My thanks to Audrey Buck from Easy Blinds for agreeing to do an inventor interview for Ideas Uploaded. Audrey created the first Easy Blackout Blinds to fill her own needs to help her daughter get to sleep, as she had trouble sleeping with any light. Read more below of how her invention idea developed into a business.
Tara: Please could you tell me a little bit about where you are based, your background and how you got into inventing?
Audrey: I left my career to become a stay-at-home-Mum. I needed an income, but didn’t want to leave the children to go out to work. When my daughter was very young, I struggled to get her to sleep when there was any light at all. I began, in desperation, sticking heavy duty binliners to her window to make the nursery dark! This evolved in to a blind consisting of blackout material and Velcro to attach it to the window so that it would be easy to attach and remove. This proved very effective, not to mention more attractive than black plastic! Several of my friends asked me to make similar blinds for them, and when friends of friends started asking too I began to wonder if it would work as a business. It then took some time and lots of trial and error with materials and adhesives to arrive at the final product – our original Velcro Blackout Blind Kit.
Tara: Please could young tell me a little bit about the easy blackout blinds and how you came up with the idea?
Audrey: Easyblackout evolved from the original Velcro blackout blind as I wanted to make it easier to use and more versatile. The idea was to develop a material that would incorporate a Velcro-like material all over one side. This would make assembling the blind quicker and easier, and in use there would be no need to carefully align the blind with the Velcro on the window frame as any part of the blackout material would easily attach. This makes the blind extremely easy to hang or remove with one hand – very useful when you are a parent with a baby in the other arm! I also wanted to be able to use this material with suction cup attachments instead of Velcro for travel or other applications where it might not be possible or convenient to attach Velcro to the window. The suction cups we have developed incorporate a section that works in a similar way to Velcro so that the easyblackout material attaches directly to the suction cups on the window. This is the ‘Go Anywhere’ portable blind.
Tara: What were the first steps you took after having your idea?
Audrey: The original Velcro blackout blind was not patentable, and so I decided to keep my prices as low as possible and try to achieve a high volume of sales with a small margin, thereby making it less attractive for anyone to compete with this product. With the idea for easyblackout material, however, I went to see a Patent Lawyer to discuss it before doing anything else. I was quite confident that it could be manufactured, but wanted to protect the idea before doing anything else.
Tara: Did you try and patent your idea straight away or did you develop it first? how did you go about getting protection for your idea?
Audrey: I made prototypes myself initially to prove the principle, and then went to see my Patent Lawyer. I used my prototypes to illustrate the idea, and once this was done, I was able to look into manufacturing the material. In the end, I had to go to China for both quality and price. We tested a range of fabrics, adhesives and laminating processes before finally producing a reliable, durable and effective material. We now use this in our ‘easyblackout’ and ‘Go Anywhere’ blackout blinds.
Tara: Did you get presentation drawing sheets produced or make a prototype for your idea?
Audrey: I used my own drawings, and made my own prototype to show my Patent Lawyer, and then my manufacturer.
Tara: How did you go about promoting your idea, did you contact possible companies with the idea of licensing your product or did you want to maintain control and manufacture and sell it yourself?
Audrey: My aim was to sell a quality product at a good price. As this was a niche product, I needed to sell directly to the customer, and so rather than approach retailers I began in 2002 by initially placing adverts in mother and baby magazines, and taking orders over the telephone and through the post. I then set up my website with online ordering – which was much more successful! The plan was to sell directly to customers online. Easyblinds was soon well positioned in the natural listings, I think because the Velcro Blackout Blind Kit is a niche product, it ‘does what it says on the tin’, and is frequently talked about favourably on a range of online forums. I was fortunate that the timing meant that the business developed with the rapid growth of online retail.
In 2003, I tried Google Adwords, which instantly gave great returns. It cost-effectively enabled me, as a very small business, to bring a niche product to the attention of customers searching for blackout blinds online. I still use Google Adwords, but easyblinds’ consistently high position in the natural listings is key.
Tara: How long has it taken from your initial idea to where you are now?
Audrey: My initial idea for the original Velcro Blackout Blind Kit came in 2002. The idea for the new version of this, ‘easyblackout’, came soon after, but took quite some time to develop and for the easyblackout and Go Anywhere products to come to fruition.
Tara: Where can your product be purchased from?
Tara: If you had to do it all again is there anything you would do differently?
Audrey: Starting a business with little children around your feet is not easy! At the time, my aim was simply to develop an income whilst being with the children. This business has been self-funding from the beginning. This has meant steady, self-funded (albeit slower) growth, every year without having to borrow money. I have learnt a lot, and if I was to start a new business now that the children are at school and I have more regular working hours, I would look further ahead and concentrate more on marketing and business development.
Tara: What advice would you give any aspiring inventor with an idea?
Audrey: Protect your idea if it is possible, and ascertain commercial possibilities before investing money.
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Tara: Do you have more ideas you hope to bring to market in the future?
Audrey: Yes! I am currently working on my latest blackout blind and am very excited about it. Without lowering quality we can reduce costs on this product, and I can see it retailing around the globe. This is the product to really grow my business on. I can’t wait to shout about it but am keeping quiet about this one for now!!
Tara: Anything else you would like to add?
Audrey: Despite the fact that I would have preferred to entirely produce our blackouts in the UK, it has not been possible. Our Stick On kit is the only wholly UK made blackout in our range. With easyblackout we have achieved more with our partner in China than proved possible here, in terms of both quality and price.
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