OVEIDO, Fla. – It was something of a surreal experience for Doug Guidish.
On the one hand, his company Guard Dog Valves had just landed its first major order from a prominent hotel chain.
However, a shipping error sent a pallet of 3,000 toilet water valves to an electric bike company in Phoenix instead of his 2,000-square-foot production facility and warehouse in Oviedo.
“We were trying to meet an aggressive schedule,” said Guidish.
It turns out the logistics company handling the order just reprinted its previous customer’s address on the label.
Still, the experience of their first major sale served as validation, of sorts, for the small business.
“You can believe in a product all you want,” said Ryan Wilhelm, the company’s head engineer. “But when you’re new, especially for a product that is like no other, it’s hard to get people on board. So it’s a great thing when you have that leap of faith.”
Guard Dog Valves in the last year has sold more than 12,000 valves, which regulate toilet water tanks to conserve water – and, thus, save money – for businesses and homeowners.
The sales growth puts an exclamation point on the company’s best year since its 2014 launch.
Not bad for a company now run by a duo who met at UCF’s Society of Automotive Engineers club in 2008.
Business Incubation Program the latest UCF tie
Guidish’s connection to University of Central Florida has been a family affair.
His father, Guard Dog Valves CEO Jerry Guidish, enrolled all three of his children to the school.
It was Jerry, a Naples entrepreneur who had previously spent 20-plus years in the RV/mobile home park industry, who initially came up with Guard Dog’s product.
Once enrolled, Doug and his father discovered UCF’s Business Incubation Program and became involved almost immediately.
“They needed help in the basic areas that most startups need,” said Jim Bowie, associate director and site manager of the incubation program’s Kissimmee location at the time. “They needed help establishing their brand with a good logo, pricing, sales sheets and some doors open to get the product installed for proof of concept.”
In addition, the program connected Guard Dog with patent attorneys to protect their intellectual property.
At the time, Guard Dog Valves was transitioning from being a wired version operated by a bathroom lights’ on and off switch.
Instead, they were creating a battery operated version.
That’s what they installed at Lake Nona’s living laboratory, the WHIT House, again, thanks to connections from the Business Incubation Program.
Doug Guidish said UCF’s guidance was crucial to the company in the early going.
His father “assumed there are things he wasn’t aware of and thought he could jump through some hurdles more quickly (by connecting with the incubation program),” said the younger Guidish, who was once a logistics engineer with Lockheed Martin and interned at Siemens. “You don’t know what you don’t know but when you’ve been in a field for a long time, you have some knowledge. However, a Ph.D. in Physics isn’t going to answer questions about macroeconomics.”
Solving an addressable problem
The Orlando Utilities Commission estimates that leaky toilets and faucets amount to hundreds of gallons of wasted water each day in a household.
Apply that same formula to hotels and the number grows exponentially.
The company’s big break came when Guard Dog Valves landed an order from a major hotel chain.
A pilot program allowed them to test their hardware in five locations. After a successful test, they expanded that to 33 facilities.
The result for the chain was a savings of more than 55 million gallons of water in one year.
That amounted to more than $550,000 in water bill savings.
An advocate for Guard Dog within the hotel company who understood the product and the problem certainly helped.
“He had a good understanding of the value we brought to the company,” Wilhelm said.
The company installed the valves into the last building of that pivotal partnership in May.
The growth has come quickly since Guard Dog Valves launched the product on the market.
In 2021, the company sold 300 units.
That climbed to 3,000 last year and, so far in 2023, the company has sold more than 12,000 units.
The company has used a jigsaw puzzle of distribution methods, including Google ads, working with distributors and direct-to-consumer strategies.
“Entrepreneurs sometimes get caught up in ‘majoring in the minors,’” Bowie said. “The UCF management staff helps keep them focused on where they should be spending their time, energy and priorities.”
How it works
Guard Dog Valve’s premise comes from a simple plan to save money by conserving water.
But the mechanics around how it does that can become complicated, involving a series of motion sensors, automated actions and valves that are released at the right time.
Once the smart-sensor equipped valve detects motion, it opens and then closes after a certain period of time.
The idea behind Guard Dog Valves was first explored by Guidish’s father, himself an entrepreneur who still serves as company CEO.
By tracking data on a test device, he found that just a rudimentary version saved 25 percent. That number remains consistent today.
Doug Guidish grew up with a small business mindset.
His father, after all, ran a business that managed a cluster of RV parks.
In addition, he was also handy with a tool belt.
A leaky toilet flooded his own father’s home, resulting in thousands of dollars in damage.
That’s when he started to explore solving the problem.
“He always had that entrepreneurial bug,” Doug Guidish said. “It provided a unique lifestyle.”
Guard Dog’s Future
The operations in Oviedo is relatively bare-boned.
A team of four designs, creates and assembles the valves day in, day out.
The company’s initial concept started with a comparatively rudimentary device.
The installation often involved a hard-wired device that would necessitate cutting holes through a customer’s cabinetry.
“It was a mess,” Guidish said.
Today, however, the device comes in a single package, embedded with motion sensors and batteries.
In addition, Guidish and Bluth have been developing a small, water-wheel-like contraption that produces its own hydroelectric energy, which should increase battery life.
Essentially, when you flush the toilet, the water wheel mobilizes and conducts electricity to recharge the battery.
The idea is to provide an even longer life so that replacements are needed less frequently.
It’s yet another example of a company evolving to build a sustainable business.
“It really is a rollercoaster of highs and lows,” Doug Guidish said.
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