Mr. Tank Nanny identified a need

Craft & Design Energy & Sustainability
Mr. Tank Nanny identified a need

Photo from The Boston Globe

While working at a local shop, Earl Cogswell, jr. saw the need for people to have a clean, secure way to store their propane tanks during transit to and from the filling stations. As he filled up tanks for people, he could see that often women were jamming the tank in with their groceries, and other times they were loose in the backs of pickup trucks.

Cogswell asked his suppliers for something to secure the tanks, but couldn’t find anything. Thus was born the idea for the Tank Nanny, a skid-free plastic holder that provides a snug fit for the standard 20-pound propane tank. It costs $18.95 and has a built-in seat belt loop.

As a result of the problem he saw and the design process he went through with his family, he has developed a product called Tank Nanny.

Cogswell, 44, sketched the design on napkins and backs of envelopes. His wife, Donna, and daughter Jennifer, an engineer for Pratt & Whitney in Connecticut, helped with the details. Another daughter, Jessica, designed a website, posters, and brochures and created the Tank Nanny logo – a female figure in silhouette.

Maybe you think his idea is brilliant, or maybe you have been getting by with milk crates for decades, but you have to hand it to him for running with his idea. If you had an idea for a product that the world could use, would you know how to bring it to market? Where do you turn to for support on your design ideas? Let us know what you think in the comments.

38 thoughts on “Mr. Tank Nanny identified a need

  1. Anonymous says:

    Used tire works as well, if not better

  2. Thebes says:

    I’ve hauled my own propane for heat and cooking for about 5 years. 20lb tanks, 40lb tanks, 44 and (my favorite but discontinued) 50lb tank. Bungee cords work great, even on extremely bumpy mountain roads. Just fasten the tanks down securely and keep everything good and taunt.

    As a bonus you don’t have this big plastic thing to grab from your shed each time you get propane. And since its not special purpose it holds down lumber or pipe or whatever else you are getting from town.

    1. Garrett says:

      A lot of people don’t have cars with any way to strap something down with bungee cords.

      And if you’re like me and have just two tanks, you can use this to store the other tank upright and safe in the corner of your garage. It’s not going to tip over and roll around if you bump it.

      1. Thebes says:

        If you look in a lot of cars you can get creative. I often run bungees around the far side of the catch for a pair of folding seats. This gives me a bungee that needs to have both ends used, and will each hold a tank. I can use two of these with a third tank in the center with a third bungee hooked to them. Then I can drive down a road that would total most passenger cars half of the year. If you look and get creative most cars have something to run a hook or rope to.

        As for storage, I never store my propane inside. Is is VERY dangerous to store these in an enclosed area. Once I had a 50 lb’er (no overfill prevention valve) overfilled by a poorly trained employee- it vented in my car!!! Propane expands as a liquid when it gets warmer, and the cylinder is designed to vent if the pressure gets too high. Propane mixed with air is potentially explosive. Outside the only one thats ever tipped over on me was an empty 40lb’er which are tall and narrow- that was in 60+ mph wind gusts and only nicked up the paint.

        But hey, if people need another gizmo, I understand.

    2. sean says:

      yea bungee cord much easier

    3. AndyL says:

      I don’t even bother to carry bungee cords in my current car.
      There is nothing even remotely resembling a tie-down point. So all the rope and bungee cord I could carry wouldn’t do me much good.

      I suppose I could drill into the plastic and add my own, but I doubt that would be very strong, and with my luck I’d hit some very important electrical wiring.

  3. Hoo? says:

    We need more people to take initiative like he has. He got a good idea and ran with it. I think that we should be having more makers do the same. It’s not that hard. You do not even have to do all the work that Earl Cogswell did. You don’t have to do all the engineering, websites, and brochures. You can just get a patent on the idea and sell it to company. I know a number of entrepreneurs and this is the way they suggest inventors do it. Keep up the work makers.

  4. buckleup says:

    there is a fastening system in most cars called “seat belts”. originally designed for human restraint they work great for all kinds of other things that ride in seats. my personal favorite is vases of flowers and potted plants – works great. ive even used them for propane, and welding tanks.

    this is a neat idea, but you probably have something that can accomplish this goal already… no need to shop more.

    anyway… when was the last time you heard of one of these things exploding in a car? i never have.

    1. Freida says:

      This is a great idea. I know I’ve been worried transporting propane in my car ever since my friend had an accident with propane exploding in her car. Who’s heard if it? I have.

