Deborah Holtschlag drove north from the South Hills to meet Dwayne Evans, the owner and manager of Best Feeds Garden Center in Ross. She came to show him her new invention called Plant Traps. It’s an innovative metal plant holder that can be slid through the bottom of a deck railing to hold containers over the outside of the railing.
Evans bought two cases and actually sold one of the Plant Traps as soon as they went on display. It’s uncommon for him to get a direct pitch from an inventor, but he’s glad he took this meeting.
“I think it’s a great idea. I never would have thought of anything like this,” Evans said. After seeing the product, one thing he likes is the fact that there’s no dirt or water running down the front of the deck or its spindles after watering containers.
Holtschlag’s invention epiphany happened during COVID. A talented painter, she hit a wall after an early surge of work at the start of the pandemic but then suffered from a sort of artist’s block.
“All I was doing was eating chocolate and watching Netflix,” she said with a laugh. Stepping out of the house last summer is when the idea hit her. “I went out onto my porch and I realized this could be a whole other room, she says. “There were like 30 planters, I was complaining about all the messy plants.”
As she looked over the area, Holtschlag noticed the four-inch ledge on the other side of the railing. After many hours scouring the Internet, she couldn’t find anything that would present containers on the outside of the railing.
“My Shark Tank brain kicked in and I wondered, ‘Is this something I could create?’”
Holtschlag has dreamed of inventing something since her teenage years.
“I don’t know how to describe it, but my brain thinks like this, she said. “I’ve thought of about 1,000 different ideas, and many of them have been invented right after I thought of them.”
The first step was to go to a local metalwork shop to have a thick piece of metal bent into an L shape. Her husband, a devoted dahlia grower, put a 60-pound pot on the prototype and it held.
She visited different metal fabricator and manufacturing companies, learning the difference between the pricey handwork of welding and the less expensive process of bending metal as the wheels began to turn in her head.
Holtschlag began the long process of designing the size and shape of the Plant Traps settling on classic curved scrolls for part of the design.
“I started with foam core and making shapes, cutting them out, hanging over railing — probably 40 different designs before I got brave enough to put money on the table to have one made,” she said with a chuckle.
That first prototype cost $450.00.
She credits lots of friends who help along the way. A neighbor supplied a technical CAD drawing of her final version. Another is a patent attorney which helped her file the proper forms.
She learned about and received a manufacturing grant from Innovation Works. It’s a seed-stage investment firm for Southwest Pennsylvania.
Holtschlag convinced AccroTool, a custom metal fabrication operation in New Kensington to make the first run of just over 100.
“I had to persevere,” she says of finding someone to make the Plant Traps and sell them too. “I just kept bugging people and showing up,” she added.
The first 100 sold quickly on Best Feeds Garden Center, Chapon’s Greenhouse,Rollier’s Hardware, Cavacini Landscape and Garden Center, Una Biologicalsand Beall’s Nursery and Landscaping. “Those are the only places I’ve been so far,” she said happily.
It’s the positive reactions she’s received from the retailers and others that have kept her going.
“Every time I show someone the idea, every single person says they want one or want to give one as a gift,” says Holtschlag. “That’s one of the reasons I keep moving forward.”
When she heard, “I think you could sell hundreds of these,” during one of her stops promoting the product, it confirmed her thoughts that it could work.
To Holtschlag, one of the best parts of the process has been the interactions with people. “As much as I love art, I’ve been a little bit lonely in my studio. One of the things that I’ve really loved is meeting all these people and talking about the product — I’m a people person,” she says.
Holtschlag hopes that homeowners will be able to use her new product as a way to better enjoy their outdoor areas.
“There are tons of little balconies and porches and places that are crowded with plants and don’t have enough room for furniture, family, dogs, kid.”
Plant Traps only take a minute or two to install. It’s a cantilever which is supported by the back of a railing. Then the pot is secured from above with a long, two-pronged stake. Setting one up was easy and when tested, it was impossible to shake the pot off the holder. Two Plant Traps can be used in tandem to hold longer flower boxes. “It will expand your happy place,” she says of her product. They come in white or black and retail for $29.99.
Holtschlag was determined to create something anyone can set up easily and enjoy.
“My goal in making it was so that you didn’t have to use a tool and a 75-year-old woman could set it up without a care,” she said. “The first time I walk in a neighborhood and see it hanging, that’s going to be a big deal.”
For more information go to www.planttraps.com.