General Division Winner

Life Floor
General Division Winner

Life Floor seeks to flip the conventional wisdom of “slippery when wet” upside-down with new tiles that actually become more slip-resistant when wet. The Minneapolis company has already achieved plenty of traction, having completed 40 installations in 20 states and three countries to rave reviews from customers.

The tile flooring—made from an ethylene vinyl acetate copolymer—was developed by ThemeScapes, Inc., a Forest Lake construction company that builds theme parks, water parks, hotels, and restaurants like Rainforest Cafe. It first installed this soft-tile flooring in 2005 at Paul Bunyan Waterpark near Brainerd. As word spread about the company’s non-toxic and mold- and mildew-resistant tiles, ThemeScapes installed its flooring at 12 other locations. The tiles—which offer a softer surface than traditional concrete for pool decks, locker rooms, and showers—have held up well over the years in Minnesota’s extreme hot and cold conditions, and in humid, indoor water parks.

Despite the tiles’ popularity, ThemeScapes didn’t want to focus on flooring—it intended to stick with its construction business. Enter Jonathan Keller, a McKinsey & Company consultant who was looking to go into business for himself. After a mentor introduced him to the tiles, Keller decided that this was his opportunity. He pulled together a team, raised $1.2 million from investors, and bought the rights to the Life Floor tile from ThemeScapes in 2011.

“This is a business that really transforms the industry,” says Keller, Life Floor’s CEO. “It affects everyone from small kids walking around a pool deck at a water park or at swim lessons to elderly people living in senior facilities. We can really prolong their life and give them a better quality of life by preventing slip-and-falls in showers, tubs, and therapy pools.”

Life Floor’s revenue this year will hit about $1 million, and Keller projects sales to hit $3 million to $5 million next year and $100 million annually in five to seven years. For now, Life Floor will focus on commercial clients. They typically have multiple locations, can become repeat customers, and have the most to gain from reducing liability and insurance costs, says Keller.

For clients, one advantage of Life Floor is that the company doesn’t just sell its proprietary tiles, notes Keller. Instead, it partners with each client to design and install the flooring, and to maintain it with Life Floor’s cleaning products—which the company started selling this year to become a one-stop shop for customers while providing an additional revenue stream for the company.

“We’re trying to be more than just a manufacturer. We discovered that our customers need a great product like Life Floor but they also need a great company to partner with them,” Keller adds. “We’re trying to give them a safe solution that’s easy to clean but also something that’s going to be beautiful and long-lasting and fit with their design and aesthetic needs.”

So far, Life Floor has added customers mainly by referrals. It’s built a strong base of customers from swim schools and water parks, which report that they have fewer (and often no) slip-and-falls after installing Life Floor. The company also made great headway by sponsoring the World Waterpark and the United States Swim School associations, moves that helped it to gain publicity and new customers from early adopters, Keller says.

The company has installed Life Floor at some Six Flags, Great Wolf Lodge, and Cedar Fair amusement parks, and it’s working on trials with hotel chains and senior centers. Eventually, as existing clients ask for Life Floor at their international locations, the company will go global, Keller says. Early target markets include New Zealand and Australia, which have strong swimming traditions.

Though sales are strong, the company wants to make sure not to take on more clients than it can handle, says Keller.

“We want people to see Life Floor as the wet area flooring industry standard.”