By GREGORY ZELLER //
Shlocker has hit the mother lode.
In the shared-bathroom-retail-Nirvana equivalent of beaming up to the mothership, Bridgehampton-based Tula Industries LLC – distributor of the world’s first waterproof safe for protecting personal shower products from mooching roommates – has struck a deal with Bed Bath & Beyond, with the Shlocker landing this week on the national chain’s shelves, actual and virtual.
Shlocker is also the world’s only waterproof anti-mooching safe, and it will remain so, thanks to Tula Industries’ other big news: On the heels of a fresh design patent from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, the Shlocker has earned its first U.S. utility patent, meaning self-draining, shower-mounted personal-item lockers are now the exclusive domain of creators Tal Berke and Stephanie Cummings.
At just about any other time, that utility patent would top the charts for the 2015 startup – but even that big-time development takes a back seat to the major-league retail deal, which puts Shlocker in just under 100 Bed Bath & Beyond locations across the country and also features the product on the ubiquitous retailer’s busy website.
“They’re a really dynamic retail partner and definitely the best place we could have hoped to place our product,” Cummings told Innovate LI. “It’s so perfect.”
While thrilled, the Tula twosome were actually caught a little flat-footed by the Bed Bath & Beyond pact. With the giant retailer consigning 1,500 units to be shipped around the country – “Our entire gray inventory,” according to Berke – the partners had to hustle to outfit their wares with specific hooks that work with Bed Bath & Beyond’s display pegboards.
“We really didn’t prepare for this to happen so quickly,” Berke noted. “We actually had to hold the order for a couple of weeks while we opened up all the units and repackaged them.”
“We were ready with the materials and we knew how we had to package them,” Cummings added. “But once they said ‘go,’ we really had to scramble and hire warehouse help to get ready.”
The rookie distributors, of course, counted that under “good problems to have,” with an addendum for the “lessons learned” file.
“Next time, we’ll know to have them retail-ready before we get the order,” Cummings noted.
Besides that minor delay, they were able to hit their deadline. The 1,500 units shipped last week and were expected to grace pegboards around the country – including Bed Bath & Beyond’s Westbury store – beginning Monday or Tuesday. As Berke noted, they’re all gray, but when Shlocker debuts this week in the retailer’s online store, a rainbow of colors will be available.
The Tula Industries cofounders are also happy with the selection of brick-and-mortar stores that will carry their flagship product. In addition to the Westbury store, Shlocker is landing at Bed Bath & Beyonds in upstate Rochester and in between several universities in Virginia and Florida; it will also splash down in Houston, Texas and Michigan, among other places.
“Michigan is huge,” Berke noted.
All things considered, it’s “a pretty good spread geographically,” Cummings said, offering “a good cross-section of data on how they’ll do across the country.”
“Some are college towns, some are just random,” she said. “It’s a really good way for us to gauge how they’ll do in which locations.”
The entrepreneurs are also pleased with the timing of their first major retail deal. While the original 100-or-so stores can re-up at any time, the initial 1,500-unit transaction represents what Cummings called “a quarterly schedule,” meaning a three-month deal that carries through August – prime back-to-school season.
“We think it’s perfect timing,” Cummings said. “If they’re super-successful, they may want to re-order sooner, but right now, it’s a quarterly schedule right when people are going to be signing up for college registries and making their back-to-school lists for dorms and apartments.”
There’s also a chance that Shlocker may wind up hanging on pegboards in the shower-caddy section of Bed Bath & Beyond locations beyond the initial deal – though that will require legwork, according to Berke and Cummings.
The retail chain’s corporate structure allows individual store managers to place whatever products they want, but the onus is on Tula Industries to spread the word. To that end, the cofounders will rely on Jamie Newman, principal at New Jersey-based Retail Connection USA, a retail-distribution consultancy specializing in kitchen, bedding and bath products, among others.
They’re pleased with Newman’s efforts so far – the entrepreneurs have even given him an equity stake in Tula Industries “for all his hard work,” Cummings noted – and are hopeful of landing new Bed Bath & Beyond stores quickly, with particular interest in Brooklyn and other New York City locations.
Berke and Cummings, and Newman, are also working toward deals with other national retailers. Berke said they were actively pursuing a potential deal with Target, “hopefully by next year.”
That’s a “wish-list objective,” Cummings noted, but any future retail mega-deals will only be made easier by the new utility patent, which the duo credited to the hard work of Florida-based patent attorney Ted Whitlock.
“It really shows the viability of the unique product,” Berke said. “The Patent Office considers it something nobody has ever had or invented before, and that’s enormous.”
“It not only protects us now, it protects us for future designs,” Cummings added. “Now, if schools or other institutions want to put in drainable shower lockers, that’s ours.
“We’re super grateful … and it’s all happened way quicker than we’d ever expected.”