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Three guys searching for a fresh idea for a business struck gold with the StepNpull. But it would take the owners of KRM Innovations years to realize just how much gold they were looking at.
SBJ: Where did the idea for the StepNpull come from?
Kelly Coddington: Mike (Sewell) and I and Ron (Ely) worked together 20-some years in the same building, different departments. We always had conversations about inventing stuff and having our own business. Mike came to us one day with this idea of being able to open a restroom door without touching the handle. I like tinkering and making things. I went home and tried a couple of different things we didn’t like. One day, I said, “You know, it’d be nice if you could use the bottom of your shoe because it’s already dirty.” We started making them in the garage on drill presses. We gave away quite a few in the beginning to get feedback.
Mike Sewell: I came to my buddies with this idea because I took care of the building where I worked. I noticed that people were using paper towels to open the door. There had to be a better way to do it. We made the first few hundred on our own. What we have today is pretty much the same dimensionally, but we’ve enhanced it through the years with some different changes. We realized that it wasn’t scalable, and from a quality perspective, it just was not good.
SBJ: You could have outsourced manufacturing anywhere. Why did you decide to keep it in the Ozarks?
Sewell: We have tried China in the past. It’s just too complex for us. First of all, we like to keep the jobs in the Ozarks. It’s like any long-distance relationship. It takes more effort than when they’re close by. I think that speaks to our customers, too. So, as we move forward, we have no intention of looking overseas.
SBJ: Let’s talk about what COVID-19 did to your company.
Sewell: In 2020, we went through the huge surge through COVID. I don’t know how many hundreds of thousands of them were made in southwest Missouri by local manufacturers. A little over two years ago, we saw a 70-times increase. Our manufacturer couldn’t handle it. They started working 24-hour shifts, seven days a week, and it just wasn’t enough. Precision Metal Tech in Springfield only has a couple of CNC machines. Metal Tech in Joplin has 15 or 20 they can set up, so we used both at the peak.
SBJ: What kind of growth are we talking about?
Sewell: We sold 750 units in 2008. We doubled that in ’09. It was 1,200 to 1,400 a year for the next five years and then we slowly started to see incremental growth to probably around 30,000 a year. We all still had full-time jobs. In 2019, we did $360,000. Scale that against 2020 when we did $8 million.
SBJ: Where do you go from here?
Sewell: Good question. Sales have settled way down, but still higher than before the pandemic. We’re looking at other product development. We have ToeIns, a plastic handle to put on trash door, so you can pop the door open with your toe. We’ve not advertised it much at all. We’re wondering how to scale that up.
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One of the best inventions of all time!! I loved finding this contraption long before COVID! I especially love that these talented men were able to make one for Bass Pro that was just as esthetically appealing as the rest of the building! Since we don't have to use our paper towels to open and close doors, restrooms are cleaner, more people are using the dryers reducing paper waste, Cudos, great job, and thank you for keeping our hands cleaner.