Manufacturer of waterproof, slip-resistant surfaces also expanding to west coast
Minneapolis-based manufacturing startup Life Floor is expanding to the West Coast and opening a new manufacturing facility in South Dakota this April.
The story began in 2003 when a revolutionary foam material was developed by a Vietnamese flip-flop maker. “They stumbled upon a formula that caused their sales to tank because the flip-flops started lasting for five years,” explains Jonathan Keller, CEO and co-founder of Life Floor. The material, while not great for a footwear company that depends on its product wearing out, was valuable for the flooring industry. It was durable, anti-microbial, waterproof, and could be molded to look like wood, stone, or brick.
Pete Nasvik, the founder of Themescapes -- the company that built fake rock formations for the Rain Forest Café and REI -- saw the material’s potential for water parks. Over several years, he worked with the Vietnamese manufacturer to tweak the foam and had it installed in 13 water parks.
While still a consultant at McKinsey & Company, Keller was connected to Nasvik through a mentor and became excited about the product. “They hadn’t done much to market it or sell it,” Keller says. In early 2011, he, along with friends Spencer Howell and Sean Rubin, began to brainstorm on how to monetize the product. After several months of planning, negotiating, and capital-raising, Keller, Howell, Rubin, and Jason Bahrke founded Life Floor. They bought the intellectual property in stages, completing the purchase in 2013.
Now the company produces foam and rubber floor coating for facilities and homes where people walk barefoot on wet floor. Commercial uses include pool decks, water parks, gyms, locker rooms, and senior residences. Life Floor’s slip-resistant surface means that traction increases when the floor is wet. Available in two thicknesses, the product can also be custom designed in six textures and 11 colors. Manufactured in 24- by-24 tiles, it can be installed over concrete, fiberglass, metal, new wood, or plastic sub-bases. Among the company's local customers Oxford Community Center, LHR Hospitality Management, and Arrowwood Lodge at Brainerd Lakes.
Life Floor has raised more than $3 million, won the Minnesota Cup General Division in 2012, and installed its product for 10 of the biggest water park companies. “People really like our product, so we’re looking to expand and open a West Coast office to start addressing the residential market,” Keller says.
Life Floor is also moving its manufacturing to South Dakota. “We’ve reached the technological restraints of Vietnam,” Keller says. “They don’t necessarily know U.S. best practices for quality control.” In addition to reducing the defect rate, moving the manufacturing base will also help shorten lead times. “Foam is almost extinct in the U.S. There are only about four foaming manufacturers left. Most foams are high-volume, low-cost, low-quality-control, so it makes sense to do it out of Asia. Ours is a premium product.” With the opening of the new Life Floor manufacturing location, Keller believes the company is “bringing back a type of manufacturing that’s been forgotten about in the U.S. and potentially giving rise for more innovation in the market.”