Posted on Friday 16 September 2011 by Ulster Business
They say that necessity is the mother of invention and this certainly proved to be true in Jason Paul’s case.
Four years ago the Belfast man’s static caravan in Fermanagh flooded when, after a big freeze, pipes that had not been drained down for the winter burst.
The process of draining a caravan’s water system usually has to be done by a plumber who can charge anything from £50 to £120 for the job, normally involving dismantling part of a shower or sink to circumvent non-return valves. To avoid paying for this more than once, people tend to get it done at the end of the summer and leave the property until spring.
“I wanted to be able to drain down the caravan at the end of the season myself and not have to pay someone to do it, and also to be able to reintroduce water so I could use the van through the winter,” explains Jason, whose background is in IT and management training.
“The current method is totally antiquated. While the concept of getting air into water is not new, we’ve invented a way water can be drained out of the system in the natural flow of water.”
He developed a basic tap adaptor and hose attachment that allowed him to pump air into the water system and build up enough pressure to force any remaining water out of pipes. After seeing it worked he designed a more compact, efficient and aesthetically pleasing version with the help of a design company.
This quickly moved to having a prototype device made by a company in San Diego and developing a final product which has parts made in Taiwan, China, Germany, the UK and Bangor, Co. Down. It has taken nine months to go from initial idea to getting the product, now branded as Floe, onto the shelf.
The influential National Caravan Council also asked if a solution could be made for touring caravans and motorhomes and in July the company launched three new kits suitable for those with Truma and Whale water systems and a new retrofit kit for motorhomes. As well as preventing winter damage these kits can also be used to remove stale and stagnant water, without the need for flushing or adding sterilising agents, leaving fresh drinking water.
Jason got an enthusiastic response from Invest NI for the product and has utilised every programme open to him. He has made it through to the second phase of the agency’s export-orientated Propel programme and has signed up with UK distributor Miriad to take Floe to trade shows in England.
“Things have moved really fast,” he says. “We thought we would be selling in Northern Ireland but it went national within two weeks and we’re already selling to England, Scotland and Wales.”
The product – which retails from £24 – has received rave reviews from caravanning magazines, the National Caravan Council and the influential Caravan Club, the voice of 600,000 touring caravan and motor home enthusiasts.
With a further 300,000 static vans in the UK, Jason sees it as his initial market, but is also targeting Scandinavia, Europe, the US and Canada – all places that suffer from frozen pipe problems, particularly in sprinkler systems, holiday homes and cabins left vacant over the winter.
“Many insurers won’t pay out for pipe damage and a lot only pay out if a property is occupied at the time of flooding,” Jason notes.
While he acknowledges the product has a finite lifespan, he is also developing a similar ‘black box’ device that could be permanently built into caravans, motor homes and houses. The current Floe products work for anyone who has a house that doesn’t use cold water storage tanks but does have mains water throughout the house.
During the past year Jason has received advice from Patrick Hurst and Stanley McFarland of Bangor-based Whale Pumps, which has products compatible to Floe.
“They’ve been like a big brother company to us,” he says. “They don’t get much from it but they are excited another company in Northern Ireland is doing it. I’m from a training background so I am having to learn quickly about how to cost things, pricing, packaging, safety measures, distribution agreements. Whale Pumps have looked over our shoulders and we certainly appreciate their help.”
Currently Jason and his wife Pamela are driving the business forward. However, the first substantial order will probably mean he needs to set up a production facility, and his plan would be to base it in Northern Ireland, employing a production manager to oversee it and creating jobs.
That may be some way down the line, but judging by how quickly things have moved so far, it’s easy to imagine the orders flooding in.
More information can be found by calling 0844 251 2211 or by visiting www.keepfloeing.com