When Jim Perkins received a golden retriever as a birthday present, little did he know that this gift would serve
as an inspiration for a second career.
Perkins and his wife, Jennifer, loved spending time on the water with their personal watercraft. When Jennifer gave him a dog for his birthday, things would begin to change. They quickly realized that the dog, Katie, loved the water and decided they could not leave her out of the weekend fun. They sold the PWC and purchased an open-bow boat so Katie could go with them.
It didn’t take long on the first boat outing for Katie to jump in the water and for the Perkins to realize getting Katie back in the boat would be no easy feat. “The only one not concerned was Katie. She was having a great time,” laughs Perkins. “We muscled her back into the boat and knew that would not be a good long-term solution as Katie was not getting any smaller and we were not getting any younger.”
“We looked for products to allow the dog to board the boat on her own and purchased one of them for $250,” Perkins recalls. “As an engineer, I was
disappointed with the design and function. It beat itself apart from water currents, damaged the boat and scared the dog.”
After evaluating all of the other products on the market, he decided to design an apparatus that would address their deficiencies and provide improved safety
and ease of use.
With a proprietary concept identified and a burning desire to try launching a business, Perkins resigned from his high-paying corporate position. “The economy
was tanking and I couldn’t have picked a worse time to start a business,” he reflects. “However, I knew I had a lot of work ahead of me to develop the product. Maintaining
a full-time job would not allow me to devote the time required. I was able to do some part-time consulting to help pay the bills.” WAG Products, LLC was formed to manufacture and sell WaterDog Adventure Gear™. Katie was hired as the CFO, Chief Fun Officer.
Perkins knew to be successful, he would need a product that was superior to everything else on the market and could be protected with a patent. He has 13 patents from his corporate life and knew the patent process and its importance. To avoid public disclosure of his ideas during development, prototypes were transported under cover and tested in remote parts of area lakes, often on weekdays when no one else was on the water. “I remember one October day in Wisconsin when Katie and I had to get some testing done. There wasn’t ice on the lake, but by the time I got out of the water, I was numb.”
In Spring 2011, the first patent application was filed and suppliers were identified. Components were procured over the summer and production parts were tested. One of the goals of WAG Products is to manufacture its products in the U.S.A. “Domestic manufacturing is important to our economy and I still believe that a great product manufactured in the U.S.A. can be competitive if it brings value to the customer,” Perkins states.
The first WaterDog Adventure Gear doggie stairs product was WAG Boarding Steps™ Model SLM-12 which mounts to the boat’s swim ladder and floats to the side when humans need to use the swim ladder. It is designed to fit the majority of folding and telescoping swim ladders. The key to its superior design is the unique mounting system and “space-frame” design which results in high open areas to reduce the effects of water currents. The product was introduced at the Chicago and Minneapolis boat shows in January 2012 and every unit Perkins was able to pack in his SUV was sold and follow-up orders were fulfilled. As Perkins summarizes, “The initial response was phenomenal. Even people without dogs stopped to comment on what a great design it was. The easiest sales I had were to people who had also purchased the product that got me into this. There is definitely an unmet need out there.”
Based on the boat show responses, Perkins moved his manufacturing operation in March 2012 from the basement of his home to some leased manufacturing space with plans to introduce additional models. “I met a guy at a boat ramp that year who was headed out fishing. When he saw Katie, he commented that he had to leave his dog home because he could no longer drag him into the boat. I said to myself that we needed to provide a solution to that.”
In August 2012, four new models of doggie stairs were introduced by WAG for fishing and jon boats, vehicles, fixed docks/piers/seawalls, floating docks. rafts and swimming pools. A removable dock dog step model was introduced in January 2013. A pivoting platform mount dog step model was introduced in June 2013 and an extended version of the pivoting platform mount dog step model was introduced in May 2014. In November 2014, a model was introduced for pontoon boats that mounts on the extended platform or at a side gate and rests against the pontoons bringing the total number of models to nine. In addition to the standard models, WAG also has a custom ladder design service.
“The vision for WaterDog Adventure Gear is to offer a variety of products that put more “WAG” (fun) in the life of you and your dog. WAG Boarding Steps are hopefully just a first step, pun intended,” says Perkins.