Overland Park & Leawood

Overland Park stay-at-home mom turns invention into handy product

Tamra Johnson of Overland Park created the Bollstr.
Tamra Johnson of Overland Park created the Bollstr. Special to The Star

The philosopher Plato is credited with the expression that necessity is the mother of invention.

No one believes that more than Tamra Johnson, an Overland Park stay-at-home mom and the creator of the Bollstr.

Q: What is the Bollstr?

“The Bollstr is a functional but fashionable bottle holder to keep with you to make liquids easily accessible and hands-free,” Johnson said. “It has a back pocket that fits most phones with an eyelet to fit earphone cords through so you can listen to music and also also carry (drivers) license and credit cards.”

The Bollstr comes with either a waist or shoulder strap. It is available in four colorful washable fabrics plus black and retails for $24.99. It is sold online and through gift shows.

The Bollstr was born out of necessity. During a 2013 family vacation, the Johnsons all got E. coli bacteria in their systems. Johnson said everyone in the family recovered except daughter Meleena, whose organs shut down.

Q: Why did you create the Bollstr?

“After 11 months on dialysis, Meleena got a new kidney from my husband in a transplant operation in January 2014,” Johnson said. Meleena is required to drink at least 100 ounces of fluid daily to keep her kidneys healthy.

Carrying a water bottle along with her schoolbooks was challenging. Then Johnson got an idea.

“I was laying in bed thinking about her going to church camp and how was she going to do this and I came up with this idea,” she said. “There is really nothing out there that is comfortable and cute that encompassed all I wanted it to carry.”

Johnson described it to her daughter’s sewing teacher who made up a few samples.

“I took paper and was pasting things where I thought they should go,” she said. “They became our prototypes that now go to the factory.”

As for the product’s name, Johnson combined the words “bottle” and “holster”.

“When I had the name “bolster” the domain name was way too expensive so I came up with this one and it cost about 30 bucks,” she said.

The Bollstr was officially introduced into the marketplace in September at a trade show.

“It is going really well,” she said.

Q: How did you start your company?

The first thing she did was work with a patent law firm, Hovey Williams. Then she met a corporate lawyer who helped her incorporate.

She then began the search for a manufacturer to make her product.

“I tried to contact about 12 U.S. factories with no takers — they didn’t even respond,” Johnson said. Through a friend, Johnson connected with a factory in China.

“I was really concerned about the language barrier but they have been wonderful,” she said. “They were willing to run small orders, like 150.”

Johnson took photos of every aspect of the prototype and then made descriptions and sent it off to the Chinese factory. This system worked, she said.

“We talk via email and I have a lot of arrows in pictures trying to be thorough,” said Johnson of her communications halfway around the world.

Johnson’s first Bollstr order was for 1,000 in two patterns. About seven weeks later, her first shipment of product arrived.

“They source fabric for me and send me samples or I look online with what they have,” she said.

Johnson handles all order fulfillment using the post office to ship out-of-town orders and delivering local orders.

Q: What about inventory?

“You should see my bedroom and my garage,” she said with a laugh. “I bought tubs and I put them in them.”

Johnson recently ordered the black fabric Bollstr.

“We ordered the black because people asked about it… I was really nervous about it but people really liked it,” she said.

Johnson is the sole owner of The Bollstr Co. but her mother does help with the books.

“My husband (Jamie) and my parents have been extremely instrumental,” Johnson said. “My dad does promotional products and he has been helpful in the design of my logo and business shirts.”

Johnson’s sister help build The Bollstr’s web site using the Go Daddy portal.

Q: What hurdles have you faced since starting The Bollstr Co.?

Johnson is currently facing her biggest challenge.

“We could not get The Bollstr trademarked and so we are going to have to change the name,” said Johnson, who is working with a lawyer to remedy the situation.

“We will do a big social media campaign and official reveal of new product options,” she said. Johnson expects the announcement to come in March.

Another challenge has been shifting roles.

“Two years ago, I was just a home-school mom with five children…and now I am selling things, and trying to find that balance between things,” Johnson said. “I enjoy the creativity and the learning,. However, I love my kids more.”

In a nutshell

COMPANY: The Bollstr Co.

ADDRESS: out of home in Overland Park

TELEPHONE: 913-549-9700

WEB SITE: www.bollstr.com