      Seems to me like with this thing, it won’t roll around catching on the car and scratching it. I’d buy one.

  5. Make It and Sell It says:

    Did everyone read the whole article, or just the short post on Make?

    Pros for this product: Supports the tank, attaches to a seatbelt, keeps your seats clean, quick to use versus having to run a bunch of straps or bungee cords.

    Cons for this product: $20 for a piece of plastic ( $10 would be more reasonable ), infrequent use of product, requires garage or shed storage space.

    If I had an idea for a product that I felt the world needed, I would probably turn to the Internet first to find out how I might have it manufactured. Depending on the item, I would try and contact potential end users, including friends and family, and ask their opinions on the design, including evaluation of prototypes. I do feel patents for small businesses are useless, your idea will get stolen anyway, and enforcing your patent takes a lot of cash, cash you need for actually making and marketing your product.

    I do think that this issue, finding a need and trying to fill it, is a topic that most definitely needs to be covered by Make magazine. It could easily be a topic that covers a whole issue, or perhaps a special issue. Not everyone has the desire, skill, or initiative to make an item, but would like to purchase one. If you have an idea for an item, shouldn’t you be making the money from the manufacture and sale of the item? If you tire of just another gadget being marketed to people, don’t make something that you think is just a gadget. It you don’t want to encourage consumption, make an item that helps people obtain better lives.

  6. Don. says:

    Here in the third world where I’m currently it, it’s common to see people transport water containers and propane tanks while riding a bike.

    You balance it on the frame, sort of box it in with your knees, hold the handlebar with one hand and the tank handle with the other. Now ride wobbly along side the road and don’t get hit by a car! :)

    What some people do is take a 4×1 and cut it like so >====< which then gets wedged between the seat post and the part of the frame that holds the handlebars. That way at least it's easier to balance and doesn't slip as much. I've been trying to think up a better and simple way to do that. Most bikes have a little rack over the rear tires, maybe I can strap it there using a rope and the seat or something. It might be too heavy though. Hmmm... or some kind of extension to the wooden frame idea that holds on better. Any ideas? :)

  7. SuperJdynamite says:

    I would try turning the tank on its side and using a pair (or two) of wheel chocks attached together.

  8. SirFatty says:

    i have been using an old plastic milk crate for years… works perfectly.

  9. Mongo says:

    I use a milk crate, It works great

  10. BigD145 says:

    I’ve always just put the thing on its side in an empty seat. It’s not like I’m driving for a week to get it home.

    If it’s really special, why is “Tank Nanny logo – a female figure in silhouette” needed?

  11. George IV says:

    As a fellow propane dispenser, I saw many different variations of this very product over the years. In fact, there’s at least 3 different brands of tank holders at our Wal-Mart today. With the exception of the seatbelt strap, this thing is nothing new and I’m amazed he’s got the guts to claim it as an invention.

  12. screaminscott says:

    While I applaud the man for seeing a problem and creating a solution, the article does mention that this idea is not new.

    From the Boston Globe article: “Only about 150 have been sold, and it turns out he wasn’t the only one to have the idea.”

  13. cyenobite2 says:

    I think MAKE has hit on a good subject here… more articles like this on the process of bringing something from a creative idea into reality, even if just a one up prototype to full on mass marketing, is a really good topic for this magazine (blog) to explore. Legal issues, whats the first step, what are pitfalls to be careful of, etc…
    More please :)

    1. Chris Connors says:

      We all have loads of great ideas. For me, when I take the tanks to get filled, I usually just chuck them into the back seat or wayback and drive the half mile or so to the appliance store. I have also never heard of a propane tank going off in a car, and the newer valves seem like overkill to me, I gather that they are basically designed for desert environments.

      It seems to me that the tank nanny is targeted at a female suburban client with relatively clean cars. The guys may have figured it out with milk crates and bungee cords, and may already have a spot in the back of the truck/station wagon and maybe we aren’t so clean conscious.

      That he saw a need and a possible client base and was able to move on it is great. Even though there are already solutions on the market, maybe his effort will pay off in some small or big way. He was able to get the assistance of his family members to stand behind his idea with design and funding support. We should all be so lucky to have people believe in our dreams so that we can give it a shot and not have to wonder if it could have worked. They did it instead of just dreaming it.

      Thanks for contributing to the conversation!

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