Wounded military veterans involved in The Heroes Project have discovered them, too. “Four of the seven tallest mountains in the world were summited by soldiers who had multiple disabilities and used SideStix to get to the top,” Doherty said. “It's amazing.” SideStix has a contract with the United States Veterans Administration that allows veterans to get the product free of charge.
Technology is woven tightly into both the product itself and the company’s operations. The business uses a 3D printer to help create inexpensive prototypes. “One way that 3D printing, or iterative manufacturing, has helped is you can print very, very realistic parts to see the fit and finish of different components,” Perreur-Lloyd said. “And then if something doesn't quite work or doesn't quite fit, you don't have to go and spend many thousands of dollars to get some mold re-machined and re-injected and so on.”
Computer numeric control (CNC) machines help manufacture parts with extreme precision, including the custom shock absorbers. “That's one way that technology has really enabled an amazing and precise device to be put into a pair of forearm crutches,” Perreur-Lloyd said.
Each pair of SideStix is a custom product. Customers can order through the website by providing dimensions such as forearm length and circumference, hand size, height, weight, and mobility challenge. “We take that information, and partly using our website but also some programming methods, created an algorithm to print out what we call a build sheet,” Perreur-Lloyd said. “And then that build sheet is used to create a specific pair of SideStix customized for that client.”
Mobility through technology
As customers lean on SideStix to remain mobile, SideStix leans on technology to remain mobile. Doherty and Perreur-Lloyd, who married in 2014, live in Sechelt on the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia. It’s a relatively remote area accessible from Vancouver, B.C., only after a 40-minute ferry ride and a 25-minute drive. “Both of us like the outdoors, and we like unadulterated kind of natural settings, and we've got it here,” Doherty said. Yet, they still conduct business around the world, and their product is on all seven continents. “Our first sale was in Malaysia,” Doherty said.
Doherty and Perreur-Lloyd travel to the United States frequently on business, since that’s where most of their customers are. While in the U.S., they use AT&T PREPAIDSM prepaid phone and plan. “We’re only charged when we’re actually in the U.S., which is good for us. We don’t want to pay a monthly subscription when we’re not there.”
Tech tools that help them run a global business include fiber optic high speed Internet. Doherty blogs on the company website about her life as a disabled person and always includes an interview with an ambassador of the month. “We’ve been doing it a long time, so we have a very rich database of people. It’s a real community.”
Perreur-Lloyd’s son, Kelly Perreur-Lloyd, shoots tutorials and videos for the website (and also created the video that accompanies this article). The business owners also use technology to talk to far-flung customers. “We use video conferencing quite a lot,” Perreur-Lloyd said. “That's a great tool for explaining different things to people and also maybe if they have an issue, if something's not quite working the way they want it to. You can trade a lot of emails back and forth to arrive at a conclusion that would only take a few minutes if you’re actually observing what they're doing.”
Technology helps small companies present a bigger face to the world, Perreur-Lloyd said. For example, their website has a new chat feature. “If somebody has a question and they’re on the website, they can click on it, then the question comes through to my mobile phone and I can just answer the question. The questions are often quite simple. But if people didn't have that immediate answer, their interest might drift. Or they may not be satisfied with their experience. I can be walking our dog and I can be answering a question that somebody's just posted on the website.”
A paradigm shift
Doherty and Perreur-Lloyd have climbed mountains—literally and figuratively—in launching their company. What summits lie on the far horizon? Doherty reflects.
“Ten years from now, I see a whole line of enhanced walking devices that can meet the needs of individuals, no matter what level they're at in their need for assistance for walking. I hope that we just change the whole outlook in the way other competitors put out assistive walking devices, so that there's more quality, and there's more focus on design that will enhance people's abilities instead of destroying their joints.”
Perreur-Lloyd is also hoping for a paradigm shift in assistive walking devices.
“The whole ‘cheap, disposable’ concept, I hope, is itself heading to the landfill,” he said. “The planet only has so many resources, and stuff that is designed to be used for a short period of time and then thrown into the landfill, it's so shortsighted. SideStix is completely modular. If something wears out, you replace that piece of it and then you carry on going. It's not something that you have to throw away and purchase all over again. I hope there's a shift in manufacturing as a whole—going back to making stuff repairable and more sustainable. That's my dream.”
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