By GREGORY ZELLER //
With a fresh patent, a multitude of retail deals and a major announcement in the offing, it’s fair to say the Shlocker has made a splash.
Staking a claim as the world’s first (and only) waterproof safe for protecting personal shower products from mooching roommates, the flagship product of 2015 startup Tula Industries LLC has streaked from from wet dream to bona fide breakthrough.
Now wielding a design patent from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (with two utility patents pending), the Shlocker has built a healthy social media following, earned a host of international trademarks and settled on a packaging scheme that places the product in a sleeve, as opposed to a box – better for the pegboard displays favored by some major retailers.
“It’s all happening much quicker than we expected,” Cummings told Innovate LI. “It’s very exciting.”
Perhaps most exciting for Cummings and Tal Berke, her Tula Industries cofounder and the Shlocker inventor, is their first full-time hire: They didn’t want to name names – “We don’t want anyone to steal him,” Cummings noted – but the partners gleefully reference a buyer/salesman with nearly two decades of housewares-industry knowhow.
“He’s got 17 years of experience, specifically in bath products,” Cummings said. “He knows the industry inside and out. He knows the other buyers and he brings established relationships with national retailers, as well as smaller regional chain stores throughout the Northeast.”
Including a part-time logistics person at the 6,000-square-foot warehouse Tula Industries leases in Ronkonkoma, the startup now has four employees – and it may soon need more, if it keeps up its frenetic pace.
To date, the company has secured trademarks in six different countries, including the United States and China, “which is one we really wanted,” Berke noted. It’s also earned a Universal Product Code from GS1 US, the U.S. member organization of GS1 (formerly the Uniform Code Council), the international nonprofit organization that issues 12-digit barcodes to unique products.
In addition to further legitimizing the Shlocker, the UPC greases the skids toward widespread distribution. Now, with a Chinese manufacturer pumping out product, the shower locker has been approved for Amazon order fulfillment – a good get for the 18-month-old startup, which according to Berke has also made arrangements with United Parcel Service, the U.S Postal Service and other carriers to handle orders processed through the company’s proprietary website and alternate sales channels, and fulfilled through the Ronkonkoma facility.
Among those channels: recent deals with online retailers Dorm Company Corp. (dba DormCo), which specializes in housewares for the college set, and Brooklyn-based Uncommon Goods, which offers a catalog filled with unique, small-production gifts and gadgets.
Uncommon Goods – which this week received its first shipment of 100 Shlocker units – is another solid score for the early-stage distributor, according to Berke, who noted marketing advantages specific to the circa-1999 e-commerce site.
“They do their own marketing shtick,” Berke said. “We sent them all of our marketing materials – product pictures, lifestyle pictures, our video instructions on how to install it and use the lock. But they do their own marketing stuff, and that’s great.
“We’re definitely confident being with them.”
Confident, but hardly satisfied. Hungry for growth, Tula Industries has also partnered up with a distributor who “handles personal-care products at college bookstores,” according to Cummings, while the ambitious entrepreneurs traveled in March to Utah, where they made several promising connections at Camex 2017, self-billed as “the largest annual tradeshow in the campus-store industry.”
They’ve also shelled out for keyword-based advertising on Amazon and Google – “very important,” Cummings noted – and continue to build a grassroots following on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
All of that may pale in comparison to Tula Industries’ next big announcement (check back in May, the cofounders noted). But even before they take that major step, the entrepreneurs are already planning ahead, with new innovations – a Shlocker that hangs off the shower head, plus a smaller version, tentatively known as the “Mini Shlocker” – set to debut in 2018.
Just a year-plus into their first corporate endeavor, things have gone about as well as Cummings and Berke could have hoped – and it appears the best is yet to come.
“We have something imminent and very exciting with a national retailer, exactly what we’d hoped to achieve,” Cummings said. “This announcement will put us on the map.
“We’re excited to launch our product on a national scale and see how it performs.”