Could you tell us about yourself and your background?
In 2008 I moved into our new home with an extra-wide staircasen and needed a way to keep my dogs and baby off our extra-wide staircase. The gates we’d been using would not attach to the banisters and they were not the first thing I wanted to see when I walked through the door. I looked for an option that could be installed on our banisters and the options were neither attractive, nor 100 percent safe given the jerry-rigging required to attach the gate between the banisters. As is the case with many products on the market today, necessity was the mother of invention. I designed a solution that could be safely secured to our banisters, that my dogs and toddler son could not lift up and crawl under, and looked good in our entry way. After years of friends and family telling me I should start a business selling the fabric stair gates I’d invented, I took the leap of faith and left my executive recruiting practice to launch Better Options Company and our first brand, The Stair Barrier, in 2015.
A few years later I was introduced to Christopher Carroll, the owner of Paradigm International and the exclusive distributor of Keenz Wagon Strollers. A mutual colleague suggested he reach out to me when he was developing a liner for Keenz. We quickly recognized the power of a partnership that combined my manufacturing and direct-to-consumer sales experience with Chris’ decades of experience distributing products across the globe. Together we created The Better Options Company in late 2019, which now owns and distributes Keenz Stroller Wagons, The Stair Barrier, and Lazy Dog Loungers.
What was your inspiration behind each of your 3 businesses?
The Stair Barrier was inspired by my children and dogs. I wanted to keep them safe, but I also didn’t want to detract from the beautiful home I’d just had custom built. When I decided to take my invention to market, I knew that I wanted it to be made in America. I grew up in Michigan in a proud “Ford Family” and wanted to create my own American-Made company. I understood that working with American manufacturers meant creating jobs in the US and being able to ensure that my company delivered high-quality products. One of the biggest disconnects in the manufacturing and textile industries is between the business and the actual workers creating the product. I believed that if I knew the workers and was able to share my passion and vision, I could ensure that my product was made with care and commitment to quality.
My commitment also meant that I learned a lot about manufacturing and sourcing and met many people along the way. I got involved as a Board member of Next Gen manufacturing and through this met the inventors of Lazy Dog Loungers. These semi-submersible, puncture-proof water rafts were invented by neighbors on Lake Lanier for their own dogs. They were producing them in their basement in their spare time. They needed assistance with sourcing, manufacturing, scaling, and selling. We connected over our love of our dogs and our commitment to American manufacturing and a partnership was born.
The Lazy Dog Loungers are such a unique idea. What was the backstory to creating these?
Lazy Dog Loungers® were inspired by a dog named Sebastian and his love of the water and swimming. He would stay in the water for hours as his family hung out on the lake. After ripping up countless floats and realizing their friends were having the same problems, his parents and their friends decided to work together to design a float specifically for dogs. The raft they made was easy to get on and off of, puncture-resistant, and semi-submersible so Sebastian could swim when he wanted and climb up on his raft and stay cool when he needed to rest.
Do you find the feedback on the Dog Loungers from your customers about how accessible and simple it is to get on the lounger?
All of our customers love being able to sit and soak up the sun knowing that their dogs easily get on and off their rafts. The rafts come in two sizes: a small raft for dogs up to 25 lbs. and a large raft for dogs up to 110 lbs.
How is the Keenz stroller beneficial for parents? Is it easy to assemble? storage space?
The Keenz line of stroller wagons brings the very best features of a stroller and the utility of a wagon together for active families. Four out of our five wagons feature built-in shades that provide sun protection and privacy for diaper changes. They also help to reduce noise and activity when kids are overstimulated, helping with transitions between park play and at-home quiet time. We have two 4-passenger models that are ideal for families with multiple kids and going out with friends: the Keenz XC+ and the Keenz 7S+. The Keenz wagons are easy to assemble: pop on the wheels and put up the easy-to-install canopy and you’re ready to go. All of the models come with ample storage space that ranges from built-in coolers to mesh storage for shoes to special pockets for kids to store toys or snacks.
What makes the Stair Barrier different from other baby gates out there?
Our baby and pet gates are designed specifically for banisters. The unique strap and buckle attach system allows them to install on in angle and attach to banisters of all shapes and sizes. Rigorously safety-tested to Federal Safety Standards, Stair Barriers strike the perfect balance between stylish elegance and functional safety. We now offer three configurations, Banister to Banister, Wall to Banister, and Wall to Wall, an option that can be used on staircases as well as to secure hallways and doorways. Our Banister to Banister install in minutes without tools and are perfect for travel. Grandparents also love them because they are easy to store when the grandkids go home.
Our gates are proudly made in Cornelia, Georgia with materials from American companies. We offer 20+ fabrics including sustainable fabric options from REPREVE™ and Crypton®. REPREVE™’s process has recycled over 25 billion water bottles, conserves water and energy, and emits fewer greenhouse gases than virgin fiber. Our five eco-friendly Crypton® Home Fabrics are engineered for durability. These sustainable fabrics resist stains, repel water, prevent odors, and inhibit the growth of bacteria without sacrificing aesthetics or breathability.
We love the relationship you have amongst your three businesses of children and dogs. Is there a story that started the idea of combining the two? JANELL INPUT HERE
The link between the three brands is a happy coincidence. When I launched The Stair Barrier, I always intended it to be used to keep children and dogs off the stairs. I needed it for both my toddler and my dogs and many of our Stair Barrier customers are dog parents who need to keep their pets contained to one level. When I met the inventors of Lazy Dog Loungers at a NextGen Manufacturing conference, we started chatting because they needed help with manufacturing, but we bonded over our dogs. At the time, I had a 110-pound Ridgeback, a gentle giant, named Thor.
When I met Chris Carroll, the distributor of Keenz, I knew that parents loved the convenience of the stroller wagons but did not know how many dog parents loved them too. It makes perfect sense though! Many dogs have hip or joint issues that makes it difficult for them to walk long distances and bigger dogs need space and something that’s designed to transport more than 50 pounds.
What do you recommend to families on the size of stroller that would fit best?
This is largely due to personal preference and the family’s needs. We just launched our four person 7S+ and XC+ models and many families with two children are opting for them so they have the extra space for gear and their kids to grow. Tall parents love the height of the XC and XC+ and families who love the beach are opting for the 7S and 7S+. It often comes down to where you live, how big your children are, and the size of your trunk. When space is an issue, the sleek 2 Passenger Keenz Class is a great option. It’s compact, but also super comfortable for kids, which makes it great for urban settings. We’re really excited that Keenz now offers five stroller wagon models to help make it easy for families to find the wagon that will best meet their lifestyle.