Shelley Carter caught up with Sandsliders founder Lee Cowan who has created a product that’s revolutionising beach life for parents and whose strong ethics are helping vulnerable people in Brum get on
Take a tennis coach with a competitive nature mixed with a cracking idea, a can-do attitude and a gauntlet laid down by his pals and you’ve got a business that’s revolutionising new parents holidays across the globe and we’re not exaggerating.
Having been one of those parents dragging a buggy across the sand and going nowhere fast, I appreciate the difference Sandsliders would have made to a beach break. You know the scenario, the harder you pull a buggy with a child in it, the deeper the wheels go until you’re forced to give up and carry both the child and the pram clumsily down the beach.
Lee Cowan, the brains behind Sandsliders, came up with the idea three years ago which is so simple it’s incredible no one thought of it before. He noticed multiple sets of parents struggling on the beach in Gran Canaria and told his pals he was going to invent something that would solve the problem.
They poo-pooed his proclamation, but not one to be defeated, Lee came home and got cracking on his idea initially with cardboard, Sellotape and string! Once he’d perfected the idea and got a proper prototype made, he looked for help bringing it to market. The best friend of Lee’s late father, Dean Mortimer came on board to offer some sound business nouse.
Initially, protecting the product from being copied was the priority. Lee presented Sandsliders to the Baby Product Association in London in a nerve-racking Dragon’s Den style pitch. They loved the product and his enthusiasm and agreed it needed protection straight away. Dean knew a patent lawyer and they were able to get all the protection they needed.
Made from fully recyclable polypropylene, the Sandslider fits all pushchairs under 50cm and attaches in seconds via two simple hooks resulting in the pram gliding across the beach rather than sinking. It also works on snow, pebble beaches, pea gravel and muddy grass. The fully recyclable element was really important to Lee and Dean who is a keen scuba diver, and a percentage of the company’s profits are donated to the Plastic Oceans Foundation, a charity committed to ending plastic pollution.
A percentage of profits is also donated to Cancer Research UK, the disease that Lee’s father died from. The feel-good aspect of the business that Lee’s so proud of is also evident in their choice of manufacturer. Better Pathways in Digbeth which employs people with mental health issues who otherwise wouldn’t have a job makes the product from start to finish. Dean had worked in mental health while living in Australia, so it was a cause close to his heart.
Lee is super positive and even with the challenges of Brexit looming which has delayed a couple of larger European companies stocking Sandsliders, he’s focused on the good stuff. Sales through the website are healthy and growing at a good pace plus Amazon, Mothercare and US juggernaut Walmart now stock the product.
Trade shows have proved successful in the UK and beyond with Sandsliders picking up awards as well as making valuable business contacts. At the International Nursery Fair held in Harrogate Sandsliders won the Baby Product Association’s Concept Innovation Award and at top European trade fair, Kind + Jugend in Cologne, the product was voted top three in the Innovation category.
Lee was surprised by fellow exhibitors at shows and found them to be thoroughly supportive happy to share contacts and give advice which he hadn’t expected.
The focus is still the baby side of the business, but there’s a natural progression into adapting the design to suit wheelchairs. The challenges are different – the weight and size of wheelchairs is greater than a pram, but Lee has had a lot of e-mails from wheelchair users and parents of wheelchair users saying it is actually impossible to get onto a beach. A prototype is being trialled currently for a child’s wheelchair first with a view to an adult version to follow.