The idea for the Treemote was born during the holiday season five years ago when Martin Schenk sat down in the living room of his Broadmead home after a day’s work.
His wife, Shelby, had to crawl down under the tree to turn on the lights. And that’s when the so-called Christmas light bulb sparked to life inside Schenk’s head.
“I just figured, everybody must be bending down, reaching behind the tree to turn the tree’s lights on,” Schenk said.
The career builder and developer is also the president of a budding holiday business for the Treemote. The tree-shaped remote can turn the tree lights off and on from up to 100 feet away, and through doors and windows.
To start, Schenk ran a research campaign from which he ascertained about 80 per cent of people bend down to turn on their tree lights.
“Bingo, the Treemote was born,” he said. “It was a big learning curve getting into the retail market.”
Friend and local businessman Tim Kane helped with the patents, and set up the website.
In 2013 Schenk got the Treemote into 27 Canadian Tire stores. This year, it’s in all 487 Canadian Tire locations, all 181 Home Depot stores, and all the Pharmasave (400) and London Drug (80) stores, as well as some Sobeys.
“It’s more than 1,500 stores and we’re rapidly expanding into the U.S. for 2017,” Schenk said.
The Treemote sells for $19.99 in Canada, and while it’s a hot holiday item, it is used throughout the year, he said.
“I hear from customers that it’s a perfect stocking stuffer, that it has become part of the holiday decorations that come out every year,” said Schenk. “But I often hear that it is used all year for lamps, for outdoor lights, and for all sorts of things.”
The invention is not the first of its type, Schenk admits. There are generic items on the market but the Treemote has caught on for its specific purpose and theme.
In fact, Schenk and Kane have twice taken the device on Dragon’s Den. The first time, it was merely a prototype. But this year the Treemote entrepreneurs were invited back. Their second visit aired recently and can be found at this link: http://www.cbc.ca/dragonsden/pitches/treemote.
“This time we asked for $100,000 for 10 per cent in the company,” Schenk said. “Really, it is about getting exposure but also about getting access to [the Dragons’] contacts, to expand our reach.”