This week we caught up the inventor of the Shower Power Booster, Alan Wright, where he shares the struggles, the highs and the future of the business.
Q. How did the Shower Power Booster get started?
A. There are many things that need to come together in order to invent something that can do something that no one has done before. The invention was only possible due to my years spent in the water industry, moving into petrochemical, then into building maintenance, and back again into the water industry.
I invented the pump in 2012, at a time when I had been made redundant and had lots of time on my hands due to a recession.
With time on my hands, I invented a solar heating concept which was not only incredibly efficient but which also left me with lots of hot water. I decided to use the pumps I used for solar heating to create instant hot water at the tap without running cold to waste.
The invention of the Shower Power Booster came about after my first attempt at fitting valves underneath my sister’s sink. I worked all afternoon and ended up with a solution that worked (good), but my hands were cut and dirty (not so good). I went to bed tired and in need of a better solution…
I woke up at 04.00 in the morning with the solution clear in my head so I got up, went downstairs, and penned a sketch on the dining room table – the solution – the pressure enhancing device – later to be renamed the Shower Power Booster.
(Photo taken at a local tradeshow in Norfolk)
Q. What was the first year like when you started the business?
A. In the first year, most of my effort was still focussed on solar thermal as I sought someone to help me develop my idea.
The Shower Power Booster (SPB) invention at first seemed illogical – to increase flow and pressure the first thing you do is put in a non-return valve (which reduces the pressure), then you add a bypass in order to compensate for the pressure loss, then you add a pump, and bingo you have a device which for the right application can achieve the same effect as much bigger pumps. A pump that does the job of a pump ten or 20 times bigger than it’s size.
I paid a top university in the United Kingdom a fee to evaluate my innovation in the hope that they would help me fund the development of the product… They thought my idea defied the laws of physics, put this in writing, and sent me packing… My first hurdle.
From my previous work in engineering, I knew the science behind why the pump worked. In my home I had a pump that resembled a ‘Heath Robinson’ pump, this proved to me that my idea did work, but I needed a portable prototype to demonstrate it worked to others.
I took the precaution of actually building a Shower Power Booster prototype/demonstrator before I introduced my pumps to Cranfield University. The Professor was amazed by the effect my pumps had and openly admitted he only invited me to come along because I claimed to have actually built a ‘Pressure Enhancing Device’.
It was tested and verified at Cranfield University in the Oil and Gas research laboratories under the direction of the senior research scientists there. It was very funny seeing my little pump the size of a mouse sitting side by side with pumps the size of an elephant.
In the first year, I followed the tried and tested method of developing a new product with proof of concept proven but the product was no nearer to reaching the public. Many people offered to ‘help’ supply moulding at $40,000 (or a bargain price of $20,000), and I managed to walk away from a damaging contract that would have lost the product… My second hurdle.
I sought a manufacturer and once I found someone I clicked with, we began manufacturing the pumps. From then on the product has followed a continuous process of iterative improvements.
At first, I limited sales of the pumps to only those I fitted myself (predominately in Norfolk) then further afield. Myself and my wife, Susan, would assemble the pumps in our garden and send to customers. We expanded very slowly to avoid failures and learn more about the product but by the end of 2013, sales had built to a point where we could stop manufacturing the pumps in the garden. Manufacturing and sales with Flowflex commenced in February 2014!
(Me and my wife, Susan, at my niece’s wedding in 2019)
Q. What happened with Dragons Den?
A. I had originally not wanted to appear on Dragons Den but was headhunted for the show in 2013 and thought it could be a great opportunity. In hindsight, Shower Power Booster wasn’t ready, it was still in the early days of the invention when you needed to manually switch it on for it to boost any water pressure. It would not be until November 2013 that we would have a fully automatic version of the pump, like the one we sell today.
Q. What’s been your proudest achievements since you launched?
A. My proudest moment was when I was granted a UK Patent in June 2012!
At the time, I had run out of money! To afford the patent, Susan continued to sell pumps in Norwich whilst I got a job near Chester working on Welsh Water Schemes. Wales was such a beautiful place and the joy of working in a profession I excel in returned (and what a joy to get a regular income again!).
After 6 weeks into my contract, I won the best water invention 2012 from Imperial College, London and with it, the top prize of €16,000.
I haven’t looked back.
Q. What was the biggest challenge you had to overcome since you launched?
To have a fully automatic pump I needed to develop a flow switch that worked in any direction or orientation without hindrance to flow. This was the single most challenging thing to achieve
On November 6th, 2013 at 23.00, after finding my solution, the final prototype became the first fully automatic pump which after extensive testing became the first automatic pump sold to a gentleman called Chris Baron and we shipped it out on the 14th November 2013!
Q. Has anything surprised you about the pump since you first invented it?
A. I fitted the first pumps myself in early 2013 to find out what worked well and other things that were not so good and needed improvement.
I fitted pumps to boost the water pressure of a shower in Norfolk and discovered that if you fit a Shower Power Booster on the pipes that feed only a shower or a tap, it will maintain that shower or tap even if other taps are being used in the home (protected flow solution).
This meant that running a tap elsewhere in the home would make the shower or tap fluctuate.
It was only after the owner of the property turned on a tap when the shower was running and nothing happened to the shower that I realised my pumps would do this. Water will always flow into the suction of a pump rather than through a tap and if that pump feeds a shower it is protecting the flow – it’s easy to know this in hindsight after seeing it.
What are you most excited about for the future of the Shower Power Booster?
There are few inventors who still retain 100% ownership of their patent as I have managed to do. I hope to share my experiences of Innovation, Product Development, and all aspects of getting a product to market. There are many things that can get in the way of your success and I would love to be able to share my experiences and help you avoid pitfalls.
The inventor of the Shower Power Booster