John and Linda Vogel bring Step Thru Shower tub kit to life after brainstorm

John and Linda Vogel have a story that began with a bathroom brainstorm. That was followed by an almost immediate stopover at a dumpster.

The idea formed in September 2020 when a renter at a duplex they own was concerned that her elderly mother was having trouble stepping into the bathtub. When the Vogels got a price for replacing the tub with a shower, they were told it would cost $8,500.

“After our meeting with the bath contractor, my husband, John, took on a challenge to design a tub kit to walk through a tub instead of ripping it out," Linda said. "We literally stopped at a dumpster on the way home from the meeting and picked up some cardboard to design a prototype to send to draftsmen for a 3D drawing.”

In addition, they contacted the Green Bay SCORE chapter and were assigned Paul Carron, who had owned a manufacturing company, as a mentor. He provided direction, and the couple said he was a “tremendous asset” as they began to turn an idea into a patented product.

Although anxious to get started, their progress was hindered by the pandemic and supply chain issues. Obtaining steel for the mold took six months and costs for the plastic resin that would be used in making the product increased dramatically in price.

“After crunching a lot of numbers such as ocean freight, tariff, shipping and packaging, we found it was a lot more economical to manufacture this product right in our own backyard,” Linda said. “After visiting and touring Deluxe Plastics of Clintonville twice, we were convinced that their price was competitive and they had high quality control.”

John and Linda Vogel bring Step Thru Shower tub kit to life after brainstorm

RELATED:Comedian Kaleb Robertson chases startup dreams with vision, hard work

In the interim, ads are running in the Green Bay and Eau Claire markets, and they are doing direct-to-consumer sales using a toll-free number, 866-882-5487. With the hard work done in refining costs, they are pricing kits at just $59.99. Linda is personally taking calls and filling orders as John works on the paperwork required to get the product in front of retailers.

“Our goal from Day 1 was to develop a tub kit that the average homeowner could afford, and we feel we have accomplished that,” Linda said. “Step Thru has low manufacturing costs along with a low markup passed onto the retailer so they can sell it at a reasonable price and still make a profit.”

While the selling price is low, costs have been substantial. The costs of filing for and obtaining a patent, engineering, packaging, manufacturing, purchasing a mold, and marketing well exceed $100,000. But they have developed a high-quality product at a low price, and believe in its potential.

“Our initial goal was and still is to try to get 2% of the market of tubs, which computes to about 6 million tub kits,” Linda said. “We will continue to do whatever it takes to reach that goal.”

As the product starts to gain market share, they plan to add help. They have utilized experts as needed and know that they can’t do everything themselves. They also have learned the importance of having realistic expectations.

“Investigate everything before going forward,” Linda said. “Follow your dreams and ideas, but don’t quit your day job. Make sure that you have something different, safe and economical that the customer will want.”

Tina Dettman-Bielefeldt is co-owner of DB Commercial Real Estate in Green Bay and past district director for SCORE, Wisconsin.