AT the age of 72, most people are happy to kick back and enjoy their retirement but Peter Kuhlmann decided he'd invent a revolutionary product and pitch it to the 'sharks' on Shark Tank and ask for an investment which would value his business at one million dollars.
Seven years ago, Kuhlmann invented the Mini Pallet which is a small plastic object you can place a heavy object on, which then operates as a normal pallet that can be easily moved around.
Even though this is very much a 'why didn't someone think of this already?' invention, Kuhlmann is looking to secure $200,000 for 20 per cent from any of the sharks which include internet pioneer Steve Baxter, Boost Juice founder Janine Allis, RedBalloon founder Naomi Simson, Greencross founder Dr Glen Richards and investor Andrew Banks.
Kuhlmann wanted $400,000 for 40 percent and he 'outsharked' the sharks as Simson and Banks accept his offer and split the deal at 20 per cent each.
After the show is aired, Naomi Simson teams Kuhlmann up with one of her investments from season two of Shark Tank, Hegs Pegs and its CEO Scott Boocock, which produces an ingenious dual action clothes peg.
Business News Australia spoke with Kuhlmann about his 'lightbulb moment' and why he held his ground and out-hustled the sharks.
Where and when did the idea for Mini Pallets come from?
A mate of mine owned a big hotel up at Whyalla, The Westlands Hotel, and I used to go up there and stay with him. I was helping him move cartons of beer into the fridge one day and he's probably moved about two million cartons in his life but this day he hurt his back. Anyway, it turned out fairly serious, not critical, but bad enough and I didn't think anything more about it as people hurt their back all the time. But a couple of days later I picked up a carton of wine and the bottom fell out and it made one hell of a mess.
I still didn't think anything more about it, but then probably about a month or so later I was in a cafe and I was watching a delivery come in and they delivered milk cartons and cartons of Coca-Cola. I watched a couple of women struggling to move the cartons in and by coincidence there was a CHEP pallet sitting at the back, and I had a fair bit of experience in material handling, and I thought 'why not a little palette with a hand cart?', and that was how the idea came about.
How did you go about development and manufacturing?
I'd had a fair bit of experience in different companies with material handling equipment and I'm not an engineer but I knew where to ask the right questions. I went to a manufacturing company that makes polypropylene products and he put me onto an engineer. It took two months and when we did in fact make the tooling, we never changed it one bit because we didn't need to. It's just that I happen to be lucky enough to know who to ask and go to the right people to get advice.
When did you realise the business had real potential?
We turned the corner probably last year when Australia Post gave us an order for 18,500 mini pallets. The mini pallets are used in nearly every post office in Australia to handle cartons of wine and the parcels that come in. So yeah, they gave us a big kick off and then that gave us some money, the confidence and contacts to expand and I applied to Shark Tank and never dreamed really that I'd get on, and we got on and away we went.
We were already starting to generate good sales, the product goes in almost every industry in Australia: lawyers, hospitals, schools, councils, whatever. It had enormous potential but we just didn't really have the experience in the early days how to explore it but we learnt quick then.
The business seemed like it was already going well, so why go on Shark Tank?
Well, we initially went in to get the exposure, that was one of the main reasons, and then if we got investment it meant that I could probably hire people a little bit smarter than myself to get it up and running. So, exposure mainly and investment was probably secondary in the early stages because I already started to talk to Scott Boocock, who was linked in with Naomi from the Shark Tank, she invested in his company as he manufactured a very special type of clothes peg.
After he'd been on Shark tank he went from really doing nothing in the world to exporting to 46 countries in the world just through the money she put in. And we've been chatting and he's got a very, very good set up where he's got marketing people, sales managers and social media people and it was a pretty obvious link in for us to say: 'Scotty you run with it'.
He's in quite a few of the major companies in the US, great big hardware chains and when you sell to them, if you're going with one product they're not really interested but if you go in there and you've already got a product in there or several, it opens doors. And we're sort of way down the track of talking to these people to get into the majors in the states.
And you held your ground with the deal you wanted, were you that confident?
Well I held my ground because money was really secondary and the expertise was what we wanted. If it was 10 dollars that wasn't anywhere near as important as what the expertise was, so inside I was asking 'what can you do for me apart from the financial side?' Naomi in the show eventually didn't invest in the product but we linked in with Hegs Pegs which she's got an interest in so she got a share out of it in any case but not directly in the end.
You come across as a very down to earth type of guy, how was the experience of pitching to these guys on national television?
I was absolutely terrified. Sarah, the host, came up just before I went on camera and made sure I was calm. I was so 'calm' that I couldn't remember my name and all I could do, with this beautiful and intelligent woman standing alongside me, all I could think is 'you've got beautiful white teeth'.
Were you confident of getting the deal over the line?
I had the first couple of minutes to go over in the back of my mind what the product was and I explained to them before I brought the product out and then they started to ask questions. I've been through everything with it, I've chewed in the product I've dented it, the whole works.
I know the product and where it goes very, very well, once they asked questions, that was easy. They're great people and everything I told them was dead honest. There was no withholding the truth like some people have tried to and the only time I've ever seen them tear people apart is when they've lied. I was honest and I think I said to them when I was there 'what you see is what you get'. So, if I give you some answers that you don't like it's not because I've made a mistake, it's because they're the facts.
Any plans to develop new products?
We developed another product with the mini palettes. It's a round one and you put your big pot plants on it so someone who weighs 50 to 60 kilograms could easily move a 100-kilogram pot plant.
You happy to keep the business in Adelaide?
Yeah, I'm an Adelaide guy I was pretty lucky I travelled nationally for about 20 years for a transport engineering company. So, I know I'm at a senior age, I know my way around, I've been around a bit. The product's being made in Melbourne at the moment because we're linked into a very, very professional group over there. Scott Boocock is the distributer in Adelaide, I've got a son in Sydney, one here, two step-kids in Sydney, but Adelaide's the place for me, mate.
Business News Australia
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