By Jessica Holdman
The Bismarck Tribune, N.D.
Even as the best brushers get the occasional cavity, the McDougall siblings hit roadblocks getting their toothbrush company off the ground.
For the Jamestown natives, it took looking back to their North Dakota roots, literally, to find success.
Bogobrush (Buy One Give One) comes in recyclable and compostable models and the material for the toothbrush comes from the North Dakota soil.
Children of a Jamestown dentist, the McDougalls came into business with a sustainability mindset. Heather McDougall went to law school and John McDougall went to design school, but both wanted an outlet for their passion for sustainability.
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The McDougalls brainstormed with people they had met from eight different fields of employment including technology, health and business. Heather McDougall said the group discussed possible ideas for sustainable products, ranging from a method of cleanup for the BP oil spill in the Gulf to a better printer.
A toothbrush was one of those items discussed.
“What started as a subconscious idea turned to bringing our own spin on the family business,” McDougall said.
Design work began in 2011 and the siblings tried every toothbrush that claimed to be unique, squeezing time in between their day jobs.
Their father, Ken McDougall, said he sent them an example of every toothbrush he had in his dental office and offered advice whenever they asked.
“Cars by day, toothbrushes by night,” Heather McDougall said of her brother, who works as a designer at a Detroit vehicle manufacturing company.
They came up with a simple design for their toothbrush with a bamboo handle. At the end of 2012, the pair started a pre-order campaign on their company website.
Bamboo was easy to grow, but overseas manufacturing became an issue Heather McDougall said. They earned enough for production within two months but the brushes took a full year to produce and they lost half of their product shipping from China.
That’s when the McDougalls connected with Fargo-based c2renew, which makes material from a vegetable-based resin and particles of plants left over after harvest. The plant particles come from flax grown in North Dakota and around the region, including Canada, said Corey Kratcha, CEO of c2renew.
In 2014, starting almost from scratch, the McDougalls scraped together their savings, got a loan from the Michigan Women’s Foundation and used c2renew’s Agricultural Products Utilization Commission funding, which was awarded by the North Dakota Department of Commerce.
“I’m quite proud of the fact that they had the tenacity and perseverence to stick with this,” Ken McDougall said of his children. “They are extremely dedicated.”
The toothbrush hit shelves in August at nine boutique retailers around the country, including Others Shop in Fargo. The McDougalls are in their third round of production, making 3,000 brushes per round.
Following the traditional model of sustainability — economic, social and environmental — the McDougalls donate a toothbrush for each one purchased urging customers to think about other people and social issues during their daily hygiene routine.
Family HealthCare clinic receives the donated brushes in Fargo.
Ken McDougall said his children have made him much more aware of sustainability because those things are important to them and he thinks it’s wonderful their quest for sustainability happened to help his industry.
“It shows sustainability doesn’t hinder industry; it opens up new avenues,” he said, adding that he has placed an order for Bogobrushes at his clinic.
The McDougalls said they feel successful and their product has proven marketable. While Fargo is the only location to purchase Bogobrush in North Dakota, they said they plan to expand elsewhere in the state.
Along with new retailers, the McDougalls are also looking for other donation partners. They look for organizations that deliver care to people who may not otherwise receive it, whether it be nonprofit clinics or an affordable housing development where new residents would have a toothbrush greeting them when they move in.
Heather McDougall said the next step to growing the company is forming financial partners or contracts with larger retailers so they can afford a new toothbrush handle mold that makes more than one brush at a time. They hope to achieve this goal by 2016.
The McDougalls said they hope Bogobrush will one day be their career and that the toothbrush will serve as a jumping-off point for creating more sustainable products.