Dream - local inventor garners big-time buzz

Lisa SandhamBayview Magazine Summer 2010

Every dream begins with two key ingredients: inspiration and a great idea. Inspiration can present itself in all shapes and forms but for Dan Cheal he found it watching the CNBC program The Big Idea with Donny Deutsch. The CNBC program regularly featured entrepreneurial success stories of everyday people who dared to dream big and found success. Inspiration itself does not guarantee success and although history has shown some inventions are sometimes stumbled upon, Dan’s “big idea” was born from a father’s concern for his infant daughter.

Dan’s journey began two years ago while he was dining out with his daughter Maddy at a local fast food restaurant. As he pulled out a high chair to place his daughter in it he quickly realized that the high chair tray he was about to put in front of little Maddy had not been wiped clean, making it far from sanitary. Like any concerned parent, Dan began to think about the possible harmful bacteria that lay in wait, unseen to the naked eye. He decided he would create a solution not only for himself but for all parents. In that instant the idea of Tidy Trays was born, a reusable and washable slipcover for high chair trays.

Dan began to formulate a Tidy Tray prototype by talking to potential consumers, restaurant managers, parents and grandparents. It was during this time that the producers of CBC’s Dragon’s Den came to Thunder Bay to audition local entrepreneurs. The Canadian based reality show gives aspiring entrepreneurs the opportunity to pitch their “big ideas” to Canadian business moguls in hopes of gaining their financial backing and know how. Dan decided to audition. The producers thought Dan had a great idea but without a viable prototype or business plan in place they knew he was not quite ready. They encouraged him to continue on and audition again. The positive feedback he received from the producers gave him the encouragement he needed to continue on with development. As he recollects, “I was more determined than ever to develop a Canadian product that was well priced and manufactured in Canada using national and local resources whenever possible.”

Development of Tidy Trays involved assembling a team of local business professionals. The Math and English departments at Lakehead University provided assistance in analyzing numbers and wording on the product’s packaging. Most importantly, Dan acknowledges the support of his wife Michelle, “She supported the idea from day one.”

Developing the concept and business have truly become a family affair with Michelle and their children Maddy and Devin all playing a pivotal role in the product’s evolution and growing success. It is obvious that the love for his family is what fuels his ambition. He freely admits his desire for “more in life” and states with success his greatest wish would be to give back to the family and community that has given him so much. He simply aspires to inspire others. “Everyone has at least one great idea but very few people act on it.” His advice to budding entrepreneurs and inventors who may be hesitant to take the plunge? “Surround yourself with knowledgeable and positive people. Do not let anyone discourage you. Stay focused.”

Tidy Trays are sold locally and in locations in Winnipeg and Saskatoon. Local large box stores such as Zellers and Wal-Mart have also chosen to carry Dan’s product in their stores and on occasion you can find Dan there demonstrating his product and talking to the public. Local sales of the product are brisk according to Charmaine Thompson, owner of Celebrations by Georges, “It’s exciting to see and hear of the success Dan is experiencing with Tidy Trays and I’m happy to be supporting his endeavor by carrying his product in my store.”

Recent developments include Tidy Trays now being carried by 140 selected Rexall Drug Stores and Pharma Plus Drug Marts across Canada and the establishment of a distributor in the UK. Kerri Lister was surfing the web trying to find a high chair tray cover when she tripped across Tidy Trays’ website. She was also a concerned parent with an infant son who was not content with how restaurants maintained the cleanliness of their trays, indicating “they would use either dirty cloths or harsh chemicals.” She soon discovered there was nothing in the United Kingdom like Tidy Trays and immediately contacted Dan to ask if he would be interested in taking on a distributor. Kerri recognized an opportunity, “As soon as I saw the website I knew Tidy Trays would be a hit in the UK; there was a definite gap in the market which Dan has filled!”

The response in the UK has been very positive and Kerri recently received her second shipment of Tidy Trays from Canada. “We will be exhibiting at the UK Baby Show in October with our main aim being brand awareness.” Kerri boasts proudly, “We are planning a marketing strategy to deliver a shot to each independent baby shop in the UK.”

The future certainly looks bright for Dream Big Innovations, and with an upcoming article to be published in the July issue of Today’s Parent Magazine, Dan feels the exposure is exactly what Tidy Trays needs to become a nationally recognized brand. With a circulation of approximately 215,000 copies and 1.8 million Canadians reading it each month it is certain that Dan is about to embark on a journey where dreams do become reality.

Visit www.tidy-trays.com or twitter.com/TidyTraysUK

Lisa Sandham is an interior designer, home designer and freelance writer.