In our brand spotlight, we feature Abound brands who are ready for retail. This week we sat down with Chelsea Frank, founder of Life and Limb Gel. Chelsea lives in Ocean Shores, Washington, has matched with several sales reps on Abound, and is getting ready to pitch to national retailers.
R: So how did Life and Limb Gel get started?
C: After graduating from the University of Washington’s Prosthetics and Orthotics program, I developed a unique shoulder wrap during my residency. This opened my mind to a new set of opportunities for inventing.
We needed to use hot and cold interfaces, but the ones on the market all had shortcomings. We just couldn’t find what we needed in the hot and cold therapy world, so I actually left that work behind to start my own line of therapy products.
R: Can you explain a little about your degree? What exactly are prosthetics and orthotics?
C: Yeah, so prosthetics are artificial arms and legs, and the orthotics are any type of bracing solution. Cases range from very simple, like a shoe insert or ankle stabilizer, to complex congenital deficiencies like multiple sclerosis and cerebral palsy, where they’re going to need a little bit more stability.
Orthotics cover a large range of circumstances. Anyone getting treatment for high muscle tone, low muscle tone, an injured shoulder, a back brace for scoliosis, all of that would fit under the umbrella of orthotics.
And what’s really important is that in this work, no patient is like the other. So inventing and product creation was something I did every day because every person was unique.
R: So it’s really any type of health problem that requires muscle therapy.
C: Exactly. So, even after knee surgery, you’re going to need to protect that knee. Or if you’re having meniscus issues or any type of problem that you’re going to be in physical therapy for, we would use our wraps and orthotics to support that.
R: Gotcha. So why do you think there weren’t better products on the market when you were in school?
C: Well I was looking at the hot and cold therapy that goes up on the shoulder, and there was just nothing that conformed to the shoulder shape, the shoulder has a very atypical shape.
Everything was made overseas by people who have no background in custom fitting devices, and no background in knowing how important it is to put something on easily with one hand or be able to fit that area.
And I thought well I’m somebody who actually went to school to learn about the body, who learned how to put these devices on. And I bet I could make something better than anything else that’s already out there. I mean if there had been something out there, I would not have risked life and limb by creating this business.*
*Both of us laugh at the pun Chelsea just made.
R: What a cool story. So how long ago was all this?
C: That was almost nine years ago, and during my residency, I invented this shoulder wrap for the company I was with, and it was making a whole bunch of money for them.
And I had another idea in the back of my head, and I said well, I don’t want to share this idea with a company, they’re profiting from all of my success, and so when the residency ended I just pursued it on my own, really because I lost my position.
I was out looking for a job, and I thought, hey, I can either go work for somebody else, or I can just try something on my own.
R: That’s awesome. So what was the moment like when you decided you were going to go for it?
C: I didn’t wait until I had the perfect thing. I just thought, hey, I want to stay home with my little boy and spend more time with him.
So I thought, well, I need to make this much money to make this happen, and after a lot of troubleshooting we just put it out there, and we started selling out of them really fast.
I was getting messages from people saying, I’m a chronic pain sufferer, I’ve looked everywhere, and I’ve tried everything, and I took a chance on your product. Even though it didn’t have any feedback or reviews, I took a chance, and it’s been changing my life.
And so that was when I thought hey, maybe this can go bigger. So it wasn’t necessarily that I set out to make a million dollars. But I did think, this is really changing people’s lives, and that affected me.
R: So how did you get your first prototype, and where did you start selling first?
C: Well, my first prototypes look quite a bit different from what I have now. We went through a lot of troubleshooting, testing plastic samples, and really had a focus on being environmentally friendly. So it took me a lot longer going that route.
And eBay was a great place back then in 2012, it let me test the waters, to see if our product would sell.
And that first month we made $650 in sales, which was really exciting, and was also my goal that I needed just to make ends meet. From there, we started selling on Amazon as well, and the volume was a lot better than eBay.
Then we realized our main goal is to get into big brick and mortar stores because if you’re hurt, you’re going to go to the next place you see. You’re going to go to the pharmacy, you’re going to go to the drugstore. You don’t care at that point, if it’s the best thing or not. You need something for your pain, so you’re not going to wait for a delivery.
So that’s what our hope is, and what we’ve been working towards for a year and a half now. We just started showing up to businesses and saying, hey would you want to try our products in our stores, and finding out that it’s not that simple.
We’ve had a lot of roadblocks, people would say, well if you’re not in this catalog or with this distributor, or with this one sales rep we’re not going to order, and it doesn’t matter what your product is or how great it is.
R: That must have been really frustrating.
C: Yeah, it was. And people would love the samples, but companies don’t like to work hard, or outside of the box, and there’s a lot of red tape.
So you want to be on the other side of that red tape, and that’s what I’m finding now working with sales reps we’ve found through your site. There’s so much work. And if that work isn’t done, those people aren’t going to be able to say yes. It’s not that they don’t like your product or don’t want it. It’s just that all this paperwork needs to be done upfront so they can do business with you.
R: It’s almost like getting into a government system or something. You have these huge corporations and they’re just like, sorry, you need all these little things lined up.
