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Business Observer Friday, Dec. 28, 2018 6 months ago

Stabilizing a start-up business

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While Stephanie Gomez raises capital to grow her startup, she continues to innovate on the product side. Also in the offing: a deal with retail behemoth.
by: Andrew Warfield Lee-Collier Editor

Now that her business is on solid footing, Stephanie Gomez’ next step is to gain more traction for Stabilized Steps, a Naples-based startup specializing in devices that provide greater stability for users of standard walkers.

The Stabilized Steps attachments, designed by partner and co-founder Eryk Hardwick, can be installed on any walker to allow users to traverse uneven terrain, slide more easily across indoor and outdoor surfaces and, as they continue to innovate, allow safe and convenient use in bathrooms and other slippery floors. 

Hardwick, a general contractor, developed the device in his shop for a relative who couldn’t go to the beach because of the instability of his walker. He partnered with Gomez, previously a commercial banker, to further develop and market the product.

Retailing at $149.99 per set, the ski-like stabilizer bar attachments can be installed on any standard walker. Still in startup phase, the company earlier this year secured a $25,000 investment from Adrenaline Venture Fund, administered by Tamiami Angel Funds Chairman Tim Cartwright. Subsequent discussions resulted in a $100,000 commitment providing benchmarks are met, in addition to assistance from fund members in executing a $500,000 capital campaign. 

If successful, Gomez can value the company and seek private investment in the form of a convertible note paying 10% interest and a 25% discount when converted into stock. Her goal? Raise $1.5 million.

That could come in handy because Gomez recently caught the attention of a major national retailer — Walmart —with an opportunity to sell Stabilized Steps on its website. Gomez spoke with a representative of the retail giant this fall at a trade show, and she heard back a few weeks later.

“We were reached out to by Walmart, and they are asking us to be on their website,” says Gomez. Before she can agree, Gomez says she needs to be certain her supply chain can accommodate what could be a significant increase in production, and whether a major retail website is the correct marketing approach for the product.

“It would probably be on a drop-shipment basis where they take the order and we do the shipping,” says Gomez. “We're such a new product that we are trying to figure out if Walmart is the right avenue for us.”

She is comfortable her manufacturer, Naples-based Global Link Manufacturing, can handle increased volume. It’s more a matter of logistics and cash flow.

“Capacity is not a problem, but speed is,” says Gomez. "Im working on getting the numbers now so I don't fall into a lack of product.”

In the meantime, she’s lining up retailers across the country — she’s up to 31 dealers and 53 locations locally and nationwide, and the product is also available at stabilizedsteps.com — and innovating with new rubber pads that provide safety on slippery surfaces, and spring-loaded wheel attachments that retract when not in use. “Having that wheel is going to be a game-changer for us,” Gomez says.

While she seeks a supplier for the wheel, the company is now producing the rubber pads.

“Not only is it safer on wet surfaces like the kitchen and bathroom, it’s also safer to take the walker into the shower,” says Gomez. “The hospitals we work with showed us how they can use them around the toilet because it’s much more sturdy, and you don’t have to have grab bars to be able to stand up from the toilet.”

She’s also hoping to be a vendor for Veterans Affairs. “I want to work with the VA because you have people with mobility issues, especially amputees,” she says. “This will keep them active and mobile.”

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