Local woman invents toy to teach kids

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Paris Goodnight
Salisbury Post
When Judith Brunson isn’t waiting on tables at Porky’s in China Grove, she’s out promoting her Tub-trax learning activities for children.
Though Tub-trax marketing promises that “learning is fun in the tub,” the mats can just as easily be set up on a table or the floor for an educational play time.
Brunson has them for sale at five outlets now, including Just The Thing on Main Street, where children were able to give one a test run at the recent St. Paddy’s Night out.
She started formulating her plans about five years ago. Before she could start selling anything, she had to go through the hoops and barriers of patent and trademark issues, spending a lot of time with lawyers. “They love to money you to death,” she said.
She had even given up hope of ever getting her company off the ground at one point. But a regular customer at her restaurant noted her frustration and remarked, “The devil doesn’t want you to succeed.”
He gave her the confidence to persevere. And her boss at Porky’s, Mike Reid, has given her any time off she needs to pursue her dream.
She finally found the right person ó Michael Boskovic ó to make the products that feel like rubber but are a canvas-like material. Boskovic’s plant is in Illinois, not China, the source of many mass-produced items in the field.
Brunson started going to trade shows to get the first ones on the market in November. Now they’re on sale in places like Charlotte, Lexington and Mooresville.
Her first idea was focused on a town scene where she put her church in the middle of the mat and then surrounded it with other places like a hospital and grocery store.
She’d ask her young son, John, “Now what do we go to church for?”
And then she’d go on to the other buildings.
“It really helped him,” she said.
She tries to get educational outlets interested in selling Tub-trax at gatherings like a recent preschool convention at Charlotte’s Calvary Church that brought in vendors from across the Southeast.
Mandy Whitley, who attends Milford Hills Baptist with Brunson, got her 6-year-old’s photograph on the Tub-trax package.
“She called up and said, ‘Get Adam in the bathtub,’ ” Whitley said. “Judith took the pictures.”
Brunson said Tub-trax, which are 16-by-47 inches, clean easily and are made with non-toxic materials. If you wet the back of a Tub-trax, it sticks to the shower wall.
The mats are portable and roll up easily to take along on trips.
“The idea behind Tub-trax came after many hours sitting by the tub while our kids played in the water with other toys like dolls, cars and trucks while taking the evening bath,” according to her company’s Web site, www.tubtrax.com.
Tub-trax cover “a wide variety of learning skills, shapes, colors, alphabet, numbers and colors,” according to the Web site.
Brunson said she’s found Crayola washable crayons work best and clean up the easiest.
The varieties out already are Sally the Centipede, a farm, an ant farm and a town. One with a map of the United States that lists state capitals is coming next. Brunson has plans for another one like a designer’s club that will allow children to color and play with shoes, purses, dolls, etc.
When she first started talking to the manufacturer, she was getting prices for 500 at a time, not the 10,000 at a time that a larger producer might require. But even 500 proved too many, so she asked about making 100. Bosovic gave her the same price.
“He works with me so well. He was great,” Brunson said.
She said she’s moved about 300 over the past three months, including wholesale and retail sales. Tub-trax list for $19.95 each.
She’s hoping a relationship she’s developed with a home school network based in California provides her next big break.
“Making contacts, this is all new to me,” she said. “I’ve been a waitress all my life.”
But meeting people on that job has helped too, providing about 75 of her first sales. And she said a set of grandparents picked up a Tub-trax for an autistic grandchild, who has made it a constant companion. He takes it nearly everywhere he goes.
“He’s carrying it room to room, with a car in one hand and Tub-trax in the other,” Brunson said. “He carries it around like a blanket.”
For more information, e-mail judith@tubtrax.com or call 704-633-0934.
Contact Paris Goodnight at 704-797-4255 or pgoodnight@ salisburypost.com.