(Courtesy photos, Connie Jo Discoe/McCook Daily Gazette)
When is a busy mother supposed to find the time to change out, wash-and-dry and reinstall the cover/cushion of her messy baby's carseat? -- And, no less, at least once a week, as recommended by pediatricians?
As a grandma, Donna Olson of rural Culbertson was dismayed by spills and stains on her grandchildren's carseats. It wasn't their mother's fault, Donna said. "Christin worked up to 13 hours a day and some Saturdays," she said. "She had more to worry about" than the cleanliness of carseat covers.
So Grandma did the worrying. And in her worrying, Donna imagined and designed and is now marketing and selling the perfect solution to soiled and stained carseats -- "Koveaz," a carseat cover that can be thrown away when it's dirty.
Several years ago, Donna's first prototype of a "disposable diaper" for a carseat was made of a heavy fabric with a plastic backing. "But I worried about suffocation," she said. She kept looking until she discovered a medical/hygiene, non-woven polypropylene fabric called "Spunbond®" or "spunblend."
Spunbond® is breathable, so it's not a suffocation concern and little ones won't get all hot-and-sweaty swaddled in a dense fabric. It's lightweight, so it doesn't add pounds and bulk to an already bunglesome carseat. It's stretchy and strong, so it fits over any size and shape of carseat, and little ones' wiggly backsides won't rip through it.
The DuPont™ company, which produces Spunbond®, states on its Web site: "Because the DuPont™ Spunbond Polypropylene media are made of 100% polypropylene, with no binders or fillers, they can be easily recycled." A fabric that does not harm the environment in its production or in its use and is recyclable and biodegradable is important, because Donna designed her Koveaz carseat cover to be disposable -- it gets dirty, it gets thrown away.
Clean carseat covers can help prevent so many health problems, Donna said. Pediatricians recommend cleaning the seatcover that come with safety seats at least once a week to alleviate dust, mold and allergen problems for little ones' sensitive eyes and ears, lungs and tummies. Donna's covers can be tossed when they're dirty, saving time and worry for busy parents.
In another nod to the health and safety concerns of parents, Donna chose Spunbond because it is lead-free and can be treated to be fire-retardant. Each Koveaz carseat cover is certified to be lead-free and fire-retardant.
Donna built into her carseat cover a padded seat -- she calls it a "diaper blowout barrier" -- that absorbs whatever little ones leak and/or spill.
She designed her seat covers with perforation seams that make them adaptable to the shoulder strap configuration of any safety seat.
So ... Donna's sitting in her rural Culbertson home, with this sure-fire design for a first-of-its-kind safety seat cover that will save busy parents time and worry. Now what?
She started making phone calls -- "They don't know me. They can't see my face," Donna said, chuckling as she remembered her hesitation and fear of rejection.
She started with the Nebraska Business Development Center of the University of Nebraska at Kearney. "Odie Ingersoll of the NBDC at UNK and Jason Tuller (who's from McCook) with the NBDC in North Platte, and UNL are wonderful help," Donna said.
An entrepreneur's class at the University of Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture at Curtis was extremely helpful, Donna said. Instructors were Rex Nelson, Jeff Tidyman and Duffy Keller.
And assistance, teaching and encouragement from Parker Hannifan was God-given, Donna firmly believes, as, at the time she was struggling to learn about -- and praying about -- "routing guides."
Donna said she agreed to help Parker Hannifin as substitute office help, and then in the company's shipping department. Donna said she asked Jeff Crick what she would be doing in shipping and he said, "Routing guides, and we'll train you."
Also in shipping, she learned about exporting products. And then, lo-and-behold, Donna said, "I got orders for Koveas from two countries."
"Nothing is coincidence," Donna said. "With God's intervention, the sky's the limit.
So many doors open with prayer."
Following initial legal work -- and valuable legal lessons learned -- Donna and her husband, Gary, discovered that American factories didn't seem to be looking for work. "We tried to find a U.S. factory," Donna said, but with that door closed, God opened another, and the Olsons began to work with Horizon Design, a Kearney firm that helps with import/export, packaging and art work, and manufacturing in China.
"We spent months sending prototypes back and forth, at about $100 in shipping each time," Donna said. The language barrier was a challenge -- they couldn't find the Chinese word for "perforation," she laughed, so consumers have to cut the slits for the shoulder strap themselves. And, they discovered, overseas factories do not reveal the whole range of options available. "We have four colors and camouflage, and we've learned that we could have had as many as 50 colors," Donna said.
So, she has a finished product, ready for sale and distribution. Now what?
Donna doesn't have a "store front," so the challenge was in making her product visible and accessible to the buying public. AP Images of McCook (Matt Clause and Adam Powers) created a Koveas Web site, and Donna developed advertising for mailings, brochures, posters and internet-technology Google, Yahoo and Amazon.
Donna and Gary are showing Koveaz in GROW Nebraska stores and at Christmas shows because, although they're not "Made in Nebraska" as GROW Nebraska products are, they were "Designed in Nebraska," Donna said.
Koveaz made it to the third level of QVC, an online and on-air retailer, Donna said, stopped just short of the point at which products make it on the television screen. But, Donna said, QVC will most likely add Koveaz to their product line when they do a baby/toddler products promotion.
Donna and Gary have attended inventors' competitions and conventions, and have visited doctors' offices and hospitals. "The more we visited with doctors and officials at hospitals, the more we learned about the benefits of our product and the savings to families in medical expenses," Donna said.
What the Olsons also learned during this process was that their baby carseat cover covered more than just baby carseats. "We had a mother from Cambridge -- or was it Arapahoe? -- who asked if our cover would work on her daughter's wheelchair. She said they were so tired of just black," Donna said.
The carseat cover did work on the young girl's wheelchair -- and on any wheelchair, "from a child's chair to an electric rider," Donna said. Donna and Gary want, ultimately, to be able to manufacture the Koveaz for wheelchairs in America.
The Olsons have also discovered that Koveaz work on toddlers' highchairs, dining room chairs, kitchen chairs, boat seats, airplane seats. "The sky is the limit," Donna smiled. " 'course, God's hand is in it. And anything with God's hand in it is bigger than anything we can imagine."
Koveaz are selling very well in New York, New Jersey and Texas, Donna said, and a school in North Carolina is testing the product for classrooms and busses. Donna is seeking critiques from hospitals and veterans' centers in North Platte, Grand Island and Omaha.
Donna continues to learn about marketing her Koveas. "I've been in business all my life," she said, "but it's changed so much in the last five years. It's a continuous learning process. They're always something new to study and learn."
Koveaz are available in Nebraska, in malls in major cities.
In McCook, they're sold at U-Save Pharmacy and Medical Supply. In Trenton, at Trails West. Look for Koveaz also online.
Donna laughed, remembering the reason she designed her Koveaz in the first place, "Our No. 1 customers are grandmas upset with grungy carseats."