Like so many great business ideas, the epiphany for Water Rover hit during a walk. Specifically, Stan and Ruth Greenberg were strolling one hot August evening in southern California with their dog, Black Bear. Along the way, they offered Black Bear water from a bottle, but he kept refusing to drink. By the time the pooch decided he was thirsty, Stan and Ruth had used up all the water. Stan, a retired engineer, decided there had to be a better way to keep dogs from dehydrating. He made some sketches for a bowl-and-bottle prototype and showed them to his son, Scott. Scott made a key suggestion – make the corners of the bowl round, not square! – and a product was born. For several years, Water Rover was manufactured in Thailand. Flash forward to today, when Scott is the now the proud owner of the company, and Water Rover is made in the United States. That’s just one more reason animal lovers rave about this clever invention which gives them a hands-free way to carry water for their furry companions and to pour unused water back into the bottle. Multiple problems solved!
Scott, the manufacturing process for Water Rover has changed over the years. Tell us about making those production-related transitions.
We always wanted to work with a U.S. manufacturer, but, when the company was starting out, we couldn’t find a factory that could produce a bowl made from two injection molds. My uncle was living in Thailand, and he connected us with the company that made bottles for Bayer aspirin. Seven years later, we switched to a Chinese manufacturer, which turned out to be a big mess. There was always a lag time in production and shipping. By the time I’d get a shipment of product, my selling season would be over.
I took over Water Rover from my dad in 2011, and, in 2015, we rolled out our first U.S.-made products. I’m very, very happy about it. Now I can react quickly to market trends, place an order and get it a month later. I don’t need to order a ton of product each time, and my storage costs are lower, too.
Letting customers know that Water Rover is made in the United States is what I call a “tag turner.” People pick up the product, turn over the tag and see it’s manufactured here. They really value that information. I think consumers are particularly sensitive about buying pet products made in China because of the scare with dog food a few years ago.
What do you know now that you wish you had known when you were starting out in business?
I wish I’d known more about selling on Amazon. Here’s the story of what happened to me. When Water Rover was being manufactured in China, I was working with a business owner in Japan who was selling my product. About five years ago, I agreed to let him buy a container of products – that’s about 16,000 items, all from a new line of neon colors. The problem was, it turned out that 20% of the products were defective thanks to a broken lube hose in the Chinese factory. Trust me, that was that last time I worked with them.
Now, the guy in Japan is selling defective Water Rovers on Amazon, and customers contact me when they have a problem. There’s only so much I can do for a customer who buys from an unauthorized seller, but I try to give them something, like free shipping on a replacement item.
I don’t have the resources to get a lawyer, and Amazon doesn’t seem to care if sellers are authorized or not. So, to answer the original question, I wish I’d know the importance of controlling my own product page on Amazon. I hope other business owners can learn from my mistake.
That’s a terrible situation to be in! Any other learnings you’d like to share?
I wish I’d jumped on social media earlier. Over the years, I’ve hired different people for digital marketing because I just can’t get around to it. But I haven’t been happy with the content they’ve posted. I know our posts on Instagram need to be about more than just dogs and hydration. Even adding #dogsandtravel helps me get new followers on a single post.
I think part of the challenge is showing a 3D product in a 2D format. It just doesn’t show as well. That’s why I’m planning to make some videos of Water Rover in action to post on Instagram.
Scott, who or what keeps you going on a tough day?
My wife keeps me going. We often go out for a walk together -- exercise is really important to relieve stress.
I definitely have some tough days, but many are rewarding, too. There’s nothing better than getting testimonials and phone calls from people who absolutely love our product. It’s the best feeling in the world to connect with people who use and love their Water Rover. It reminds me that we’re doing something good.
Now it’s your turn
QB Community members, what unexpected challenges have you faced in business – and how have you approached finding a solution?
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