by Sharon Thatcher –
Post-frame builder found a better way for setting posts and is now marketing his own invention
If you’ve spent any time at all in the construction industry, you’ve likely said to yourself about one task or another: “there’s gotta’ be a better way”, then jerry-rigged your own solution to the problem. But have you ever contemplated perfecting your solution, applying for a patent and making it a marketable product? One Ohio builder who has made that leap is Mark Hochstetler.
By day he’s foreman of his brother Glenn’s business, Hochstetler Buildings, Inc., Plain City, Ohio. By day and night, he is the inventor and marketer of the PostSetter.
PostSetter is a simple hand tool for setting posts. It’s ideal for Perma-Columns (also invented by a builder), which was what led Hochstetler to the idea.
“My first attempt at creating a tool to make post setting easier was about 10 years ago after 20 years of post setting by prying and pounding posts into position,” he recalls. “I gave up after exhausting all of my ideas as the invention was not time saving. But as buildings got bigger and taller and the weight of the posts got heavier and the number of posts to set per job increased, I began to rethink creating a tool for setting posts.”
The need increased with the popularity of Perma-Columns.
“With the introduction of Perma-Columns, the need to find a better way to set these particular posts with less effort and in less time kept motivating me,” Hochstetler says, adding: “We were using these posts in more and more buildings, and as everyone who has handled these posts knows, they are heavy.”
“My ah-ha moment came when setting the Perma-Columns on the jobsite,” he remembers. “I had just changed a flat tire on my wife’s car, and two days later I was setting posts, and it came to mind to how this same lift could move posts.”
His next step was to visit someone who could actually make the tool he had in mind.
“I went to the local fabricator and gave him my idea and together we came up with the PostSetter,” he says.
As with any new tool, it needed refinement. “The first prototype needed tweaked about four times,” he adds.
Feedback from other builders was helpful.
“After selling the PostSetter to several builders, the feedback was to get the lift lower in the hole and the moving force lower on the post, which is what I originally wanted to do but didn’t know exactly how until I kept using it. I then went back to the fabricator and with his expertise, we came up with the new design which did improve the performance and actually reduced some of the cost.
“The other problem was in shipping the PostSetter to the customer, keeping the tool within mailing/sending limitations in length and overall dimensions. I found the U.S. Post Office to offer the most affordable delivery.”
After inventing, perfecting and shipping challenges were overcome, there was a new challenge to face: how to sell the tool. With out-of-pocket expenses already invested in development, more was now required for marketing.
“The most costly is marketing, finding a company who can create your website, brochures, etc., and help you sell your product,” Hochstetler notes. “The company I hired actually designed the PostSetter logo which is unique, but not without cost.
“Your one-time cost is a video shoot and web development but you need the cash flow to advertise on a regular and consistent basis to remind builders that there is a better and easier way with your tool,” he goes on to say. “However, I think the best way is to get your product into the customer’s hand, which in my case is to get a booth at building shows, again quite expensive for the small business owner,” he says. “And because I am still working full time, I am not able to go out and sell my product. Currently, we have someone who is interested in investing in my company which could help me to hire a sales representative or at least attend more building shows.”
He sells his product under the business name HM Tools, LLC.
Hochstetler’s own marketing challenges were compounded by the fact that the PostSetter debuted in the midst of a significant building slow-down. Builders have tightened their budgets to include only what they consider essentials.
“They tend to see the PostSetter as something they really don’t need rather than something they can’t afford to be without,” he says candidly. “The owner has set posts for years without this tool and they can continue to do so in this uncertain economy.”
Still, the advantages of making a hard task easier is hard to push away forever.
“Most of my buyers have purchased the PostSetter because of the Perma-Column job they had coming up and knew they needed an advantage and the PostSetter delivered,” he explains.
From these builders Hochstetler receives the encouragement he needs to persevere. In addition he has the pleasure of knowing he is the first to accomplish something others have tried to do. “The best thing to happen to me was when I received kudos from an engineer who was actually hired by Perma-Column to design a tool to more easily set their posts in order to increase their sales,” he says. “He was unable to design a cost effective way to do this and he was very impressed with the simplicity and efficiency of my invention, which really encouraged me.”
He offers the following advice to fellow builders who may choose to follow his lead with a marketable invention.
“I would advise them to think it through, sketch out the product, and develop it and/or find a manufacturer to help you build it.
“You need to know the market that you are designing your product for as well as the probable demand for your product. If first-design materials and/or manufacturing is out-priced, keep looking for similar materials with less cost, etc.
“There is also the business end of marketing your product and state tax laws, vendor’s license, etc.
“Don’t move too fast, make sure you are completely satisfied with your product before mass production. Patent-pending laws allow you time to tweak your product and get the kinks out before investing in a full patent so be aware that your first design is not likely your best and allow room for that.”
Above all, he says: “Be patient, keep trying, and don’t give up. You will never know if your idea is a good or bad idea until you try.”