Radio Cade

Making Ladders Safer

September 30, 2020 Paul Stentiford Season 1 Episode 97
Radio Cade
Making Ladders Safer
Chapters
Radio Cade
Making Ladders Safer
Sep 30, 2020 Season 1 Episode 97
Paul Stentiford

Each year in the U.S., over 164,000 emergency room visits and 300 deaths are caused by falls from a ladder. Inspired by his father, Paul Stentiford has invented a simple device that makes climbing ladders safer. A general contractor, Paul and his son developed six prototypes over two years and are now moving their product to market. Paul remembers helping his father on carpentry jobs when he was four years old, and remembers him always figuring out how to make using tools less dangerous.  

Show Notes Transcript

Each year in the U.S., over 164,000 emergency room visits and 300 deaths are caused by falls from a ladder. Inspired by his father, Paul Stentiford has invented a simple device that makes climbing ladders safer. A general contractor, Paul and his son developed six prototypes over two years and are now moving their product to market. Paul remembers helping his father on carpentry jobs when he was four years old, and remembers him always figuring out how to make using tools less dangerous.  

Intro:

Inventors and their inventions. Welcome to Radio Cade the podcast from the Cade Museum for Creativity and Invention in Gainesville, Florida. The museum is named after James Robert Cade, who invented Gatorade in 1965. My name is Richard Miles. We'll introduce you to inventors and the things that motivate them, we'll learn about their personal stories, how their inventions work and how their ideas get from the laboratory to the marketplace.

Richard Miles:

Making ladders safer and reducing accidents at home and on the job. Welcome to your Cade . I'm your host, Richard Miles . And today I'll be talking to Paul Stentiford President and CEO of Stantiford Safety Services and a finalist for the 2020 Cade Prize. Welcome to Radio Cade, Paul .

Paul Stentiford:

Thank you. Happy to be here.

Richard Miles:

Let's start right away and talk about your invention because to me, I think it's fascinating that it's both extremely useful, but very simple by design and simple to use from what I've seen, most people are familiar with ladders. So I'd like listeners to understand from the get go, what is the problem that you're trying to solve and exactly how your invention works? Why don't you describe a standard extension ladder, which I think most people have seen, or they've used a lot of homeowners, handyman have standard extension ladders. So what is the problem with those ladders? And then tell us how your invention fixes that.

Paul Stentiford:

Sure. It's only for extension ladders. Anyone that's familiar with one, there are two sections that slide together. If you want to traverse up to a roof area, you are going to set the ladder, the appropriate distance from the wall and start with a rope, pulling the second section, the top section up. So as it slides up to the desired height where your leaning it against the house, and then you start climbing it when you climb it, where that second section is, is the traverse area. That's difficult because you have an overlapping section that you have to step out over that step. More importantly, when you're coming down, because it's in about two and a half inches to the next step. That's where the problem area is. This device is basically all aluminum welded, three steps that gradually take you to the fourth step down below that offset by half inch increments. In other words, you could hook this on the ladder right below the offset. It's two vertical side rails at rest on the side rails of each ladder on right and left. And then the steps overhang onto the rungs of the ladder below the offset. So that if you took a straight edge, if you can picture this, took a straight edge from where that next rung is on the offset and sticks out and go four rungs down. This device would plane out with the nose of each of those steps. So your foot cannot miss it.

Richard Miles:

When you entered the Cade Prize and foresaw the application, I have a tendency to read too quickly. And so my first impression was it A, this was like a different type of ladder. And then B, that your device was something relatively that you had to retrofit a ladder with and on both counts for number one, you're not having to go out and buy a new ladder. And then number two, once I saw a video of your device, it looks extremely simple to put on. You don't need any tools or any expertise. You can just basically hang it where it needs to go. Is that more or less accurate?

Paul Stentiford:

Sure. Correct. It's a safety device for an extension ladder, basically eliminating that dangerous offset. It's all welded aluminum, very durable. It just hooks on, as you said, gravity holds it in place, the rungs hook on behind the existing rungs of the ladder. So it's not going to fall off. And it's just amazing how simple it is and how easy it works to keep you safe on a ladder.

