How Wobble Wedges Came To Be – An Interview With Wobble Wedges Inventor Robert Bellows
Here at DineAbility we are obsessed with the awesome product that is Wobble Wedges - so much that we decided to interview the creator of Wobble Wedges Robert Bellows! Check out the history of this neat product in the Q&A session below:
DineAbility: Tell us about the origins of the product - your "About Page" talks about your Victorian home and the slanted floors. It took 10 years before you came up with the idea - what was the straw that broke the camel's back?
Robert: The Tomato Bisque Made Us Do It!
Exhausted and hungry we sat down for lunch at a small restaurant at the Opryland Convention Center in Nashville. It was 1983, back before the Internet. Back when most every restaurant gave out free matchbooks.
My wife, Terry, and I were working at what turned out to be our last Natural Foods trade show. I wanted to pursue a career in metal sculpture and we both dreamed of creating our own business.
We each ordered a large bowl of tomato bisque soup and a turkey sandwich. It took forever but, at last, our meals arrived. As we leaned in to enjoy the first spoonful of soup we had no idea our whole world was about to change.
Yep, the table wobbled like a drunken sailor.
Sloppity, gluppity, whupah, woooooosh….our tiny cafe table turned into a red sea of tomato bisque heading for our laps. Terry tossed her hands in the air and blurted out, “ Can’t someone fix this ?”.
“Well yeah”, I said, “We could fix it. We could fix it with a really cool wedge. This might be it. This might be the business we are looking for.”
We scribbled these notes and dutifully clipped them into our 3-ring notebook entitled: Business Ideas and Inventions.
Invention # 107
- Make a wedge to fix wobbly restaurant tables
- Call it Stable Table….
- No it’s not just for restaurants.. Every one needs them
- Find a more inclusive name maybe ?????
Later, my brother chimed in with the perfect name: Wobble Wedges …that speaks to every use, to everybody and to every industry. Thanks to a humble bowl of tomato bisque we are now Focus 12 Inc., The Makers of Wobble Wedges.
How did you get it started? Did people think you were nuts or was it an easy sell?
Born From a Ball of Clay
The first wedges were hand carved from a ball of clay. I was an artist, not an engineer. We used my funky models for everything we could think of from stabilizing wobbly tables, appliances, bookshelves to adjusting flow on fountain sculptures.
Experimenting we did with them made it obvious that each wedge had to relate to the other...they had to nest to prevent slippage. They had to be stackable to fill large gaps. They had to be easy to trim. They had to be easy to retrieve even if they were inserted too far. Some had to be rigid and durable to support lots of pressure. Some had to be soft and rubbery to absorb vibration and have a better grip.
We then showed my hand carved wedges to an 80 year old tool maker that had been making injection molds for 50 years. With my samples in hand and a few pencil sketches he began machining some very precise samples. A few models later we had a elegantly simple but incredibly functional design.
We then built a tiny 4 cavity injection mold and ordered up our first run of 5,000 Wobble Wedges. Whoa, we were in business. How are we gonna sell 5,000 of these?
We love using the product at our restaurants. When did you first realize you were solving a very annoying problem for business owners?
A Bang-Tail Mailer
Before there was an internet, we used snail mail to reach new markets. The Bang-Tail Mailer served as the pony express of the ancient social media.
It was brochure, sample and self-addressed order form all in one envelope. We sent Bang-Tail Mailers with two Wobble Wedge enclosed to over 1,000 independent restaurants. Weeks later the orders began rolling in. We weren’t getting rich but we put a nice dent in our 5,000 wedge inventory. Many of those order came in with huge thank you notes saying “ Why oh why didn’t I think of that”. Obviously we had struck a chord.
"A shim, is a shim, is a shim" - you have proved that is not the case! Explain the patent-process and how you changed the status quo.
Patented Three Times... And More To Come
Wobble Wedges hold three US Patents now. That’s not an accident. We love making Wobble Wedges and we are constantly looking for new ways to use them and improve them.
