Start-ups find niche in hygiene market
BY JODI MAILANDER FARRELL
SPECIAL TO THE MIAMI HERALD
Nobody knows more about germs and body fluids than moms and dads. Vomit, spit, boogers, droopy diapers filled with, well, you get the unhygienic picture.
So it makes sense that two parents and an aunt are behind the latest South Florida start-up companies to offer products and services aimed at consumers who want to stay healthy and germ-free.
In an age where school supply lists now include hand sanitizers and disinfecting wipes, these local entrepreneurs are counting on a swelling health and hygiene market to find their niche.
The Internet and its growing world of mommy bloggers have been a boon for Kaisa Levine, the North American distributor of a Swedish nasal aspirator for babies and toddlers called NoseFrida. Levine, a Miami Beach mother of two, started her home-based company three years ago. Her product -- billed as a ``snot sucker'' alternative to the blue bulb syringe -- is now sold in 350 small pharmacies, health food stores and baby stores around the United States and Canada, as well as select Whole Foods stores and online through Target and Babies R Us.
Levine, a former paramedic from New York, has relied primarily on what she calls ``word of mom'' to market NoseFrida.
Levine and partner Sarah Perill initially pitched their product to a handful of bloggers. Then the bloggers started contacting them, asking for samples. Talk of NoseFrida spread in chat rooms, blogs and parenting websites, such as Ask Miss Mommy, Once Upon a Baby, Peekaboo and Thingamababy.
``I have Google Alerts and I would see our orders go up every time someone mentioned NoseFrida,'' says Levine, who also uses Twitter and Facebook to promote the $15 tool.
Levine, who is Swedish, stumbled across NoseFrida when she and her husband Doug Levine, the founder and former chairman of Crunch Fitness, were in Sweden on vacation with their son Alex, then six weeks old. After the baby became congested and fussy, the sleep-deprived new parents bought NoseFrida in a pharmacy at the suggestion of friends and a local doctor.
NoseFrida, which means ``nose freedom'' in Swedish, consists of a five-inch nozzle, which sits on a child's nostril, rather than inside it like the syringe bulb. The nozzle connects to a 15-inch tube, with a mouthpiece at the end. Parents suck mucous out of the baby's nose (a throw-away filter stops secretions from entering the mouth). The tubing and nozzle can be reused after washing. Four filters come with each aspirator; extra filters are $3 for a bag of 20.
Levine purchases the aspirators from NoseFrida's Swedish manufacturer, Nasalprodukter Sverige. She and Perill store the shipments in a Miami warehouse and do all the packing and U.S. shipping.
Levine, 45, first circulated the aspirators among friends and doctors in South Florida. After she began selling on the Internet (www.nosefrida.com), she asked customers to share the product with their pediatricians, asking those doctors in turn to sell NoseFrida in their offices. She also asked customers for the names of pharmacies near them and marketed to those places.
The product got a huge break about two years ago, when Dr. William Sears, considered by some to be this generation's ``Dr. Spock,'' recommended NoseFrida in Parenting and Babytalk magazine columns.
Levine declined to talk sales numbers. She says she continues to use NoseFrida on her kids, Alex, now 8, and Elsa, 6. ``This is something I truly believe in and use myself.''
ventura resident Adrienne Moore got the idea for her portable seat covers after flying next to a child who couldn't stop scratching.
``I was so disgusted when I got off the plane, I told my sister that I wasn't going to eat or go anywhere until I showered,'' she says. ``My sister said, `You design everything else. Why can't you design something for that?' ''
Moore, 50, left a career in the design-build construction industry to launch an eco-friendly seat cover business, Kehei Corp., named for the Hawaiian word for ``cover.'' The company sells Kehei Traveler Seat Covers for adults and a version for children called the ``Cootie Buster.'' The soft, cotton and poly-cotton seat covers ($11.95-$25.95) are infused with tea tree oil, an essential oil. The covers come in travel sets that include armrest and seat tray covers.
Moore says she's sold about 8,000 of the seat covers since she began marketing them about seven months ago, primarily at trade shows in Orlando and Las Vegas. They're also available on her website, www.kehei
traveler.com , and at a handful of South Florida spas, such as Elite Nail Spa in Delray Beach, the city where Moore has an office.
Big corporations and families are her primary customers. She recently personalized seat covers for Tupperware Brands Corp.
``Most of my website hits are moms who want to see their kids protected,'' says Moore, who is single and has eight nieces and nephews.
In February, Moore and her seat covers were featured on the Home Shopping Network. She didn't have to pay for the exposure, but enduring the network's legal requirements and product checks was a grueling process, she says.
She employs a staff of four, which includes an inventory clerk and two salesmen in South Florida, and a public relations representative in Chicago.
Moore says she spent two years coming up with the design, applying for a patent, creating the website and manufacturing the seat covers, which are made in China and shipped to her company's warehouse in Fort Lauderdale. Her website also sells tea tree oil spray ($7.95 for a two-ounce bottle). A self-confessed ``natural freak,'' Moore says she came up with the tea tree oil-infused fabric with the help of Boca Raton anesthesiologist Vladimir Livshutz.
Several studies, including a 2009 Australian study in the Journal of Microbiology, have found the essential oil has the ability to kill certain bacterial strains.
Moore says sales have been good enough that she recently ordered 10,000 more seat covers.
``We've done better than expected, which is good in times like these,'' she says.
Rafael Esquivel's preoccupation with deep cleaning started in 2003, after his wife Sandra gave birth prematurely to twin girls. The Pembroke Pines couple lost one daughter to an infection. The other baby, who weighed just over a pound, was kept in an incubator. Anytime Esquivel wanted to be near her, he had to wash his hands with antibacterial soap and don a sterilized apron and face mask.
The baby, Katarina, is now a healthy 7-year-old with a baby brother, Erick, 4. But the experience left a deep impression on their father.
``Ever since then, I've become extremely passionate about preventing or trying to combat germs,'' says Esquivel, the chief executive of BioGuardian, a 5-year-old company with a service that hyper-cleans cars, homes, offices, theaters, shopping centers and more.
Esquivel, an industrial engineer, created a patent-pending disinfecting process he says kills a broad spectrum of bacteria, viruses and germs. His company uses air-pressure cleaning tools and micro-fiber towels to scrub-clean surfaces, followed by a hospital-grade disinfectant and an EPA-registered protectant designed to keep off odor-causing germs and bacteria for at least 90 days. Workers inspect the site with ultraviolet light equipment to make sure it's germ-free.
``Nobody can say that area won't be absolutely beyond clean,'' Esquivel, 39, says. ``Most cleaners out there never apply the surface agitation required to remove the biofilm . . . just spraying a disinfectant doesn't mean an area is disinfected.''
Esquivel's system is used on cars sold by Warren Henry Automotive Group in Miami and Maroone Nissan of Pembroke Pines. With a crew that ranges from 14 to 16 cleaners, Esquivel staffs most of his employees at the dealerships.
Esquivel has contracts to clean Mana, a food market in Bay Harbor, and the Mall of the Americas in Miami. His company also cleans private homes, where lab coat-wearing techs target bathrooms and kitchens, and private cars, with pricing starting at $100.
After a site or car is cleaned, techs affix a BioGuard sticker. Esquivel also relies heavily on his website, www.bioguardusa.com, for marketing.
``We're re-engineering the way to clean,'' he says.
HENRY AUTOMOBILES, INC.
HENRY AUTOMOBILES, INC.