Flow Therapy founders want to grow a business for water floats

Jun. 14, 2013 @ 04:20 PM

When they lived on a lake together in Orange County, two partners behind a small start-up business selling animal-shaped children’s water floats called Zoo-Noodles would float together all the time, said Stephanie Cornette, a company founder.

Cornette, now a Durham resident who is also a real estate agent and mother of two, said she and another partner in the business, a teacher, were brainstorming ideas for different kinds of floats together.
Originally, they came up with an idea for a pillow-like float for adults called the “Aqua Cloud” that could connect with other floats. But that idea didn’t get off the ground. But one that did gain traction is for the animal-shaped floats they call Zoo-Noodles.
The product is an adaption of another float sold by the Mooresville-based consumer products company T2 International, Cornette said. It’s now sold in Durham’s The Play House Toy Store on Ninth Street as well as online.
The process of getting it from idea to prototype to a sales-ready stage took some work. Cornette said the pieces kept falling together.
“They were actually a rare case,” said Todd Truedson, product manager at Mooresville-based T2 International, which collaborated on the design of the Zoo-Noodles and now handles their manufacturing through a supply chain. “It’s a tough thing; there are a lot of inventors out there. It’s really easy to get pulled into that trap of helping everyone out. Not everybody is successful.”
The Mooresville company has an existing line of goods including pool products, furniture covers and other technology. Truedson said some of the company’s products are sold in stores such as Sam’s Club.
The founders of the company behind the Zoo-Noodles initially came to the company with the idea for the product about a year ago, Truedson said. T2 and the partners behind the Zoo-Noodles worked together on the design, he said, and then they presented T2 with hand-made prototypes.
Cornette said the third founder behind their company, called Flow Therapy, is also a teacher who lived on Lake Orange who got involved when they needed someone to help them sew their prototypes.
The Mooresville company shopped the idea to different buyers, but they didn’t find any in-store retailers to carry the product.
“We are at the mercy of buyers in the retail world,” Truedson said. “Other products that they had helped us design did not get selected.”
However, they did get interest from the catalogue company Frontgate, which buys a larger version of the Zoo-Noodles product from T2. Flow Therapy will be paid a commission on those sales to the company.
The products are made using T2’s manufacturing supply chain, Truedson said. The material sewing is done in China, he said, and the addition of a bead filling that allows the Zoo-Noodles to float is done in Missouri.
For any in-store retail products of the smaller Zoo-Noodle float that they want to sell, the Flow Therapy’s partners pay T2 to make the products, and then they work to sell them themselves.
Donna Frederick, owner of The Play House Toy Store on Ninth Street, said she decided to carry a few of the noodles to see what kind of reception they would have. She said she thinks Zoo-Noodles are cute, and consumers might hold on to the floats rather than discarding them like they may do with other floats.
“This the perfect time of year for them -- it’s pool time,” she said.”
Cornette said she believes the financial risk of the business is worth it. The up-front manufacturing cost for each of the founders is expected to be several thousand dollars, she said. That’s on top of other costs associated with marketing the product. She said they hope to turn a profit this year, grow the business, and make and sell more designs.
Explaining why she’s driven to pursue the business, the 42-year-old said she went through a divorce, and she said it’s a hard balance between parenting and work. She said she wanted something that she could do on her own, and she fed on the energy of launching the business.
“When this all started, with coming up with the designs and the energy of it…and all the pieces just kept falling together, I new this is what I wanted to do,” she said.