Building a patent base is all about innovation and using a really good patent attorney. For Wobble Wedges the challenge is how to squeeze more functionality into what others perceive as a just a simple wedge. Wobble Wedges are packed with features that make them work where other wedges do not.
For example, Wobble Wedges are securely stackable. We are not blowing smoke here.
Each wedge has five rows of ridges that are alternately offset. That’s a fine detail, but when you stack’em up they fit like a glove and once under weight they won’t twist, slip or slide out of place in any direction. Those same ridges make them easy to adjust for fine tuning the job.
Another great example is placing a grab-bar on the back of each Wobble Wedge. Who woulda thunk that this little jewel was worth the effort to figure out. But, let’s say you are installing a toilet or leveling a book case. The inevitable happens and you wind up pushing the wedge in a little too far. How do you get it out?
You can pull a Wobble Wedge out with a needle-nose pliers or even a bent paper clip. This makes them really easy to adjust. With other wedges you would have to get up and tilt the toilet or bookcase to one side while simultaneously trying to push it out with your foot. Simply put, Wobble Wedge’s high functionality helps us all solve those annoying problems faster and easier. Functionality, premium quality and great service are the reasons we are still the market leader for our category today.
To get the whole picture, download the PDF “What Makes Wobble Wedges Work So Well”
Where does a restaurant owner go to purchase Wobble Wedges (and change their life in the process?)
Wobble Wedge Distribution
Wobble Wedges are distributed by every major restaurant dealer in the industry. They are not hard to find. They can also be purchased on a variety of websites including our own at www.wobblewedges.com
Our company website provides a few specialty Wobble Wedges that are not available through distribution such as the new Big-Gap Wobble Wedges, Mini-Wobble Wedges and ShopShim kits.
What's next for the product - is it possible to innovate something so simple even further then you already have?
What’s Next For Wobble Wedges
BigGap Wobble Wedges are all about saving the big day of a wedding, graduation or other outdoor event.
Why? BigGap Wobble Wedges can stabilize and level a large banquet table even on lumpy, bumpy lawns. Even better, they can prevent table legs from sinking into the lawn. Whoa nelly, there goes the wedding cake!!!
BigGap Wobble Wedges are all about filling the really big wobbles. They are twice as long, twice as wide and twice as thick as regular Wobble Wedges.
BigGaps offer a full ½” of adjustment but like all Wobble Wedges they can be securely stacked for even the the really, really big wobbles. Right now, BigGaps are only available on our website (www.wobblewedge.com) . As we build awareness of this product we will slowly introduce them to our distribution channels.
The ShopShim Kit is pretty cool too. This kit contain a variety of all three Wobble Wedge sizes, Mini-Wedges, Standard Wedges and Big Gaps.
The Mystery Wobble Wedges are coming soon. These are really cool. But you don’t get to know what they are. I can tell you this though: the innovations are very simple but they’ll make the new Wobble Wedge even more useful and more interesting than they already are.
I obviously am obsessed with the product to the point I carry them with me when I go to coffee shops to work on my laptop. Do you have a lot of passionate customers?
Do We Have Passionate Customers?
Oh yeah. The Wobble Wedge is in many ways just a simple gizmo but when you have a few hanging out in your kitchen drawer or in your glove box it is just amazing how many times you’ll reach for them. People get so animated about the uses they find for their Wobble Wedge they take the time to call and just say thanks.
A few days ago, had a just such a thank you call from a fellow who used Wobble Wedges to open his frozen car door. He could get his fingers into the inset of the door to crack it open but he couldn’t get the whole door at the same time.
He gabbed a handful of Wobble Wedges and started prying on his door at the top. As he gained a little opening he’d push a few Wobble Wedges in to hold it there. He continued this moving all the way to the bottom of the door. Eventually, the ice gave away and “pop” his door opened. Wow...I never would have thought of that.
You see, with a little imagination, Wobble Wedges can solve all sorts of problems you never knew you had...until you have them.