If you’ve been in Terry’s Drugs recently, you may have noticed a nifty new product on the shelves. Called Cane Stay, it’s a pliable plastic clamp that attaches to a cane and keeps it upright against a wall or on a counter. What you probably didn’t realize, however, is that the product was invented, designed and packaged five minutes away from Terry’s by a couple who live on Verona’s Park Avenue, Ina and Ronnie Denburg.
Ina got the idea for the product at her childhood home in Clifton, where her 89-year-old father Lou Weiss still lives. “He would position his chair near a corner so he could keep his cane upright,” says Ina. “Canes do tend to fall down, and then it’s lying on the floor and someone trips over it.” There was a cane clip on the market, the Denburgs discovered, but the tiny spring-loaded device was almost impossible to open, especially by elderly hands.
In the past year and a half, the couple has taken Ina’s germ of an idea through homemade clay models, computer-aided design, a long and frustrating search for the right material, to a New Jersey manufacturing plant where the Cane Stays are produced and finally, to store shelves and mail-order outlets. The first order for 100 Cane Stays, by firstStreet, a Web-based mail-order company for the Baby Boomer market, sold out in ten days; the company has since placed four more orders. The Denburgs have also had repeat orders from Harvy Surgical Supply, the country’s largest cane manufacturer, and have placed the product in the gift shop at the Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation in West Orange, and drug stores like Terry’s. “Its been really fun,” says Ina. “We’ve had strangers calling us asking if they could be our sales reps.”
Getting to this point hasn’t been easy for Ronnie, a teacher at Harp Academy, a public high school in Paterson, and Ina, a massage therapist and certified life coach. The closest thing to marketing a product is the nutrition book they co-wrote and self-published in 2001, The Diamond Diet.
At every stage of the process, however, the Denburgs kept getting “green lights,” says Ina. After creating a rough prototype at home using plaster of Paris, they asked one of Ina’s massage clients, Gina Pastino, who has been disabled from birth, to test it out. “She was so taken with it that she begged us not to take it back,” says Ina. “It looked like a piece of moldy cheese, but she thought it was wonderful.” It also got the attention of Pastino’s doctors at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, who, Ina says, thought it was “ingenious.”
The trickiest part was finding the right material. The Denburgs talked to a “huge quantity of people at every level in the plastics industry, from users to toy companies to oil companies,” says Ina, before settling on a rubber-like thermal plastic. Each stage of the creative process required more financial investment, in prototypes and business models, and at each stage the couple had to decide whether to forge ahead or cut their losses.
At this point, the Cane Stay business is still a cottage industry; the Cane Stays are manufactured by Tri-Tech Tool & Design in South Bound Brook, N.J., and packaged by Ina and Ronnie in their home. But as their company grows, the Denburgs hope to hire a fulfillment and shipping company, as well as expand into colored Cane Stays and models that will work with thinner walking sticks.
Meanwhile, they have a new-found appreciation for the process of designing, producing and marketing a product. “It’s ridiculous how much goes into making a widget,” says Ina. “And our product is such a simple nothing. Now I look at a vacuum cleaner and I can’t even imagine what would be involved.”