Lion's Lair: Hamilton company creates luxury motorized furniture for accessibility
Just thinking about the story of his first client brings tears to Jerry Sorbara's eyes.
The owner of Lusso Living, a Hamilton company that designs and manufactures furniture with activated lifts for better accessibility, installed their first products in a Woodbridge condo for a couple confined to wheelchairs.
Sorbara and business partner, Derren Slater, met Liz and Jerry at the People in Motion show in Toronto in 2012, Lusso Living's first go at selling their movable cabinetry. The couple was in awe of what they saw. Because they couldn't reach anything on a cabinet shelf, Liz and Jerry kept everything in roll-out bins at floor level.
"They were begging us to install everything," Sorbara said. "Cabinets in the kitchen, bathroom, laundry room, home office."
When the installations were complete, Sorbara called Liz into her home office to test out her new cabinetry. He hit a button on a remote, the cabinet doors open and, with the power of a hospital-grade lift, the inside shelves move downwards to make their contents more accessible.
"She started to cry and then I started to cry," he said. "It was the first time she didn't have to ask someone to get her something in her life!"
After the tears dried, Liz couldn't stop moving those cabinets up and down - these cabinets may make her life easier, but they're cool, too.
"We're selling life-changing accessibility," said Peter Rupcic, Lusso Living's vice-president of sale and marketing. "That's really the case with Liz."
Sorbara and Slater were installing a TV with a mechanical lift in a kitchen, to appear in front of the back splash. Their sister company, Activated Decor, mostly does TV lift projects making screens rise from footboards on beds and unsuspecting living room furniture, and it was in that kitchen they realized their technology had other applications.
"Why not lift the whole cabinet down?" Sorbara thought to himself.
Right after that install, the pair went to a local Home Depot, bought a cabinet to rip apart and test their new idea. It worked like a charm.
With Lusso (Italian for 'luxury') Living, the team wanted "to take [lift technology] from the 'man cave' to the rest of the home," said Rupcic.
Lusso Living's products might be nifty technology, but they also serve a great need for two target markets in particular: individuals with disabilities and aging seniors who want to live at home.
Anecdotally, a nurse Sorbara knows told him the number one cause of injury for seniors is stepping on and off a stool to reach a cabinet.
"In 2011, there were 44 million seniors in North America," Rupcic said. "93 per cent of those seniors, which works out to be about 39 million, want to live in their home as long as they possible can."
To do that, he said, those seniors need to make modifications. Sorbara added that the federal government recently introduced an Aging in Place 15 per cent tax credit up to $10,000 spent on at-home modifications.
"For the government to start coughing up money, they know it's coming," he said.
And to keep seniors at home longer is good economics, Rupcic said. Investing in products like Lusso Living lessens the cost on the public purse - more seniors staying in their homes means fewer in long-term care centres.
"It's a smarter way to spend money if you want seniors staying at home," he said.
Lusso Living makes more than just cabinetry accessible — they also move desk, sinks and kitchen surfaces.
The three men that make up Lusso Living cover all the important bases: Slater is the millwright and manufacturing expert. Sorbara is the robotics guy.
"Peter is the 'eye candy,'" Sorbara said, big laughs strike from both of them.
"It was a dream of Jerry's to bring automation from the factory to the home," Rupcic said, talking about how their company came about.
Sorbara is a robotics technician who worked in the automotive industry until just before the market crashed and started Activated Decor with Slater.
The pair have known Rupcic, who is also a sales consultant in the wastewater industry, for about 15 years. At a Christmas party about a year and a half ago, Sorbara pitched the idea around Lusso Living to him.
All Rupcic needed was to see a cabinet moved once, and he was sold on the possibilities.
"There is a lot of altruism in what we're doing," Rupcic said. "It's for the greater good."
Why Lusso Living should win
Sorbara and Slater's sister company, Activated Decor, sells their products internationally.
"From Dubai, the UK, France to Binbrook," Sorbara said.
That sort of street cred is starting to transfer to Lusso Living. Just last week, Sorbara signed a lease on a new showroom of their own in Florida.
"There's just a few retired people there," he said with a smile.
That will be in addition to the items they already sell in Tampa Millworks showroom, the company that makes the products they've sold in the U.S.
Here in Hamilton, Rupcic said their company's development has really been a collaboration of local business that have provided leverage.
Lusso Living works with long-time cabinetmakers Crescent Cabinets, located in the north end. Their high-end, custom-made products match the quality the Lusso Living team was looking for. Downtown creative company Citizen A works on their marketing side.
"Lusso based locally makes sense," Rupcic said. "We can ship all over the world... it helps to have everything local."
CBC Hamilton's Julia Chapman will have full coverage of Lion's Lair 2013, including profiles of each of the 10 finalists, an inside look at their training and interviews with the Lions, right up to the gala on Oct. 10.