Invent Your Dreams
By Dorothy Bliskey, Photography by Travis Pohl, E&M Photography
With a background in banking and the mortgage business, inventing a product and seeking a patent for it was the last thing Beth Kuehl ever thought she’d do. But a messy situation with a house full of teenagers got her thinking. And then, without blinking, she had invented the GreatPlate and GreatCup – a plate with a built-in center indentation that holds a drink cup. It became a solution to tipped-over plates and spills she had dealt with on the home-front for years. Now her teens could carry a plate full of snacks AND their drink at the same time — using just one hand.
Realistically, the invention took years — from creating the initial concept and design to getting the patent, manufacturing, marketing and retail process in place.
“I didn’t set out to start a new business,” Beth said. “I needed to solve an everyday problem at home which I thought could be solved by purchasing an existing plate or product. However, no existing product solved my problem.”
That was in 2010 when she and her husband Rick Kellow were busy raising a blended family of six children at their Slinger home.
“One evening after finding spills in our rec room, I was very frustrated,” Beth said. “I was convinced I needed to find a solution so there would be no more nagging.”
“Rick and I drew an initial sketch of what we thought the plate should look like: round with a drink holder in the center so the drink wouldn’t fall out or tip over. We searched everywhere…. retail stores, on-line and specialty stores. Nothing gave me satisfaction.”
About four weeks later, Beth showed her sketch to a friend who was an engineer. “He seemed to like the idea and said he could make a prototype, adding that it would be a fun project for him.”
When she walked into her friend’s office and saw the prototype he made, she was amazed. “He had it on his lap with his Mountain Dew can sitting in the cup holder center. Immediately I could see how the design had worked! It was just what we had envisioned. We knew it would be a solution to the initial problem we had wanted to solve.”
Beth and Rick sat on the idea for nearly three years before moving ahead with the invention and the manufacturing process. “This was a process we couldn’t rush,” Beth said, noting changes after the mold is made are very expensive.
What they did in the meantime was have extra prototypes made, giving them out to several family members and friends to use. “We discovered the plate floats when one friend used it at their cottage on the lake,” Beth said. “We spent a lot of time evaluating the plate, experimenting with it and collecting feedback from those who tried it out.”
Their oldest son urged them to move forward with producing the plate. “He was living in an efficiency apartment while going to college, and his friends would regularly ask to use the prototype plate for their drinks while playing video games together,” Beth explained. “Our son said, “You gotta make this plate. We need more of them.”
“It takes a big leap of faith to spend tens of thousands of dollars to make an injection mold for production,” Beth said. “But, after much deliberation, the decision was made in late 2013 to move forward with the tooling. Our first plates were sold at retail to CVS Pharmacy in 2014.”
Last year, as a companion piece to the GreatPlate, they created the GreatCup – a sturdy dishwasher-safe cup that looks similar to a popular 20-ounce disposable cup. Placed securely in the center of the GreatPlate, it became an instant hit. “The 2-piece set improved our retail presence and increased sales of the GreatPlate,” Beth said, explaining that prior to creating the cup, the plate was being sold as a single item with the idea that purchasers could place their own cup or beverage bottle in the center section.
Rounding out the product line is their creation of the GreatCoaster – a cup holder on sturdy legs that makes the GreatCup nearly spill-proof when set on the lawn, a patio surface or sandy beach. “That solved another problem,” Beth said, noting the coasters are color coordinated with the plate and cup sets, which come in a variety of colors.
The GreatCoaster helps avoid spills, keeping your drink safe and clean even if it’s on the ground. “It’s made of the same safe plastic as the GreatPlate and GreatCup — FDA virgin resin polypropylene, which make them safe to eat off,” Beth said.
Beth and Rick’s inventions have solved several everyday problems in addition to avoiding spills. Carrying the plate with the cup nestled firmly in the middle frees your other hand. It solves the juggling problem of trying to eat, sip your beverage and socialize all at the same time. The plate is shaped so that it rests securely on a semi-soft surface such as a couch or bed – even on a lap.
“There are many features customers like about our products,” Beth said, noting the GreatCup fits in the plate like a glove. “As a mom, it’s important to me that our products are environmentally friendly and eliminate the need for “throw-away” versions that end up in a landfill. They’re reusable, recyclable and very sturdy. Even better, they are safe for dishwashers (top and bottom shelf) and microwaves.”
The fact that the three pieces stack neatly together makes for compact storage in the cupboard or on a shelf. “A specially designed underside allows even the smallest hands to securely grip the plate,” Beth said. “And a special air pocket allows the plate and its contents to float on water for those lazy days at a poolside party.”
“Some even use the plate as a Frisbee. There seems to be an endless stream of uses and a variety of places the plates, cups and coasters come in handy.”
Beth is proud of the fact that their products are manufactured in Wisconsin at Dynamic Drinkware in Oshkosh and West Bend Plastics. She also takes pride in the fact they have 7 patents on the GreatPlate (6 design and 1 utility patent) and a patent on the GreatCoaster.
As for retail outlets, she says they tackled the “retail giant” first. “We not only survived, we flourished. Today, as we all know, retail has many challenges in competing with e-commerce and Amazon. We are improving our website and e-commerce presence by partnering with Amazon FBA (fulfilled by Amazon) and Walmart.com. Our plates, cups and coasters are available both online and in the stores.”
On the horizon is the plan to decorate the plate with licensed sports team logos such as the Packers and media characters like Disney and Star Wars. “We are moving forward in a partnership with Dynamic Drinkware on this idea,” Beth said. “It will be a wonderful value-added feature to have your favorite team or character on the plate you use every day, everywhere.”
In the four years the company has been in business, it has grown by leaps and bounds.
“In the past few months, we have survived a hostile business takeover, defended our GreatPlate patent and sold out on QVC home shopping network several times,” Beth said. “On a recent Sunday, 10,000 GreatPlate/GreatCup sets were sold during the 11-minute segment used to showcase our product.”
As President of their company, Beth’s role is to oversee all aspects of the business from top to bottom. She assists her team with packaging and marketing and manages relationships with sales representatives. “Rick’s role is supporting me in every aspect of the business,” Beth said. “He oversees each and every project from start to finish with amazing detail. He locates and assembles all team members we utilize. He is my rock!”
Their oldest son Johnathan, who is a graphic artist and animator, assists with logos, packaging, photography and videography.
Beth says they’ve proved the naysayers wrong. “Many said it couldn’t be done – that we wouldn’t succeed with just a single-product company. But we did. We accomplished what others said could not be done. GreatPlate is a multi-million dollar company.”