options.

A local for profit agency, Innovate Mississippi, helped connect us with our manufacturer. I had one product, but more on the drawing board. With his help we developed three products in 3 months and had product ready for two state tradeshows to test the market in our own backyard. THE MAXBITS flew off the table and our local gardeners loved the product. This was great incentive to continue, building inventory.

Getting a patent

Let me backtrack slightly about the patent. Once I filed the Provisional Patent Application, friends bought me a book called, “How to Patent it Yourself” and this was my summer reading as I began to write.

Another friend called his patent attorney and he agreed to ‘finish’ it for me for a small fee. It took me a summer to research and write the patent with the help of staff at our local Patent and Trademark Library. From the filing of the patent until it was issued took 18 months. In the interim we had office actions to work on and more research to establish our product was unique and we were not infringing on anyone else’s invention.

When I read what I just wrote, I think, “I made it sound easy”, but that is certainly not the case. Many people choose not to patent but to saturate the market with their product establishing brand and making money as fast as they can.

There are pros and cons to both and obstacles on both sides of those choices. I was advised to patent the powered garden tool, because that is the traditional way and secure way. Anyone who has worked with a patent attorney knows the expense and the arduous process.

After writing the bulk of my patent an attorney finished up the final draft for under $1000.

Describe the process of launching the business.

I was being stretched beyond belief. I have never done anything like this before (all of the preliminary work was in the late ‘90s early 2000s). There was not much Internet then and websites were just becoming a thing.

So by 2016, when we found the manufacturer and launched the product at a state trade show, we were set for a website. Again, we searched out someone we knew who could help us for a price we could afford and again, friends came on board.

Look around you and see who you know that know how to do what you don’t have a clue about. Use your resources wisely. Do what you do best, and leave the rest to other experts, but don’t give up control.

I mentioned bootstrapping and next was a small loan from another local agency that helped with additional marketing including branding. And sales. It really helps to sell the product. With tradeshows and wholesale stores the word was getting out about the latest best news in gardening - the powered garden tool that digs a perfect hole called THE MAXBIT.

Getting into trade shows

The first tradeshow was local and the next tradeshow was a wholesale where several stores bought the product. Over the summer we traveled to Bentonville, AR, to Walmart’s Open Call, where they search for Made in the US products.

We left with THE MAXBIT on Walmart.com. We were now 5 months old and growing. In January of 2018 we exhibited in Atlanta at AmericasMart and wowed the crowd, picking up multiple garden centers all over the US. In Atlanta we met The Grommet.

The Grommet, an amazing platform for new products, launched THE MAXBIT in May and we shipped for their customers in a big way - and still do. Through this platform we attended the ACE Hardware Show in August 2018 in Chicago.

Biggest lessons learned

Look around you and see who you know that know how to do what you don’t have a clue about. Use your resources wisely. Do what you do best, and leave the rest to other experts, but don’t give up control.

You and you alone hold the vision and can direct the ship towards the mission goal. We look for credible endorsements and trustworthy alliances that build lasting relationships. Be wise when you advertise - it can be a bottomless pit.

Do your best to track ROI on each advertising avenue you use to advance the product and the business.

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

Trade shows

Trade shows bring income and additional customers. I know trade shows can be expensive and a lot of work, but the ROI has been tops for us.

We believe one of the reasons for this is THE MAXBIT demonstrates well. Customers can see the product in action and see that it delivers. It does what it says it will do.

Again, we partner with a local state agency for partial grant monies that help pay for some of this expense. Although today it is more popular to launch on online platforms it can be very difficult and competitive to stay on top of all that is required to see sales increase.

Some tips for trade shows:

  • Do your homework and be sure your product is a fit.
  • Have an attractive booth that displays your product well.
  • Run specials!
  • Collect emails for your newsletter.
  • Be prepared for feedback - take notes.
  • Be the face of your product - Make it personal.
  • Tell your story!

Online sales

We use Facebook and Instagram Ads and a newsletter powered by MailChimp. The ROI on these products is below average for us, but we continue to perfect our knowledge and use of these tools. Product reviews from customers help. We make calls to stores that carry THE MAXBIT periodically checking on reorders and questions customers may have.

We do not sell on Amazon due to a current exclusive contract with a vendor we, but even before that we were not satisfied with Amazon. We find that our wholesale vendors can sell the product at MAP without worries from sales on Amazon. In addition, other vendors were ‘attempting’ to sell our product without contacting us. When we approached Amazon they were not helpful.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

Revenues increase as the branding and the product prove viability in the marketplace.

We are working to streamline the entire process from manufacturing to fulfillment which will help increase profitability. Currently profit margins are about 50% from wholesale to retail. Manufacturing in the US gives the product great quality, but a higher price that we are working to reduce as we produce higher volumes.

We don’t have a good grasp on ad spend, monthly traffic, and average time on our site. This is a gap for us we are working to close. Our monthly email list continues to grow as we collect emails from customers.

There will always be obstacles, but you just find ways to go over them, around them, or move them out of the way. For me, perseverance held the key.

Our strength comes from store sales, relationships with vendors as they reorder and our online sales. We are working to move more product through our online store, yet we have a strong wholesale presence. Check out our Retailer page on our website, www.themaxbit.com

Today, the process from start to finish is in three locations, manufacturing, powder coating, and fulfillment. We plan to combine these processes within the year in one location.

In addition, we have developed another size of THE MAXBITS that will be in production by Spring, bringing our product line to 4 in 4 different colors. This larger BIT opens the door to the professional industry in agriculture, horticulture, landscaping, and forestry.

Short term goals we mentioned to streamline the processes. Long term goals include exporting (which we started this June) to open markets worldwide. We export product to Australia and the Canadian garden industry shows great interest, as well as other countries.

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

There will always be obstacles, but you just find ways to go over them, around them, or move them out of the way. For me, perseverance held the key.

It has taken longer than I expect to get where I want to go and in ways it seems like we have just begun. I do believe that timing plays a big role in how things develop.

Years ago, when I had the idea and the patent, our current manufacture was not in the picture.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

Our website platform is Squarespace and the payment portal tool is Stripe.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

In addition to doing what I do with THE MAXBIT, I am a professor, researcher and Bible teacher.

Reading and podcasts inspire and instruct and I would encourage others to use what resources are available. Most of the material I read and apply is biblical, helping me to stay focused on the purpose of why I do what I do.

Our company is called God’s Way Enterprises, Inc. - www.gweinc.org - we are a for-profit company that helps non-profits do what they do.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

Have a clear vision and purpose. This will keep you on track and keep others off your track. Having clear vision helps you say no to opportunities that don’t advance the vision. Do what you do best and always be available to help others do the same.

Share with others what you know and help them get to the next step. Someone helped you do the same thing. Be a good steward over what you have and are doing. We are not promised tomorrow and if we take ownership over stewardship we hold it too tightly and miss opportunities to grow and help others grow.

Where can we go to learn more?

Please visit our website at www.themaxbit.com but also go to our Facebook page, like us and leave us a comment on the pictures, videos, and products. We read them all and answer promptly. Our social media platforms are listed on the website.

the-maxbit

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