Richard Miles:

So one of the things that we hear a lot from inventors, particularly ones who come up with these relatively simple solutions, a lot of people say like, wow, I wish I had thought of that. Cause they see right away the value of it, that it's a relatively simple solution and they're kind of mad at themselves. They didn't think of it at first , but of course every idea starts with an insight. So how did you first come up with this idea or who did, and then how did you develop that idea into what it became? Because obviously the final product is probably different than your original concepts in some way. So tell us about what was the original inspiration for this and then how did you figure it out as you developed it.

Paul Stentiford:

Sure I have to tell you the idea, the light bulb that went off to the person said is my father. He's the catalyst of this idea. And he's 93 now, he's his health is a lot different, unfortunately to what it was before. But back then he was 87. He's very active man up until a couple of years ago, still is by himself. Does everything himself drives and everything works on projects constantly. And he's always got the creative mind, he's from England. So I relate him to the Dyson vacuum guy, cause he's always got, I got an ideas . So he was going up an extension ladder up and down it when he was 87 and coming down, he almost missed the off set and he didn't fall. But he said, I never realized how dangerous that off set is. So he said, I have an idea and he described it to me. And then I started listening to his idea and bringing him materials to create these prototypes. We went through six prototypes to end up with what we have today took two years. And then I thought I'm been a general contractor since 1985. And I see the value, this one idea that my dad had. He's always had good ideas, but this one is hitting on all eight cylinders. And I took it further where I went to a patent attorney in Gainesville and we got two patents on it . It's a whole nother story. Then time and money, what it takes to do that. But it's all good. And the attorney that I worked with was wonderful and my dad had the football and it took it down the field because he didn't have the know how or where it was all to carry it the rest of the way. But he had a great idea, like I said, right.

Richard Miles:

That is a great story. I just wanted to take a little sidelight. You know, you talked about your father, all of a sudden realizing, wow, this is really dangerous. And I can't remember what the statistic is, but there are thousands of people every year that are seriously hurt or killed from ladder accidents. I know it's not all from missing the step, but the ladders are kind of dangerous aren't they?

Paul Stentiford:

As a general contractor. I'm very aware of continuing education every year since 1985, ladders are 80% of job site injuries. Okay . The average worker's comp claim for a ladder injuries is $40,000. Okay? So there's a percentage of those that we know is navigating that offset where the injury occurs. Fortunately, most falls from ladders are not death. That's a good thing. However, the falls are likely to be a lifelong injury. And so if someone dies, it's typically an insurance payout of X amount of dollars and it's over. And the other part of the person that lives through an injury, if it's a lifelong injury, there's compensation of lost time for work there's medical surgeries, et cetera, that a lot of times will surpass the amount of what the person that passed , had incurred from the insurance company. So it's unfortunate either way. We don't want to see anyone lose their life on a ladder fall. We don't want to see anyone injured or injured for life from a ladder fall. So this could be a remedy for a both again on the monetary side, saving money, not only for people but insurance companies and rates, as long as you keep those injuries from that occurrence, I feel it's so revolutionary, like an airbag in a car, right in an airbag saves lives. We know thousands and thousands of lives have been saved with airbags . I think this could save thousands and thousands of injuries and deaths on ladders on extension ladders,

Richard Miles:

Because it's so simple. You don't really have to train or teach anyone when how to use this. It's very intuitive. You just sort of look at it. Oh, okay. I know exactly what to do with this thing. One thing Paul, that you have done, that's different. And in some ways harder, a lot of inventors, but they'll do, they'll come up with the idea. They get their prototypes, they get their patent , which all of you done, but then they will license it to a much larger company or manufacturer, and then they get a proceeds from that. But you're at this point, manufacturing your product, which is a whole level of complexity, more difficult, right? Because you now have to worry about quality control, right. And making sure that every single one is built the same way and as reliable and so on. That's a level of sophistication it's difficult, but you already have a lot of experience, right? As the general contractor, how much manufacturing had you done before to take that step of getting involved on the manufacturing end?

Paul Stentiford:

Well, like I said, it was years of prototypes . This thing started as five steps long, and then we went to four steps, went to three steps for it to be effective and safe, where it's so effective, you could blindfold yourself and navigate up and down the ladder and not know where that offset is. That's how effective it is. So after we formed Stentiford Safety Services and the branding of the names, Sten Step along with our names , Stentiford, then obtaining the patents. The next was to see if there was any interest. I really didn't find any interest from a lot of manufacturers or anyone in that regards to the point that I thought we need to start producing this ourselves. We're the manufacturer. And then we threw a lot of time. Vetting folks found a manufacturer that could produce the exact model from the prototype that we, there was a lot of things that were important on it, no sharp edges or corners, all of them, them hand welded joints and everything powder coated with all of the instructions and patent information and website all powder-coated on it as well. So that it's somewhat indestructible and weatherproof because this thing is going to take a lot of abuse when it's thrown in the back of a truck or dropped down from a roof or in the weather elements all the time ladders are typically extension ladders , mostly outside. So they take all the effects of the sun and ultraviolet rays and rain, et cetera. So it's extremely durable and it'll last the lifetime.

