As an engineer at General Motors, Eugene Schildmeier was well-versed in 3D printing. He used to use them for making mockups and prototypes in his office, but once Schildmeier retired and 3D printers became affordable for hobbyists, he knew he needed to have one of his own.
A friend knew Schildmeier had a 3D printer and asked if he could design a set of stake pocket covers for his GM pickup truck. While you could once simply visit your dealer for covers for these hand-holds, not even GM made covers for the redesigned stacks pocket holes on his friend’s newer truck. “A large number of pickup truck owners don’t use the stake pocket holes and want t cover them and give their truck a more smooth, custom look,” Schildmeier explains. “Stacks pocket covers also keep rain, snow, leaves and trash out of the stake pocket holes, which prevents rust.”
He spent a few days experimenting on the design for his friend, who was happy with the final product. But just two days later, Schildmeier’s friend called back, asking him to make more for the people who had seen the product in action. “Within the next three weeks I had made 10 more sets for people that saw my friend’s truck and I started selling them for $30 a set,” Schildmeier says. “Since I had used eBay for years to find parts for my project cars, my next thought was, ‘I bet I could sell these on eBay!’”
Schildmeier listed his stake pocket covers on Ebay in summer 2015, but couldn’t keep up with demand. It took five hours to print a set of covers. “That’s when I realized this was a real business opportunity.”
Engineered by Schildmeier now sells covers for GM full size trucks on its website, RailCaps.com, and on eBay and Amazon.
Schildmeier teamed up with a local company that specialized in laser measuring to perfect the product fit. He worked with a local plastics manufacturer to make a production plastic injection mold to make the covers more quickly. Engineered by Schildmeier can produce 50 sets of parts per hour and is designing new products for other trucks.
While Schildmeier was an expert engineer, he didn’t have business experience. His daughter suggested he look into SCORE. “My initial SCORE application asked what type of business I was starting, and they picked two great mentors for me,” Schildmeier recalls. He teamed up with mentors Tom Collop and Lyle Crouse, who met with Schildmeier once per month and as the need arose. “They helped me with understanding the true cost of developing my product and setting the right price,” Schildmeier says. “Initially, I wasn’t charging enough for my product. They also helped me understand the importance of branding and marketing.”