Ruse on the Loose: Wharton company makes shopping safer for kids
Sometimes the best ideas happen by accident.
Watching a news report in 1982, Paul Giampavolo listened as the announcer told how many children were injured falling out of shopping carts every year.
“I had seen it firsthand,” said Giampavolo, who, while working at the Dumont ShopRite in the 1970s, stopped an unrestrained toddler from a shopping cart fall.
“I saw this child stand up in a shopping cart. The parent was nowhere around, the child was at the other end of the aisle. I ran and grabbed the child before he could fall out and sat him down. His mother came around the corner and I told her what happened. And that was sort of uneventful.”
But the recollection remained with Giampavolo while watching the news a decade later in his apartment.
“That memory came right back. I was working in new product development for my company and we were always looking to develop new products. So I had the idea for the shopping cart seat belt.”
Putting together a business plan, he submitted his work to the company’s management who rejected it as too risky liability-wise and unmarketable.
“I really felt passionate about it. So I resigned work to start Safe-Strap. I didn’t have any money. I had about $300. I think my parents thought I was out of my mind, leaving a good job. But I started the company.”
Giampavolo immediately began contacting supermarkets in the New York metropolitan area. It wasn’t until he made his pitch to an ad director at Weis Markets in Pennsylvania, that his idea took fruition.
“He thought it was a great idea and Weis Markets was my first customer. They outfitted the entire chain and ran full page advertisements to the consumer letting them know what they did. The response from the consumer was overwhelming.”
Based in Wharton, Safe-Strap Co. designed the first child safety belt for shopping carts. From that start, they now specialize in products including shopping cart infant seats and restroom baby changing stations, to make shopping for the consumer safer and more convenient.
The company received a letter of appreciation from Nancy Reagan in the 1980s. In 1996, the Consumer Product Safety Commission presented Safe-Strap Co. with a commendation for significant contributions to product safety.
“The company just got bigger and bigger and bigger. We began introducing other products that were shopping cart related like the infant seats. We expanded our product line all around items that could be used in a commercial setting that would help parents care for their children. That’s how the company’s grown.”
In 2014, Safe-Strap launched a new device call Fall-Stop, an alternative to the safety belt. The product is currently being tested locally in ShopRite supermarkets and Safeway stores in the Washington, D.C. area.
“Seatbelts are effective but they’re only as effective as a parent’s desire to use them. Children shouldn’t be put in the basket of a shopping cart and if they’re put in a seat of a shopping cart, they should be buckled up.”
There are 20,000 injuries involving children under five in shopping carts each year with approximately 80 percent of those from falls.
“Half of the falls come from the basket where the child doesn’t belong and the other half comes from falls from the seat where parents didn’t use the restraint. So the hazard awareness is very low. That child seat was a place for a handbag or for a watermelon or eggs and they don’t really realize that a child could fall out,” said Giampavolo, who resides in Sussex County with his wife and son.
“A belt itself might seem restrictive to a parent. So you put the belt around the child and you adjust it. But children can be cranky, maybe they don’t want it around them. So parents may unfasten it to keep the child quiet.”
While sitting in the cart, Fall-Stop allows small children full upper-body movement while restricting their legs enough to let them feel comfortable but not let them climb out of the seat.
“A child can’t fall unless they can get a leg up and they can boost themselves up. I said, there has to be a way we can hold the child’s legs and we can give them that upper body freedom. Children like to reach out for things and they like to turn around,” said Giampavolo, who graduated from Ramapo College with a BA in marketing.
“Kids are very antsy and they want to move around all the time. We designed the Fall-Stop to go down on the child’s legs. We had it tested to make sure that children couldn’t open it or couldn’t defeat it. It’s just a great product.”
The Fall-Stop is bright red with a yellow button, and is attached to the center of the seat. A prompt tells the parent to press the button down on the child’s legs. After installing them in carts at a Shop Rite on a Wednesday, Giampavolo returned on Saturday and was happy to see everyone with a child was using it.
“The best ideas are the simplest ones. But even having a good idea and making that into a viable product that operates and works properly and does what it’s intended to do is no guarantee of its success. You still have to be accepted by the market, it’s got to be priced correctly, it’s got to be distributed properly. There’s a lot to it, so it’s really been a life’s work,” Giampavolo said.
“We’re a New Jersey-based company. We’re all around the premise of making stores safer and more convenient for shoppers. You can see our products in just about every retail store there is. It’s been very, very rewarding and fulfilling to own and grow a business but also to be doing something really good for parents and small children.”
Article from the Daily Record