Lifeguards keep their eyes trained on the beach so they can react quickly if someone is in danger. Still, there is time for those with an entrepreneurial spirit to ponder solutions to inconveniences beachgoers face.
In Dan Plante’s first-year of lifeguarding at Vancouver beaches in 2002 he kept noticing tourists changing on the beach under the cover of hotel towels. Mothers held up towels around their children while they changed out of their swim suits.
“I thought there has to be an easier way. So I started playing with ideas and prototypes.” said Plante of his product, which is known as a Chawel Towel. “Eventually, through some luck and some ‘right place at the right time’ I’ve made Chawel into what it is today.”
Chawel is a towel with a difference He calls it “more than just a towel.” That is no exaggeration, given its multiple uses that tend to grow as his customers dream up some of their own. It is a huge round towel with an opening at the top for your head. Another version has marked locations where arm holes can be cut out by the customer if they wish. There is lots of width around your body to take off your clothes and slip into your wetsuit in privacy even though there are other people all around. It can also be a beach blanket, a neck pillow or a liner for your sleeping bag when camping.
Asked for the funniest reason someone told him for buying a Chawel, Dan replied: “I have received a couple emails and heard stories from women about using it as an emergency cover up for road side bathroom stops. The first email was from a lady on a bus trip, and the bus broke down on the side of a busy highway. There were no bushes and along with passing vehicles, there was a bus load of strangers on the side of the road with her, too.”
Another customer traveling Australia for a year reported that he would twist/tie up the head hole with an elastic and use it as his laundry bag at a hostel. “After reading that, I’ve started using it to hold my sandy wetsuit after surfing, or kids’ sandy beach toys to keep the trunk from getting dirty.”
Plante, a 38-year-old Vancouver resident, says Chawel’s growth has expanded beyond Canada. “We’ve shipped orders to Australia, Cyprus, Ireland and even South Africa.” He has some prototypes in the works and lots of pages of potential features. “But the other side of bringing out more options is confusion. I’m finding that simple is best. Less is more, as we like to say. But there may be a fun little addition/feature coming in 2017. We’ll see.”
Good ideas won’t take off unless you have funding. To meet that challenge, Dan appeared on CBC-TV’s Dragons Den and found it “a great experience. I went on the show to get some true feedback on whether I should continue with Chawel or not. I told myself ‘if Kevin (O’Leary) puts an offer in, I’ll keep going with it’, and he did. They all did, except for Bruce Croxon. So that was a huge boost to deciding if my product could be a real product or just a dream. Being selected to be the first pitch to start the sixth season in 2011 was also a huge compliment and I feel being on the Den gives Chawel more weight when people are skeptical about Chawel’s performance.”