How I Invented A Better Windshield Wiper And A $2M/Year Business

$178,000
revenue/mo
1
Founders
6
Employees
product
Scrubblade Inc.
from Temecula
started February 2007
$178,000
revenue/mo
1
Founders
6
Employees
2.06M
alexa rank
12.1K
followers
451
followers
66
subs

Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

My name is Billy Westbrook and I reinvented the wiper blade making it more useful for the consumer. My company is called Scrubblade and our wiper blades clean your windshield beyond rain, to remove bugs, dirt and road grime from impairing your vision.

Currently, we are the #1 blade sold at retail in the H.D. trucking industry and slowly growing in the off-road, online and automotive market.

Scrubblade Heavy Duty and Scrubblade Platinum are our two models available today. We believe in keeping our product models available to a minimum, not to confuse the customer with too many options. We landed on the INC 5000 and awarded wiper blade of the year by Frost & Sullivan in 2018. That was a big accomplishment for Scrubblade and me personally.

how-i-invented-a-better-windshield-wiper-and-a-2m-year-business

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

I thought of the Scrubblade idea when I was driving home late one night. A large bug hit my windshield and being the clean freak I am, I tried wiping it off with the wiper blades and washer fluid but all that happened was a massive smear directly in my line of sight.

I thought, ‘why can’t wiper blades remove more than just water from the windshield?.’ That’s when the idea of Scrubblade was born. In the morning I sketched out the first design.

Oncoming lights at night would enhance the smear causing bad vision. I thought, “why can’t wiper blades remove more than just water from the windshield?.” That’s when the idea of Scrubblade was born. In the morning I sketched out the first design that still hangs in our offices today.

how-i-invented-a-better-windshield-wiper-and-a-2m-year-business

My background was racing BMX, I literally had zero experience in the wiper blade world. I mean who does? I always liked customizing cars and trucks but had no idea what I was getting into. I just knew there had to be a way to solve the problem I dealt with that night.

Years later I started an automotive detailing company while the idea of Scrubblade was on the back burner. I had to pay the bills and deal with a divorce and raising my son at the same time. It was a tough season of life. Pretty sure I was sleeping on an air mattress in a friend's house at this time.

I finally got a prototype made and while still detailing cars I was able to start testing the prototype. Driving all over southern California to work, I was able to compare the Scrubblade on my driver's side to a standard wiper on the passenger side as I ran through bugs and other debris.

It worked really well at removing bugs and gunk from the windshield compared to my passenger (non-Scrubblade) side. At that point, I knew I was onto something.

Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.

When trying to get a prototype made I found an invention company on TV and decided to give that a swing.

I borrowed $7k to have this company find a manufacturer, design a brochure and look into the patent process. Big waste of time and money. That was my first lesson learned and definitely not the last. During my detailing business I met a gentleman that was currently getting products made overseas. After months of washing his cars, I asked what he was doing with all these products in his garage. ( I thought he was an eBay seller.) He mentioned to me that if I had any ideas for products (that are good) he could get his broker to find a factory to work with me. I automatically told him about Scrubblade.

Our first packaging was just a competitor packaging wrapped in our artwork. Hey... you do what you gotta do.

Once we landed in a factory, I sent the first drawings over. We went back and forth refining the design until we landed on something I thought would work. I then borrowed $2,500 for a temporary mold to produce a physical prototype. Lots of borrowing money in the early stages. Talk about adding stress to something already stressful, haha.

After I got the prototype and tested it for a while, I found out about a TV show called “American Inventor” - the original shark tank. I went through the process and got approved to be on the show. I needed packaging and some signage so I started working with a friend of a friend on the artwork design. Literally every part of Scrubblade started with building a personal network. The first packaging was a competitor packaging wrapped in our artwork. Hey, you do what you gotta do. I ended up placing in the top 25 out of 4,000 entries in American Inventor. Pretty cool but nothing came from it in regards to business or funding. It did create a fire in me to keep pushing forward.

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A couple of months after the show, I had a weekly wash program with a client and over a few months we ended up becoming good friends. One day he dropped his vehicle off at my house to get it washed. He noticed Scrubblade stuff in my hallway and inquired about it. I explained and right away he asked if I needed an investor. I replied with an astonishing, yes! Around 30 days later he pulled his 401k and we started the business. Talk about being committed!

This guy wasn’t rich by any means, he took his retirement, got penalized for it and trusted me to do what I said I would do. I will forever be humbled and thankful for his commitment. From that point on I have never looked back. I made it my life's mission to succeed at turning Scrubblade into a household brand ensuring my friend and first investor didn’t waste his retirement on something for nothing. I never would be where I am today if it wasn’t for the relationships, trust from others and confidence in my abilities to accomplish what I set out to do.

Describe the process of launching the business.

Once the funds came through from the initial investment, we started with a simple eCommerce website and just started calling anyone and everyone we thought needed wiper blades.

I remember the first time we had an online order. It was really validating that someone we didn’t know purchased something that started from thin air. Sales were very slow the first year. I think maybe $28k.

Once we decided to focus on a certain industry instead of the whole market is when things started to take shape. I mean, everyone is a customer if you drive a vehicle. I thought “who could really use a scrubbing wiper blade?” The H.D. trucking industry popped in my head. These people drive over 100k miles a year and their windshield is literally their office window.

