As technology advances, we have seen amazing new products and processes launched year after year that make our lives easier and more efficient. It is rare, however, to uncover an invention that is not only innovative based on sound science but actually ‘raises the bar’ in its category of goods to create a new standard for safety, quality and cost-effectiveness. The most unique product concepts stem from important unmet needs in a marketplace or industry.
Slippery surfaces in public places are the leading cause of injury in workman’s comp claims at 85% in the US, resulting in almost one-quarter of those injured missing up to 30+ work days according to the National Floor Safety Institute. Even more alarming, 15% of accidental deaths are due to slips and falls per the US Department of Labor statistics.
To address these trends, Bob Finkenaur founded RGF Materials Company and introduced Form-A-Tread products in 2015 to help eliminate slippery surface risks at all types of manufacturing, residential, commercial and public areas. The patent protected brand makes this promise to its clients: “We’ve spent years worrying about slips, trips and falls so you don’t have to!”
Bob’s journey to entrepreneurship was shaped by his life choices early on. Describing himself as ‘an army brat’ and following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather at West Point, Bob was also able to earn his MBA while in the Army. He decided to take a different path from the family history of moving around with the military, seeking more stability. Bob brought his engineering skills to the sealants industry, where he focused on product and business development for several years in the early 2000’s gaining expertise in the epoxy market. Bob knows how to improve products that industrial markets need, to test in-market performance and to work collaboratively with customers to get the technical solutions right.
The Path to Success
While Bob was solving problems in the sealants industry, safety in large public spaces was a growing issue in commercial settings…a big liability. Companies were adding senior Safety managers to leadership teams. Consumer and commercial practices during this timeframe were contributing to more accidents. Mobile phone usage was reaching the masses with users distracted while texting and walking. Big sports and event stadiums were filling up with tens of thousands of fans. Construction projects were increasing especially in large metro areas.
Bob knew that inexpensive slip resistant tape did not work. Non-skid tapes and paints have poor durability, require frequent removal and reapplication and peel as they wear becoming a trip hazard. Bob’s product concept is a form-in-place tread epoxy solution that would bond permanently to any common building surface, customized for each application with a significantly lower life cycle cost. It is easy to install, resistant to chemicals, temperature and ice melt. Color, pattern and tactile cues helped to identify or ‘feel’ the steps to reduce safety risks.
In 2015, Bob started his own company, RGF Materials and provided ‘test strip trials’ with early adopters to prove efficacy and value. He met prospects and customers from theme parks, universities, utilities, sports and entertainment venues at trade shows with the National Safety Council, American Society of Safety Professionals and other industry leaders.
Reaction from ‘early adopters’ was very positive. The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission liked Form-A-Tread because too many people miss the stairs! Dutch Wonderland in Lancaster, PA expects a five-year life with Bob’s solution compared to standard strip tape that has to be replaced every three months. “This product is better than advertised” was the feedback from the lead accounts.
Early on before the new product had a brand name, Bob met an international distributor of industrial products who told him: “If you make this product, I will buy it and sell it under my brand.” And he did. However, it became clear that the distributor sales reps were promoting this premium tread solution the same as the cheap, temporary tapes. They did not understand the superior quality and performance of Bob’s patented premium offering. Bob realized he needed help with a sales strategy to promote his own brand and properly position this valuable and distinctive product in the commercial market.
Bob took back control of his sales plan and started engaging with SCORE.
How SCORE Helped
Bob came to SCORE after having established his branding, patents and business. He started attending SCORE seminars at the Chester County Library in Exton, PA. He appreciated the professional training and the chance to network with other small business owners and startups. There were programs about finance, marketing, website development and search engine optimization (SEO) and more. Bob recommends the SCORE business resources for everyone!
Steve Crumrine and John Nelson, SCORE Mentors, met with Bob in 2017 to talk about how to grow topline sales and expand faster. Given the scope and size of the national clients, Bob said it felt like “Eating an elephant: one bite at a time!” The SCORE mentors provided strategic direction and marketing advice with semi-annual check-ins. Steve and John brought important expertise to the discussions. Bob remembers very clearly a discussion about value. John Nelson, marketing expert in new product development and product launches, shared that the one mistake most entrepreneurs make early on that causes them to fail: “They don’t price the product ‘right’ – at its proper value. They underprice.”
With that insight, Bob raised his pricing, immediately! He never looked back. He feels certain he would not have his business today without that discussion with SCORE and his decision to follow his mentors’ professional guidance.
Form-A-Tread is now the product solution to large and small companies at home in the US and abroad. It is reducing injuries everywhere with tens of thousands of steps protected in 30 states and three continents. There are three epoxy-based options in the product line: Form-A-Tread Original, GLOW (Glow in the Dark) and Self-Leveling (SL). The brand has a strong presence in NY accounts like Madison Square Garden, Yankee Stadium, and the Empire State Building. Disney World, Penn State University, Amtrak, Exelon and McDonalds are also loyal customers.
Bob continues to meet new clients at industry trade shows, advertises in professional trade journals and has a marketing communications program to follow up with all accounts and prospects. In late 2019, after a two-year trial at Madison Square Gardens in NYC, the patented Form-A-Tread GLOW was installed in all nine emergency staircases to the tune of 10,000 linear feet!
While the future is bright, the company lost a lot of momentum due to COVID closures of most large venues in 2020. That did not stop Bob and his engineering team. They used the time “to get ready for when the business comes back!”
The website landing page was transitioned to a professional, customer-focused website with the help of a digital marketing firm. A product trial was completed with PATH Trains of Northern New Jersey while ridership was down, and the results were definitively positive! This was encouraging. Form-A-Tread agreed to outfit the stairs of a local elementary school at no cost. Bob also used the space and time to create a new detailed product installation video and develop a second-generation and patent pending stencil for easier and faster Form-A-Tread installation.
In spite of the downturns, product performance continues to win in the long-term. Because home sales were up during the crisis, the Form-A-Tread SL product sales increased since moving companies prefer this application for recoating truck ramps. After a very impressive two-year test at Yankee Stadium Gate 2 pre-COVID where a million people trekked up and down the stairs that still look like new, the 2020 expansion was paused. Now, the account is planning to install Form-A-Tread in 2021 around nine more staircases at or near the stadium entrances.
Paying it Forward
Bob tells us it’s important to recognize and take advantage of luck! He’s a fan of the book, The Luck Factor, and feels it is true that sometimes “the stars align.”
While traveling to meet distributors in December 2020, Bob took a chance while in the Salt Lake City airport to call on one of his leads there, someone he had done a lot of work for recently to prove the value of Form-A-Tread. It was just on a ‘whim’ since Bob was actually heading to another appointment. As it turns out, the Facilities Manager came to the baggage claim area to meet Bob and hear his pitch. The Salt Lake City airport was added as a new customer that day, a lucky day for Form-A-Tread.
A few good tips from Bob for entrepreneurs, business owners and leaders…
“Continuous learning is really important.
I didn’t know everything about company structures, what business insurance was needed to cover my risks, or how much money I wanted to invest in my own company.”
- “Stay current with good books and seminars
The SCORE business seminars were invaluable to me.”
- “As an owner, you won’t be best at everything!
Find experts who can help you. Listen and learn from them.
Understand that you don’t have all the answers.
Don’t be afraid to delegate.
There are many ways to reach an objective…different is not wrong.”