C: Yeah, and it’s nothing personal. Especially with anything in the health and wellness category, there are regulations you have to go through to make sure things are safe, there’s a lot of insurance you need.
R: So do you feel like your original goal of being able to stay home with your son worked out? Do you get that flexibility as a mom?
C: Yeah, it’s been like a roller-coaster. Sometimes we’re working really hard, and we’re making a lot of progress, and then if I have a baby or someone gets sick, it’s nice to have the flexibility to say, not now. My family is going to come first.
And I would never have gotten that flexibility from anything else. So working for myself has been a huge blessing. But now my littlest one is growing up, and it’s time to plug away at this and make it happen.
R: That’s great. And is the business just you, or do you have a team?
C: I have five part-time employees that do various tasks for me. And as we’ve gotten bigger and tried to figure out how we make these things faster and more efficiently, we’ve been able to streamline these positions, and really get a lot more inventory.
In January we were able to make some changes to our product and manufacturing so we can get them out four times faster than we were doing before. So now we finally have this inventory built up, and we’re like, okay now’s the time.
We’ve always struggled with building up inventory fast enough because we were selling out all the time, and now we have the opposite problem, which is good. We’re ready to land that big retail spot.
R: It seems so scary to find a factory to make your product. How did you decide where to make your product?
C: We actually do it ourselves. That’s one of the issues with the competitors, is that everything is done overseas, and the quality just isn’t high enough. That’s why I had to start making them myself.
And us doing it ourselves has definitely been a challenge, scaling costs a lot of money. It can be $20,000 for a piece of equipment that helps you do one step faster.
So me doing it here and doing small batches, it’s taken a lot longer than a normal person. But I don’t have any debt, so that’s been huge.
Now we’re finally in a position where we can make these things fast, make them here in the warehouse in my home. In-house manufacturing is also about safety. It’s the only way I can make sure there are no harsh chemicals being involved, and that we’re only using non-toxic or food grade quality ingredients.
R: What was your initial investment in the company?
C: My grandpa told me a story of failing himself as an entrepreneur, and how he spent all this money and time on a dream that didn’t happen for him. And he said I have no regrets. I’m glad that I failed because that took me in a different direction.
So I worked out the numbers so I knew I needed $4,000 for the initial stuff, and that was going to get me enough materials to be able to make back my money in sales, and I could grow from there.
He gave me a check for $4,000 to fail, and I think he meant failing was inevitable, but what I did with it was what mattered. So having a small failure was just a part of my large plans for success.
‘Do what you can, with what you have, where you are,’ is a quote by Theodore Roosevelt, and that’s kind of what our mantra has been.
R: I love that advice from your grandpa, that’s so sweet and wise.
C: You know, I wish he were here today to see that I didn’t fail and that it did become something. I feel I succeeded for the both of us.
R: What would you say your biggest accomplishments and victories have been?
C: One of the best days was when I was at Knott’s Berry Farm on vacation, we were really excited to finally be able to afford a vacation.
And that day all of these huge shipments of our retail packaging came in the mail, and I was getting pictures from the person watching our house. And I received a phone call that day from someone who was going to feature us on their TV show.
So that was probably one of the best days of all time. Just like I’m here, I’m succeeding financially. I have this huge vision for the products, and you know, this could be a moment.
R: And what about the opposite, what are your biggest ‘oh no’ moments?
C: Probably a week or two later when that TV show took a different direction. And when I got all those products into beautiful boxes, only to find out that by switching the UPC codes on Amazon it reset our listings to zero, so we had to start all the way over.
It’s just been big huge highs and then really low lows, and it’s been like that since the beginning. It seems like we’re always two steps forward, one step back. But we just keep moving forward, and I feel like everything happens for a reason.
R: What advice would you give to people who want to start selling a product?
C: First of all, people are always hesitant to share, because it’s like, oh, I don’t want to share until it’s ready or until I have all these patents. But it’s just get it out there and see what somebody says, don’t have all these designs on paper, have it in your hand. A bird in the hand really is worth two in the bush.
So many people might have this great idea, but it’s just an idea. That’s not anything compared to having an actual product. Being able to say, here it is, and it’s for sale on eBay right now is so much better than saying, oh, well I have this great idea, and I’m going to make a million dollars.
R: What are your ultimate goals for this product? Do you have one or two specific dreams you’ve always thought about?
C: Getting into a big store would be our biggest dream. A nationwide store everyone’s heard of, like Walgreens or CVS.
And by getting into big distributors with the reps we’ve found through Abound, we’re getting closer to that goal.
The process is overwhelming, but if it’s this overwhelming, that means 99% of people are not going to be with it enough to apply. If it’s hard, sometimes that’s a good thing.
R: Well, thanks so much for taking the time to talk to me!
C: Of course! I’m actually speaking at my high school tomorrow and I get to give a speech about pushing past your goals and having the courage to make a leap towards something that you don’t know if it’s going to work out or not.
And that’s where we’re at time and time again with our business. It’s like, okay, now it’s working, now I have bigger goals, and now that’s working. As we’re focused on these big goals like getting into catalogs and meeting reps, I have to take my attention off what’s working right now and into something long term.
It’s kind of scary, but at the same time, I feel like this is where we’re supposed to go.