Richard Miles:

You kind of knew what the problem was. And so on how steep of a learning curve was it for you on the manufacturing and product development side? Did you just have to learn on your own or did you have advice or get help from someone like to figure out that taking a product to market like even from getting the patent, did a lot of people give you advice or did you teach yourself what all the steps were?

Paul Stentiford:

From my knowledge, and then speaking with a lot of people, because I'm a general contractor, I can build anything from high end homes to large commercial buildings. The manufacturing process is a little different, but I did seek advice from folks that I knew that were in line with that. I had a business consultant that I hired that connected me with an agent that connected me with a manufacturer that's where it went. And these are folks that are professionals and provide that service. And that's where I took it. So I still funded it. I never realized how much money can go into something like that. But that's what it takes between the patents and the manufacturing process. And then it goes on because you have to provide product liability insurance. Once you put it on the market and social media advertising. So all of that is kind of like a diesel engine. You gotta , you start that engine and your diesel fuel for it is money for the project. So you gotta keep it fueled or that shuts down.

Richard Miles:

Paul, we like to talk a lot about inspiration on this show. Cause all inventors in some way are inspired, not just by the invention itself, but just the way that they do business maybe are usually inspired by ideas or other people. And you've mentioned that you had been very inspired by your father. Sounds like he has led really incredible life. You said he was an immigrant to this country from England. He worked as a carpenter in New York, correct?

Paul Stentiford:

A brief history on my dad. Yeah. He is my mentor and best friend. And I learned a lot from him. His family's from England. They came in through Ellis Island in the early 19 hundreds. So he was actually born in America with two of his brothers. He's got three sisters, two brothers. And he's one of, only two that are surviving so far because of their age. But when he was five, my grandfather, he was a licensed electrician in New York. He sent them all back to England because my grandmother had to have some treatments for breast cancer and he wanted it to be done in England. They all grew up there. They were there. My grandfather had gone back to England until he was 18. And he and his two brothers, they were American citizens. They joined the American Army, volunteered during world war two. And fortunately they all survived. The war ended. They all came back to America and the sisters and their parents, all of them came back here as American citizens. My grandfather, he instilled that in my father and his two brothers. He was a Master Sergeant during World War I. He volunteered for World War II . He volunteered and it was a Master Sergeant for the British Army. So he told my father and his two brothers, a country worth living in his country worth fighting for. And they just had that instilled in . So coming back to that, he learned hands-on Woodcraft in England and wood shops, actually Thomas Edison's general electric lab in England. He worked in there and in the blueprint wood workshop there, he came back to New York in 1948, joined the carpenter's union. He was in union foreman. For many years, actually in the 1964, world's fair in 1962, he worked on the Ford pavilion when the 1964 Mustang was rolled out. And during that time there was a group of men came by, led by one man. And he met that one, man that was Walt Disney. He's had an interesting life. He's always had a shop and always building things as well on his own for family and different things like that. So he's just very creative guy. And like I said, he's had years and years, and this was probably the best idea I've seen where I thought we need to carry this through.

Richard Miles:

What are some of your earliest memories of your dad? I presume you probably had a shop at home. Did you hang around the shop or did you get a chance to sometimes to go to work with him and start to see him in action? Or what's the first thing you recall growing up as a little kid?

Paul Stentiford:

Since I was a kid, when I say a kid four or five years old, I was always with him when he did little projects, I was always on them with him . And if he did anything like special, fine or woodwork, if I wasn't filling nail holes or doing these simple paths as a kid and then grew into hands on like him, but I took another route instead of the hands on, I got a degree in building construction and then general contractors license when I was 23 and then worked for companies in general contracting as a project manager and superintendent and vice president operations until I started my company 17 years ago.

Richard Miles:

Wow. Did he give you like a little tool set when you were little or something? Or did you show he's used real tools? It sounds like you are doing the real stuff from pretty early age.

