Like many inventors, Peter Esposito, owner of Mountain Lakes Auto Wash and Express Lube in Hewitt, N.J., had a breaking point—an a-ha moment, if you will.
Esposito says it’s easy to become a victim of circumstance. Oil pans and plug threads are sure to wear out, and it’s just a matter of when. If an operator is faced with telling his or her customer new ones are needed, a responsible shop would need to suggest a potentially expensive repair. Some operators just avoid it, so much so that Esposito says shops might rig the pans to get the car out of the shop without leaking, hoping to pass the problem off to someone else.
“Odds are the vehicle goes to another shop and inherits the problem. That’s the victim of circumstance,” he says. “It’s the honest guy that usually ends up with the problem.”
In some cases, Esposito noticed the oil pan damage went unchecked until the vehicle reached his shop, and he would relay that information to the customer with pictures to prove it.
He knew there had to be a permanent solution for both the installer and the customer. The problem was: how to reinvent 100 years of this process. With lots of time and money invested, Eco-Plug was born, and Esposito hoped to solve the problem with a $10 solution.
What is Eco-Plug?
It’s a threadless, magnetic, universal oil pan drain plug. It replaces conventional drain plugs and temporary thread fixes by eliminating threads all together. There are two types of Eco-Plugs: One to fix damaged aluminum oil pan threads and one to fix a stripped steel oil pan and drain plug.
Esposito wanted to find a way to innovate the process, and he quickly realized the issue he needed to eliminate.
“The threads were the disease to the oil pan and the drain plug,” Esposito says. “My job was to eliminate the disease, or the need for threads.”
According to Espositio, the threads are predisposed to wear and tear. The challenge for Esposito was changing the entire threading process, which took a long time to do. There were no examples that he could go off of, nor anyone that had ever attempted this to call and ask for help.
The development process was intensive. Esposito says he worked a lot of 15-hour days in his office above the quick lube, keeping an eye on the operations below in the bays. It was tough balancing shop management and developing the Eco-Plug. If he didn’t have an office at the shop, he says the business wouldn’t have survived.
After many tests, he found the key to his product. It was all with the help of magnetism. By using a magnet in place of threads, it eliminated the need for threads all together.
Esposito first went through the process of patenting the invention, which was not cheap. In total, he says it was $80,000 to ensure the invention was his. Then he reached out to magnetic engineers and other engineers for the rubber components to manufacture the invention.
After two years, he felt like he had lived at his quick lube shop, but he had his final project: Eco-Plug.
“Creating Eco-Plug was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life—probably took 10 years off of my life,” Esposito says. “You risk everything you have worked for all of your life.”
Before he reached the manufacturing phase, Esposito says it cost about $500,000 to launch Eco-Plug. The cost, he says, is something someone can’t forget.
“Like everything else, I funded it through loans and credit cards,” Esposito says. “There was no way to foresee those expenses. They came as the product evolved.”
Through the process, he says there’s a tremendous price to pay when someone is trying to get their product’s name out there. Esposito says he came close to losing everything, including the quick lube.
“Sometimes you have to go to the worst place in the world to get to the best,” he says.
After perfecting his final product, it was now up to him to sell it. He says the biggest obstacle was getting people to believe in it. Along with selling his product online, selling Ecoplug in his shop was a great start to get customers to see its value. Simply, he and his employees promote the product by showing customers the wear and tear on their threads, and then showing them Ecoplug and how it’s a one-and-done solution.
After getting customers to buy in, he wanted to get the word out to other shop owners in his area. Every day, he would go out to local shops in the tri-state area (New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut) to sell them on his product. He’d load up his vehicle with all of his supplies, complete with an oil pan display to show quick lubes and auto repair shops how the product really worked. And once they saw it with their own eyes, local shops wanted in. Once Esposito sold local shops on the product, he knew he needed to take his product to shops around the country. He took his product to trade shows to bring his product to other shop owners’ attention. What really helped the product take off was attending iFLEX.
“The AOCA show was the beginning of making contact and exposing the product to quick lubes,” Esposito says.
And the attention they received paid off. Quick lube operators were sold. Esposito says the want for the product was so overwhelming, they stopped advertising the product because they couldn’t keep up with the demand.
To keep up the pace, Esposito wanted to find an industry distributor. He says that proved difficult—he chased one national distributor for five years with no result.
Ultimately, he was able to get his product placed with retailers like Wal-Mart and AutoZone. He’s also selling through distributors like Service Champ, Filpac and Highline.
Reflecting on the Process
Eventually, Esposito wants to make his product the standard in quick lube and auto repair. What they don’t show you on shows like “Shark Tank” are the immense struggles inventors go through. Coming up with a brand-new, never-before-seen product takes a lot of time, money, and mental capacity.
“If you have a great idea and you believe in it and want to see it thrive, you have to realize it will consume you financially, mentally, physically—in every conceivable way,” Esposito says. “You cannot be distracted. The process is so long and drawn out, you will never see it through if you lose focus.”