Plus, for them to clean their windshield is like a 20 minutes deal. So through that process, we found our target customer. That was the best decision I have ever made since starting Scrubblade. I contacted a buyer at Love’s truck stops and sent him samples. We spoke a few times and he said he liked the product but we had to sell a distributor in order for him to buy Scrubblade.

I found out who the distributor was and contacted them. This distributor was having a customer trade show and invited us to come. The cost was $5,500 which after a year of burning cash was more than we had to spend. Man those were tough days.

Once again, we borrowed the money from the family and went to the sow. All our cards were on the table. The distributor's customers liked what we had to offer and from that show we started selling Love’s truck stops through the distributor.

It was a major turning point! We are now the #1 sold blade in the trucking market and that business has allowed us to expand and grow our market share tremendously. If you have a goal you need to figure out any way to accomplish it. If we would have seen the cost and decided it was too much, I really don’t know if we would still be in business.

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

We offer something unique in the market, are affordable and easy to work with. We always do what we say we will do and never say no to a customer's request, unless it’s just not realistic. If a customer wants 500 displays that are going to cost you $10k to put your products on, you do it. Find a way, there are plenty of avenues to fund a deal. It will cost you money but what’s the old saying “it takes money to make money.” yeah keep that in mind.

We have mostly been in brick & mortar but in the past 18 - 24 months since we stopped selling Amazon, (I’ll get to that in a sec) we have been pushing our online business more. We utilize social media, ads, blogs, industry sponsorships, trade shows, and motorsports to get our brand seen. Over 40% of our web traffic comes from Instagram. It’s been a really good tool to grow our brand and show people what our company is all about. Everyone needs wiper blades so why not ours! We rarely post sales stuff on our social, it’s mostly lifestyle, reposts from our customers and motorsports stuff. Instagram or other social channels are an escape for people. They don’t want to be sold all the time.

how-i-invented-a-better-windshield-wiper-and-a-2m-year-business

Amazon

Back to the Amazon deal… Amazon was our first account opened. They purchased bulk directly from us and sold to their customers. It really started out great.

Over the years it started to become harder and harder to manage with 3rd party sellers, some bad reviews sticking with us from the original design and false reviews from competitors. Yes, corporate espionage is real…

We decided to stop selling the giant about the same time we started to push or own site. We put a little over $30k into our own site to have a seamless shopping experience. That included a whole new look, a bunch of integrations like a review app, shopping rewards for buying, sharing and posting about us, etc.

We wanted control over who was buying our products and to make sure the reviews coming in were from real customers good or bad. We have a 4.8 star average on our site from customers that have actually purchased Scrubblade. This was the only way to see how we were really doing with the end-user. We are not perfect but dang if we try to be.

We do not miss selling Amazon and have actually had some praise from other customers once they find out we do not. Our online business has grown over 123% since implementing these changes.

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

Our business today is so much different than it was in our early days. We have been growing nicely over the past 5 years. A standout year for us was in 2018, we landed on the Inc 5000 list for our 221% YOY growth. That was a huge accomplishment.

Our goal is to get into the automotive retail world but until that happens we will continue to grow online and in other niche markets. We also implemented a subscription service through our site. Wiper blades are really a safety item and most people don’t think about them until you get caught in the first rainstorm of the season. That’s not only dangerous but frustrating. The value of our subscription model is on the convenience side. If you can make purchasing something convenient I believe you will sell more products.

Everything we do is different than our competitors. New technologies in the wiper world, new packaging, online expansion, subscription service and social media is where we are focused. It’s not easy to pioneer a product category but the reward is well worth the time, money and effort. We want to be a household name and that’s the journey we are on.

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

Some big lessons learned early on was to not trust people blindly. I am a trusting person and think the best of everyone, sadly sometimes that can bite you in the booty. Read every single agreement or contract in detail with anyone you’re doing business with, before signing anything.

Sometimes there are little things you need to do that seem insignificant at the time, do them. Every little effort lays the foundation towards the path to your bigger goals.

After that take it to an attorney and spend a little bit of money to get a second set of eyes on it. That way everything is agreed to in black and white and you can always go back to that and keep the partnership on track when things come up.

Find your #1 customer and focus all of your efforts into that channel. Once you establish a presence there and become profitable is when you should start to look into other sellable channels.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

For our online business we use Shopify and everything integrated with Shopify. We have found it’s more seamless if you can keep everything under one roof.

We use Shipstation to transfer data from our store and to prepopulate orders and shipping rates. That has helped our front office in processing order more efficiently.

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

This is probably going to go against every entrepreneur article or success story you have ever read but I don’t read any “self help” books or “how-to” books for the business. I do however read quick articles on business, finances, success stories, new technologies, and products so that’s been helpful.

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

Get a mentor and ask questions. Don’t act like you're the smartest person in the room. Be teachable and receptive of any information others are willing to tell you.

Let their mistakes not be yours. Time, is the most valuable commodity so respect others time and give them your full attention. Be appreciative and honest in your dealings. Always acknowledge others in your success.

Be driven and don’t give up when things get tough. Overnight success usually goes away overnight.

Sometimes there are little things you need to do that seem insignificant at the time, do them. Every little effort lays the foundation towards the path to your bigger goals.

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

The more we utilize social and the content needed to be relevant we are thinking of adding an in house designer. That and also a west coast sales associate. Luckily our business models affords us to not need a heavy staff.

Where can we go to learn more?

Here is a cool video Dun & Bradstreet did a while back giving a little glimpse into the entrepreneur journey.

If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!

-  
Billy westbrook,   Founder of Scrubblade Inc.

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