Saturday, February 17, 2007

How One Disaster Created A Multimillion Dollar Business

Not long after Hurricane Katrina hit, two entrepreneurs from Encinitas, Calif., smelled opportunity. As government officials and the media harped about the need for emergency preparedness, the pair canvassed the marketplace and found most consumer survival gear to be hardcore, doom-and-gloom products such as face masks for anthrax, water-filtration systems or bulky first aid kits. With limited use, such items typically were sold online or in specialty outdoor stores. Many mainstream retailers were short on disaster gear -- in part because stores were reluctant to devote precious shelf space year-round to items that might sell only during or immediately after an emergency.

So the two men, Dennis Bertken and Nicholas Connor, began producing a line of moderately priced, sleek-looking safety products they hoped consumers might also use in nonemergencies. Among them: a small, hand-cranked LED flashlight with siren and FM radio that also can charge a cellphone ($34.95), a lantern that plays an iPod ($49.95) and a backpack that is filled with survival gear ($74.50), including food and water rations approved by the U.S. Coast Guard for emergencies.

"We understand one key point: To save lives we must integrate safety into everyday life," Mr. Bertken says. "This means that every product we design must be usable every day for everyday purposes, not just in an emergency."

Today their small enterprise, Pacific Pathway LLC, has products selling under two brands -- Life+Gear and SafetyCross -- on the shelves of major retailers, including Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Dillard's Inc., Costco Wholesale Corp. and Sears Holdings Corp.'s Sears, Roebuck and Kmart stores. The products also are sold online, including the firm's Web site Sales last year totaled $15.2 million and are expected to climb to $34.5 million in 2007.

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