June's spark of genius article

Clicking Everything into Place

Alex Camarota : Office of Innovation Development

The road to inventorship is unique for everyone. This is the story of one inventor who took the long way but eventually realized a dream.

It's interesting how one change in our daily routine can have a cascade effect on everything else in life. Even something as small as how we bring our shopping bags from the car into the house can set us on a trajectory nobody could have predicted. For Kim Meckwood, inventor of the Click & Carry, that's exactly what happened.

Ten years ago, Kim was living in an upstairs apartment in Los Angeles. Carrying groceries up several long flights of stairs and through multiple doors was a real pain, physically and figuratively. After finishing shopping, she would call her boyfriend from the car to come down the stairs and help bring up the groceries. Then life happened; the two parted ways, and Kim found herself struggling to carry the shopping bags herself.

"I stopped shopping and was eating out all the time and ordering takeout," said Kim. "My life became very unhealthy."

Kim knew she needed to come up with something that made shopping easier. Like the beginnings of so many inventions, she had identified a common problem that many people dealt with. The stirrings of a solution began to take hold in her subconscious.

"I'm the kind of person where I have to think about it for a while, and usually the ideas come to me in dreams," she said.

In fact, that's how Kim got the idea for the Click & Carry. She dreamt of a simple, strong device that could hold multiple bags and be placed on the shoulder for easier carrying.

"The original incarnation was just the bottom portion," said Kim, "There was no top." The prototype did not have a mechanism to lock bags into place. It was functional, but it wasn't ideal.

Three years passed after her dream. While she struggled with the right design to complete the device, Kim continued her career as a successful saleswoman for medical devices, but she would often discuss her idea with close confidants.

"My clients were neurosurgeons and movement disorder specialists. One of my clients, who also happens to be one of my best friends, said, 'Kim, will you shut up and stop talking about Click & Carry and do something about it.'"

And so she did. She hired a design student to help her refine the device. A locking swivel mechanism was added on the top to keep things in place, and a gel non-slip grip along the bottom allowed it to be comfortably placed on the shoulder or held in the hand. Now she had an invention. But there was just one last issue; when the prototype held more than 20 lbs., it bent and opened a gap between the locking top mechanism and the bottom, negating its usefulness. It would be a few more months before she found the answer.

"One day at work, I was talking to an orthopedic surgeon about 'favorable fractures.' In a favorable fracture, a bone is broken at a diagonal, so there is resistance to pressure on both sides of the bone. Even though the bone is broken, it is stronger than if the break were not diagonal. It gave me the idea to redesign the Click & Carry."

Kim had a new mold made with the favorable fracture-inspired design, and the final piece fell into place. She only guarantees the Click & Carry to carry up to 50 lbs., but thanks to the favorable fracture-inspired design, it it can carry three times that amount. "You don't even see the Click & Carry bend," she said.

Kim hired a patent attorney who had her best interests at heart. "He sat me down and said 'Before you do this, I want you to do a patent search. I want you to make sure you are spending your money wisely.'"

Kim received two patents on the Click & Carry. U.S. Patent No. 7874602 protects the original invention while U.S. Patent No. 8182008 incorporates the favorable fracture-inspired innovation. She said that hiring a patent attorney was one of the best decisions she made. Her attorney foresaw that the device would be used for other functions and wrote the patent to encompass a wide range of purposes and materials, things she likely wouldn't have addressed on her own.

"People have to know their limits," said Kim. "It was less expensive for me to hire that 'expensive' attorney than to sit down and try to figure out how to do it properly."

Though it took almost 10 years to get to the stage where she is now, it is in the last six months that things have really taken off, and Kim credits part of that success to social media marketing.

Kim gained a following of loyal customers on Facebook-people like her, living in urban centers where an easy trip from car to front door just isn't an option-but it was the non-shoppers who opened up her eyes to what she had created. What started as a device for carrying grocery bags quickly revealed itself as highly versatile. Construction workers sent her pictures of the Click & Carry hoisting buckets of material around the worksite. An avid skier showed her how he used it to carry his boots, and it became a lifesaver for people picking up large orders from their dry cleaners.

And then something funny happened.

"As more and more people used the Click & Carry and joined my Facebook page, they started taking photographs of it around the world," said Kim. "I have pictures of the Click & Carry from Italy, France, Argentina, and even from Sochi, Russia."

A novel marketing idea occurred to her.

"I hosted contests. I would have a picture with the Click & Carry in, say, Argentina and ask if anyone could guess where it was. The first three who answered correctly got a free Click & Carry." The social-media exposure proved game-changing.

Since May, Kim has appeared on the nationally syndicated "Bethenny" show and on QVC, where her product run sold out quickly, and there's no slowdown in sight. She has ideas for new designs that expand the applications of the technology as well as diversified marketing plans. "A major goal for the next two months is to really learn to utilize Twitter," she said, "and I have done this all by myself, so I can't wait until I can afford to pay someone to help me."

In time, all the pieces will certainly click into place for Kim Meckwood.

"My advice for others is to not give up," said Kim. "So many people are naysayers and they will shoot down your idea, but do your own research to ensure you aren't wasting your time. Once you get to that stage and you realize, hey, this is a viable product, that's when you know that you have something good."

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