UPHILLSTRUGGLEFORANINVENTOR

6 July 2001




UPHILLSTRUGGLEFORANINVENTOR

Getting an invention to the

market is not easy as

farmers wife, working mum

and inventor Tracey Hollins

has discovered.

Simon Wragg reports

TRACEY will see her product – a car-seat protector used during potty training – hit the shelves of leading childrens merchandiser Mothercare in late July.

"It has taken almost five years and a lot of leg work to get this far," says Tracey, of Woodlane Farm, Hinstock, North Shropshire.

The saga started in 1997 when Tracey was taking her eldest son, Thomas, then aged two-and-a-half, to nursery before heading to work. "I was potty training Thomas and, of course, the inevitable happened – he wet his car seat.

"I washed the covers and soaked the seats sponge pads, but it took nearly two days to dry out. I could not do without the seat for a day let alone two. And then I just thought why hasnt anyone developed a water-absorbent cover to stop this from happening," she says.

"I had to use a carrier bag over the seat to get Thomas to nursery, but it set me thinking."

&#42 Prototype fabric

Tracey looked around at fabrics and made the prototype of what has become Wetecs inaugural product. It started off as a cotton cover with an absorbent middle layer and plastic bottom all stitched together.

"It worked, but the most amazing thing was the response from other mums facing the same problem," she says.

Deciding her homemade pad had potential to be sold widely, Tracey sought advice from the Citizens Advice Bureau initially and was then directed to the Patents Office.

"Anyone can register a design rights patent, although it costs a few hundred £s. The forms duly arrived and with Stephen, my husband, we filled them in. But that is when the frustration starts. Everything takes time with patents."

And with time being spent on verifying applications and searches for a full patent taking place, the bills can soon mount up. "We were asked if we had put the application into the hands of an attorney, but the bills can run into thousands, so I have done most of the work myself."

Once rights had been given in Traceys name, she could set about looking for a retailer. "I went directly to Mothercare and ended up going to Watford to see one of the companys merchandisers. They could not believe their own technical people had not thought of it," she says.

But the retailers positive response to the seat cover was no fast-track to the shops shelves. The search for suitable materials for a completely washable and long-lasting cover began in earnest. A manufacturer had to be found and then a designer to produce the packaging.

&#42 Sensible quote

"Eventually, I got in contact with a local firm – Weybury Hildreth based at Bridgnorth – who will make the covers. But it has taken four years of searching to find a sensible quote and someone we feel comfortable working with."

The time delays have been frustrating, admits Tracey. "Endless weeks just waiting to hear back that another problem has been discovered. But the positive side is that it has been my own project and has given the family a diversion from farming topics during the BSE and foot-and-mouth crises."

It has been five years of slow progress, doggedly slow progress, during which time Tracey has had another son, Phillip, who is about to start potty training.

"I now just want to walk into a store and see it on the shelf and think, great, that is my idea and it will help mums just like me. Then the waiting will have been worth it."


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