For hundreds of years, walking sticks were commonly used fashion accessories which were made and worn with pride. But as time went on, the aesthetics were abandoned and the finely crafted artifacts were replaced with cold, clinical, and impersonal items of utility. Today, most canes do little to inspire the self-confidence of those who use them. We aim to change this.
Top & Derby, is a Winnipeg-based company that is set out to do one thing: make home healthcare products that improve people’s lives. After having worked together for years on various design projects, we (Matthew Kroeker, Gerrit de Vries, and Ben Grynol) started collaborating to undertake a new venture. By the spring of 2011, Top & Derby was born with the vision of disrupting a stagnant industry that lacks innovation.
Understanding the problem space and looking at the opportunity space at hand, we realized that the home healthcare industry was ripe for innovation and disruption: The aging population continues to grow rapidly and the $31 billion Durable Medical Equipment industry consists mostly of low-cost, low-quality, and nearly identical products. We saw this as an opportunity to redevelop the ubiquitous walking cane, as it is one product that’s badly neglected in terms of design. Using innovation to create a better cane was definitely challenging; Disability doesn’t discriminate; cane users come young and old, and they come from varied backgrounds. Thus, we needed to develop a product that would appeal to a wide audience of cane users.
The final design of the Chatfield cane was chosen due to its simple, elegant design and commercial appeal; it looks more like a modern fashion accessory and less like a piece of hospital-issued apparatus. The Chatfield is comprised of a turned walnut shaft, a thermoplastic rubber cane “shoe” (tip), which has a unique grip pattern inspired by sneaker soles, and a cast aluminum handle which is over-molded with silicone rubber. The unique design and material of the handle allows users to rest the cane effortlessly against any surface for quick access; it can be propped up on its nose or side, without the cane falling over like common canes often do. As well, the silicone handle forms a soft, ergonomic grip that conforms to people’s hands and dampens vibrations while they walk. Currently, our cane is nominated for a Fast Company Innovation by Design award, and an Industrial Designers Society of America (IDSA) International Design Excellence award. Lastly, the Chatfield was recently rated on Canadian Design Resource (CDR) as one of the top 10 Canadian designs of all time.
How did you earn your first sales? Which channels are now generating the most traffic and sales for you?
In April of 2013, we did a soft-launch for the Chatfield through a 30 day crowd funding campaign on Indiegogo. The campaign allowed us to test the market before investing further in our cane to take it into production. As a result, we generated $22,000 in pre-sales over 30-days, and got some great media exposure from over 40 sources around the world (Fast Company, Globe & Mail, and Financial Post, amongst others) to prove that there was merit in our venture.
In November of 2013, we shipped our first canes to consumers in over 110 cities and 9 countries around the world, and officially launched the Chatfield in the market using Shopify as our platform to sell canes directly to consumers following the success of our campaign. As Top & Derby has gained further traction in the market, we have continued to receive positive feedback from people who share stories with us about the ways in which the Chatfield has made a positive impact in their lives. Thus, we couldn’t be more proud to have created an authentic, domestically manufactured (North-American made), product and user-experience that people care about, connect with, and appreciate.
Tell us about the back-end of your business. What tools and apps do you use to run your store? How do you handle shipping and fulfillment?
So far, we have gained traction by selling directly to consumers through our website. Approximately 80% of our sales come from consumers in the US, and 20% from consumers in Canada. Shopify has been such a great platform for us to manage our inventory, sales, and shipping through the Shopify app. We ship all of our orders using Canada Post, which integrates directly into the Shopify platform and is easy to manage. The back-end metrics for our store are integral to see where traffic is coming from, what our website conversion rate is, and how much traffic is being driven to the site each day. Additionally, we’re able to easily create custom promo codes and track their performance through the backend of our site. Overall, we’re super pumped on using Shopify as a platform to run our online store!
What are your top recommendations for new ecommerce entrepreneurs?
Don't spend too much time thinking about operating a store. With Shopify, the platform is so easy to operate that anyone can do it!
Find a niche, design a product, and start selling!