When my father and I opened Smart Mobility in June this year (as exclusive distributors of smartCRUTCH in the USA and Canada) we felt encouraged to learn that it was already proven enough that there was a waitlist.
We placed our first stock order immediately and emailed this list to start the process. We were again delighted with the positive response. However with factory production only recently back to full tilt and an established network of distributors throughout the world on back order, we quickly realized there was going to be a delay.
We decided to slow things down and planned on importing one to two small shipments to get us started. We figured this would allow me time to wind down some other business interests and projects, as well as set up the new distributorship properly including the website with an online ordering system.
What we didn’t know was that FDA fees are charged for any part of one calendar year. This meant that whether we received our first shipment in January 2016 or December 2016 the cost of the FDA would be the same, it also meant that whether we imported 50 crutches or 500 crutches we would pay the same FDA, and it was a significant cost to a new business.
At this point we had to decide whether to wait until the new year to ship our first consignment of smartCRUTCHes so we could amortize the cost of the FDA over a total year.
At about the same time I received an email from an overseas distributor forwarding details of a USA-based customer looking everywhere and anywhere in the world for a pair of smartCRUTCH, even offering to go to Canada to buy them. The email was from Melissa and the crutches were for her daughter Aria, who she said had been asking her about the crutches “on nearly a daily basis”. Aria is in a wheelchair most of the time and had heard from others on her Ehlers Danlos newsgroup that their “smartCRUTCHes allow them to be much more mobile and independent”.
This was the first time I had heard of Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome and I did some research, trying to understand why the smartCRUTCHes were so effective for this particular condition, and so was introduced to the dazzle of Zebras.
I emailed back and said that I had an obstacle with my FDA and that there might be a delay, and indicated that I wasn’t sure how long it was going to be.
Melissa replied “I’ve attached a picture of Aria with her sister (Aria is on the left). She is 15 and a freshman in high school. I have no doubt that that the crutches will make a huge difference in her life by giving her the stability she lacks and allowing her to feel ‘more normal’ when she feels up to using them. Maybe even allowing her to go to a dance or two! Teenage years are such a hard time to feel so different. She can’t use conventional crutches because her condition makes her prone to shoulder dislocations.“
Reading about Aria made up my mind immediately, and we paid the FDAs and shipped the first small batch of smartCRUTCHes. I kept Aria as an inspiration to keep pushing ahead when the process of applying for an FDA was more complicated then we thought, and when the first shipment was detained in FDA in Denver, Colorado for almost three weeks. When they eventually arrived the very first pair headed out to Massachusetts to Aria.
A few weeks later I received an email from Aria herself, “The crutches are GREAT! I absolutely love them! I now find myself using them all of the time when I’m going places I know aren’t wheelchair accessible, or if I know I’m just going to be walking a little bit in stores or at school clubs and such. They are helping me to expand my boundaries and build my stamina, without the high risk of falling I had before. With the Smartcrutches, my goal this year is to be able to walk a full day of school on them (by the end of the school year), and I think that it is definitely an attainable goal – and it’s all thanks to you and your hard work getting them here to me. Walking isn’t a dread any more, it’s an opportunity for me that I look forward to.”
Since that first email from Melissa, on behalf of Aria, I have emailed and talked to many other Zebras now successfully using smartCRUTCH, and heard from many others with short-term injuries or using crutches permanently who have found that smartCRUTCH has changed the way they are able to move through life. It has made the challenge of bringing them back to the USA and Canada very personally worthwhile.
Many of you who I talked to and emailed while waiting for the crutches were a further source of inspiration to me. Thank you to each of you for your patience and grace, and I navigated each part of the process to get them to you (when some of you knew more about the product then I did).
I look forward to this next phase of smartCRUTCH – with a functioning website and hopefully some improved automated systems.
Kirsten Le Roux
Smart Mobility Inc.