How KleenSlate Got Started
Julia Rhodes, owner of KleenSlate Concepts, came up with an idea for a new invention in 2001. She did her homework by researching the industry in which her invention would be most useful, and then researched the companies in that market segment before moving forward. Once she decided her idea was a good one, she filed for intellectual property protection. She filed for a patent in July of 2001, but before she did that she filed for a trademark, which she received promptly. She also filed a trademark for her logo giving her double protection. Today, Julia has four U.S. Patents, two U.S. Trademarks and two international patents with more pending. Together these trademarks and patents provide Julia with strong protection for her product, and an intellectual property portfolio that adds to the value of her products and her company.
When Julia first launched her company, there were those who told her that patent protection was time consuming and of little value. So, why did Julia pursue this protection and what did she protect? First and foremost, as an inventor with little capital but a great idea, Julia knew that trademarks and patents would clearly demonstrate her claim to the ideas she had developed. Without that protection, anyone could wait to see if Julia achieved market success with her product, and then produce it in competition with her without fear of her legal claim to the idea. But, what did Julia protect? Her trademark is “KleenSlate,” and the first KleenSlate product was an attachable eraser for dry-erase markers. Since then, she has built a thriving international company with a growing line of award-winning products. Without the protection her trademarks and patents afford her, this would all be at risk of a competitor copying her unique ideas and the KleenSlate name itself.
When I asked Julia about how she came up with the name KleenSlate, she said that in her previous career an English teacher, she thought of the name as a play on words. Since she was starting over as an inventor and entrepreneur, she said, “It was a new beginning and I was wiping the slate clean” by beginning a new chapter in her life. It also had the meaning of cleaning a board. In the old days, chalkboards were made of slate so you cleaned the “slate” when you erased the chalkboards.
Today, her business is so successful she was recently named Central California 2010 Small Business Person of the Year by the U.S. Small Business Administration. Julia has added new products to her original eraser, including the KleenSlate Paddle for example, which has helped her business grow. Her trademark has helped strengthen marketing of her patented products since it distinguishes her business and all of her products from other brands in the same marketplace. Julia is not Julia in the marketplace—she is KleenSlate. Even Hollywood knows her. You can find the KleenSlate products on every movie set in the industry, and teachers throughout the world now use the KleenSlate Paddle as a quick assessment tool in the classroom. The KleenSlate brand and its related trademark and patents have made her big enough to take on the “big guys.”
Critical to her success is the commitment by KleenSlate to stand behind its products, enabling the company to grow in this current period of economic uncertainty. For example, early in her business, one of the shipments of felt erasers failed to meet the quality standards established by Julia. Unwilling to compromise on the quality, she had promised her customers, she decided not to use the shipment despite the cost to her and KleenSlate. Commitment to her product has lead to her success, and has resulted in a dedicated following of individual customers and large chain retailers alike. How the consumer relates to your brand depends on how you deliver your message, and there is no stronger message than adhering to delivery of a high quality product.
Your brand is your sizzle. You build your brand identity and personality to attract your customer. Julia’s target market is in education, and teachers know KleenSlate as fun, environmentally friendly and durable. They also know they can find her easily on the Internet because she owns the Web site that includes her trademark, www.KleenSlate.com. It is critical to not only have a catchy name, but to own the internet address that includes the brand. Where would Apple®, Amazon® or Google™ be without an internet address to match their names? Internet viral marketing is important: it brings power to brand recognition.
When asked about advice to other inventors, Julia said, “independent inventors built this country, and they are going to bring us back out of recession. I am investing in my community by bringing some of my manufacturing back to the U.S. companies like GE®, Microsoft®, Google™ and Apple® started as small companies from individual inventors and have now grown into major international corporations.” Her advice to inventors is to do your homework on the industry you want to enter and learn everything you can about your future competition. Building good relationships is essential for building good business. Julia’s relationship with one of her large supply chain customers has lead to support from that company through promotional marketing assistance, articles about her products, and a place in the mass market.
Julia also advises, don’t forget to give back. Julia encountered a parent of a child who was unable to speak as a result of a traumatic injury, and as a result, was having a difficult time in school. One of Julia’s KleenSlate products is a dry erase paddle with white board surfaces on both sides and a dry erase marker with eraser attached to the handle. Julia saw the opportunity to give back and she donated a set of these paddles to the young boy’s entire classroom. Carl began to communicate successfully by writing on the paddle, giving him a written voice to replace his loss of speech. Other students enjoyed using the paddles and the entire classroom became engaged and enhanced through the experience. They even named them, “Carl’s paddles.”
To other independent inventors like Julia out there, a few words of advice: establish a support group of family, friends, inventor organizations and others, and develop good relationships with customers, and send hand written thank-you notes when you can. Be philanthropic! The inventor community can do anything they want to do; they are only limited by their own imagination.
Protect your ideas through trademarks and patents, provide quality products, develop good relationships with your customers and enjoy the success of your creativity.