Water turns to ice at 32 degrees Fahrenheit. That scientific fact is taught to children at an early age, and it’s easy for Maine kids to understand because they see it happen every winter. The ice — that cold, slippery solid — is very much a part of their life from the get-go. It has been that cause of many a bruised knee and sore bottom.
But without the freezing point, one Maine company, 32North, would not exist. Their main product is the STABILicer, removable ice cleats that help people walk safely in an icy world.
“Thirty-two degrees is also the latitude line at which we felt strategically there was a need for our product,” said Doug Norton, company president, as well as “visionary, sometimes shipper and excellent coffee maker,” according to the company website.
32North’s headquarters in Biddeford lies at 43.29 degrees north, far above the 32-degree latitude line, which runs across Dallas and San Diego. Compared to the residents of those southern cities, Mainers, who endure ice storms that wipe out power statewide, are ice experts.
But even if a bucket of salt is a typical Christmas gift up north, Maine residents still fall victim to embarrassing stumbles and catastrophic slips, just like everybody else.
“Wearing STABILicers, you can just get out and do things you couldn’t before,” said company founder and owner Anne Gould, who is originally from Auburn and is a University of Maine graduate.
The original STABILicers design was created in the late 1980s by a man from New Brunswick, Canada, who was recovering from a serious injury and was worried about falling on the ice while recuperating.
In 1991, Anne and David Gould bought the rights to STABILicers because they saw how useful and necessary product would be for their neighbors.
Falls have replaced automobile accidents as the leading reason people receive emergency room care, according to the National Safety Council. And more than one-third of people ages 65 years and older fall each year, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The Goulds ran the company out of their basement for three years before moving headquarters to an office in Westbrook, then in Biddeford — ironically, off I-95 exit 32. All of the products are manufactured in New England, and the STABILicers Original is made right in Biddeford.
“We like having out own little workforce,” said Gould. “It’s been a fun experience, and most of our employees have been here a really long time, too.”
For several years, 32North only sold one style.
“The Original STABILicer was really made for people who had to work outdoors in harsh conditions, people who have to deliver your oil or the firemen who spray down houses in the middle of the winter,” said Gould, “Bangor Hydro was a big customer of ours early on, and the ice fishermen love them.”
Their first retail client was L.L.Bean, where you can still find their products today.
“It is a challenging state to do business in, but we do OK with it because we really have a niche product,” Gould said. “Though we have a lot more competitors. When we first started, we had really few people competing with us.”
Their company statement is to be the “best in class” of everything they sell and to provide products that outlast the products of their competitors. Five STABILicer styles, including one for children, are now sold internationally, and sales have increased solidly each year.
This year, for the first time, they have added color to their best-selling STABILicers Lite. The typically black thermal plastic webbing now also comes in orange, red, white and blue.
“Adding the color to them makes them a little more fun than just the drab black,” said Gould, who wears red STABILicers to show off her product in public.
While the Original STABILicer (retailing at $49.95) is what Gould describes as “a real workhorse, the STABILicers Lite is more affordable ($21.95) and practical for the everyday person who needs traction to stroll icy sidewalks. The kid’s version is just $14.95.
The STABILicer Sport ($39.95) is made specifically for runners or speed hikers. And in 2004, 32North expanded their line once more to include the STABILicers Overshoe ($119.95), aggressive ice cleats with a waterproof overshoe that reaches high up the ankle, a product designed with deliverymen and work crews in mind.
“We have tried to hit three different price points in our products so there’s something for everyone,” Gould said. So that when the thermometer drops below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, Mainer’s can tread safely, whether they are walking out onto the pond to catch a fish or sleepwalking down the driveway to grab the newspaper.
“We have people calling who were crawling to the barn to feed animals,” said Gould. “Now, they can walk.”
For information, visit www.32North.com.