Paul Stentiford:

Yeah. The kid's tool set was short lived until I was working with regular tools that he had. He had a lot of machines in his shop and he was always adamant about safety and always held his hands up and said, look, I have all my fingers because safety is so important. And just working on machines safely under his supervision as a kid, but he was always with me guiding me and making sure safety was so important. And like I said, he has no severe injuries from working on machines constantly and tools because he's always erred on the edge of safety.

Richard Miles:

Right. And this is also common. We heard this from a lot of inventors. You know, the idea for a specific invention might come in a flash, but they've actually been thinking about the topic for quite a long time. So it sounds like your dad was the sort that always thought, like how can I make whatever tool is easier or safer to use.

Paul Stentiford:

Funny you should say that I never realized, I know he came up with this idea for the ladder, but as you said it, I never realized how much growing up. He always stress safety on machines, not as simple ladder . Like you said, this device is kind of like, everyone looks at him like, why didn't I think of that? It's so simple. And it's such a problem child on an extension ladder and the higher you go, the more you want to be real guarded and careful with that offset that you don't miss it because you'll fall further down. But I never thought about that. How much he stressed safety when I was younger and he's always been in my mind from him.

Richard Miles:

Right. I think that's probably why your product's going to do well. Right? Because once you see it, you don't think about like, I wonder if this is used for what or how it use it. You just automatically get it. Oh of course. And that's when you start thinking like why on Earth wasn't as developed before? And one of my first reactions, when I first read about Sten Step was like, wow, I was amazed at other equipment manufacturers, or ladder manufacturers h ave not already done something similar. C ause it is really beautiful a nd i t's simplicity t he design and you don't have to think about it at all. We're a very creative country i n the United States. And your dad is certainly one example of that. And a lot of people still every day come up with an idea and they think of getting a patent and selling a product. This has been popularized in the last 15 years with Shark Tank and other shows like that. And then you've actually done that. You've done w ith a lot of people, really dream of doing a nd they have an idea and they finally get it on the shelves. You mentioned that it took y ou a long couple of years. So at this point having already been through, a nd I know you're not at the finish line yet, right? You're still trying to get this product to market, but what advice or pearls of wisdom would you have to someone listening right now? They might be a researcher at the university, lot of inventions o r come up with nurses in hospitals b ecause they figure out how to get machines to work better. And they just f igured out what would you tell them about, okay, you've got a solid idea. You want to commercialize it. You want to get i n stores. What sort of advice would you give that person?

Paul Stentiford:

First I'd give the two Ps that's patience and perseverance. It's a long process, no matter what a patent doesn't happen overnight, you have to do a search. It takes time to develop it and get it right and complete it. And then you constantly have to persevere during that process, as well as the next step. If you're going to find someone to take it from you and buy it, however it's segmented with royalties or whatever, or manufacture yourself or find a manufacturer that all takes perseverance. If you're in the knowledge of that process, that's all the better. But , um , like I said, general contractors , a little different to a manufacturer, but it's just navigating your way through those things and asking a lot of questions, seeking advice from people that are willing to share it and sharpen your edge. So you're better on the next round. And the other part I have to say, I'm blessed to have my dad to have this idea that he came up with to bring it to fruition, to bring it to the finished product that we have manufactured in hand, starting a big rollout to distribute and blessed to have the know how and the financial wherewithal to carry it as a contractor , we survive the great recession. We're still under the same name and never defaulted, always bonded and have zero litigation. So I'm proud of that and proud that we've been blessed to be able to financially carry this thing to the point of that .

Richard Miles:

Well, it's all very solid advice. Maybe have a future as a consultant at some point down the road, but I want to congratulate you again. One for making it to finals of the 2020 Cade Prize with Sten Step looks like a fantastic product and idea, and I hope it does well. And I think it will do well. Like I said, because it is so simple to understand and simple to use. I look forward to checking in on your progress and hope to see you in Gainesville at some point at the kid museum. Thanks very much for being on the podcast.

Paul Stentiford:

Thank you, happy to share.

Outro:

Radio Cade is produced by the Cade Museum for Creativity and Invention located in Gainesville, Florida. Richard Miles is the podcast host and Ellie Thom coordinates inventor interviews, podcasts are recorded at Heartwood Soundstage and edited and mixed by Bob McPeak. The Radio Cade theme song was produced and performed by Tracy Collins and features violinists , Jacob Lawson.