A chance encounter and perseverance help startup cofounders create a company that has climbed quickly to success.
TriFold LLC Cofounder and CEO Michael Reznik wasn't expecting his life to take a major turn when he attended his father's birthday party in Cleveland five years ago. But that is exactly what happened.
At the party, he was seated with his father's long-time friend, Leonid Khodor, a patent consultant who also likes to invent things.
“Leonid asked me, ‘What do you do?'” recalls Reznik, who had built a career helping Fortune 500 companies develop process improvement programs. “I said tongue-in-cheek, ‘I solve business problems.' He said, ‘I solve problems, too.'”
Khodor explained he had an idea for stair-climbing, folding-cart technology but was not sure how to take it from concept to product.
“So I said, ‘Show me,'” Reznik says, noting Khodor's prototype at that point was a “Frankenstein-like contraption with baby stroller wheels and a chassis from another cart (held together) with duct tape and glue.”
“I saw this thing and a light went on,” he remembers. “I said, ‘Oh my, I see a thousand applications for this. It's really quite awesome.'”
Today, he and Khodor head Columbus-based TriFold, whose UpCart brand offers a line of stair-climbing, folding handcarts based on Khodor's original concept. The carts have proven to be a big hit with consumers, with sales that could reach $6 million this year, according to Reznik.
Customers use UpCarts to haul groceries, laundry and other items up and down stairs. They are also used by soccer moms, sales reps, handymen, crafters and others.
TriFold makes most of its sales online, on the QVC cable television network and via catalogs. Online shoppers find UpCarts on sites that include Amazon, Walmart, BestBuy, Home Depot and Lowe's.
Reznik, 40, says it's been a whirlwind since he and Khodor started the company in February 2013. They began working on product design, applying for patents, developing a branding and marketing strategy, and seeking financing. That included a Kickstarter campaign in 2014 that didn't fund but helped TriFold connect with an angel investor who provided funding for the two to create 12 UpCart samples and attend a national hardware show in Las Vegas in 2015.
That event changed everything for the company. The product was a hit with show attendees, and Reznik won a contest to pitch UpCart on QVC.
“We sold out in five minutes,” he says of the segment. “There was this crazy, like, high for me… and I don't even remember anything I said on air. We sold 1,300 pieces from that first order, and they took a wait list of 800 more. That really put us on the map.”
Trifold started to use Facebook to build sales and further validate the UpCart concept and brand. All the while, Reznik juggled startup CEO duties with his job as director of lean enterprise at RGIS, a Blackstone Group company that provides inventory services.
He credits his wife, Jessica, who was working in financial services and sales, as being an important sounding board during TriFold's emergence. She is now the company's general manager.
Reznik went full-time at TriFold last year. Khodor is president and chief engineer. Office manager Lauren Kantzer is the only other full-time employee. That's by design. Reznik maintains TriFold has been better served by partnering with Columbus companies for services instead of hiring more staff.
One of those business partners, WOWbrands, a digital strategy agency in Grandview Heights, has been helping TriFold with marketing and website development since 2014.
Marcus Marter, senior manager-operations at WOWbrands, and his team were impressed by the UpCart product from the moment they saw it.
“It was easy to see from a mile away that this would be a good product,” he says. “We all knew people in our lives who could benefit from it.”
In addition, Marter has been impressed by Reznik's business acumen and the success he has had at TriFold and with the UpCart brand.
“He's smart, energetic, passionate, driven and never gives up,” he says. “He has his sights on a goal and never loses track of that.”
Reznik says TriFold's growth has been due in part to startup financing from the Columbus-based Economic Community Development Institute and loans from Huntington National Bank.
“Columbus is really great for small businesses,” Reznik says. “We've been able to leverage a lot of partners in this community.”
Jeff Bell is a freelance writer.