A dangerous skiing accident at Lake Tahoe propelled Steve Llorens on a new career path — from lawyer to entrepreneur.
After he lost a ski and went tumbling down the mountain, Llorens frantically fought to slow down by digging his heels into the snow, his plunge finally halted by a boulder. The accident left him with an aching foot that his podiatrist taped up to relieve the pressure on his arch.
Llorens quickly got tired of taping and retaping his foot, so he invented — then patented — an arch supporter that mimics taping. It slips on the foot and can be worn with shoes, flip-flops or even barefoot.
From its genesis in a skiing accident six years ago, Englewood Cliffs-based Strutz is today a multimillion-dollar business, due in large part to a licensing deal with Fairfield-based Ontel Products, the “As Seen on TV” company that markets consumer products via infomercials and distributes them through major retail chains.
Strutz does not make medical devices, and thus is not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. Its products are sold at stores such as Walmart and Walgreens, and podiatrists and other medical professionals prescribe them to patients.
Llorens and Strutz co-founder Paul Mazzanobile said their success depended on learning how to negotiate the risks and obstacles that often prevent a new product from making it to America's retail stores shelves.
It was also created from frustration with repeatedly taping his own foot.
“I went to the drugstore looking for a product that would replicate the feeling of taping, and I could not believe there was nothing to be found,” Llorens said.
The company took at booth at a podiatry conference and trade show in New York in January 2009, where “podiatrists told us, 'Why didn't I think of this? Now we don't have to worry about taping and strapping,' ” Llorens said.
The experience tapped an inner entrepreneur, he said.
“What I had enjoyed about the law was building my practice from scratch,” Llorens said. “That was a lot of fun for me, and I came to realize that I enjoyed building businesses.”
Llorens and Mazzanobile sought mass distribution in early 2010, when they went to a National Association of Chain Drug Stores event that introduces new product developers with retail buyers. Strutz was a hit with a major retail chain buyer who was wearing high heels.
“She put on a pair and had an 'aha' moment,” Llorens said. “Her foot pain was gone. She said, 'I want this in all my stores.'”
Llorens and Mazzanobile had two meetings at the chain's headquarters — but ultimately couldn't make a deal, as they couldn't provide the kind of capital the chain demanded to support marketing and advertising.
“We took a shot at trying to raise the money, but with the economy in the shape it was, it was impossible to raise that kind of money for a product that was not in the stores,” Llorens said.
Instead, Strutz reached a deal with Ontel, which licenses the patent from Strutz and pays royalties to the company. And Strutz had already created the infomercial that Ontel needed to market the product on television.
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