Avid hunter’s innovation takes aim at a lesser-known source of injuries
“It is a real challenge to hire the right talent for the right position … I made a ton of mistakes. (One) was not letting people go fast enough.”
Chris Berry knows that hunting can be exhilarating, but it’s not supposed to be a circus. When he took his sons with him into the woods one day to install new tree stands, the difficulty and danger of the process hit him, well, like a shot.
“I am up there looking like Cirque du Soleil at 20 feet,” he recalled. “My kids are on the ground and they are laughing because they think it’s kind of funny.
“Then we get home and they tell Mom what I am doing in the tree and Mom is looking at me like, ‘Are you ever going to grow up? Will you please be safe?’”
Safety and comfort
An avid hunter, Berry knows the activity can be dangerous—and tree stand injuries are a part of that danger. According to Orthopedic & Sports Medicine Specialists, it is estimated that approximately 10 percent of hunters are injured in tree stand-related accidents annually.
Most stands are installed onto a tree by the user and have very small platforms on which to stand. The ladder sticks that need to be climbed to reach the stand are often flimsy and installed unevenly—not to mention that many hunters do not wear safety harnesses and risk major injury due to a slip or if they fall asleep.
Berry saw the market need for a better, safer stand and formed a Charlotte-based company called Heaven’s Trail.
The first offering is the company’s line of tree stands and ladder sticks. The products were designed for the big-game hunter to have a safe and fast installation and a comfortable seat so that hunters can stay in the stand longer for more successful hunts.
Three different stands are offered: the Hang Around, Hang Around Solo and Hang Around Double. The Hang Around is for solo hunters who need to hunt in a tight spot. The Solo and Double are ladder stands that feature large platforms for one or two hunters, respectively, and are used in areas that have more room around the tree.
The Hang Around sticks are ladder sections that are fastened to the trunk of the tree for hunters to ascend during installation and for ingressing the Hang Around stand. The sticks have footholds that are secure, rigid, and wide enough for climbing while wearing hunting boots. The system also features a winch that can be driven by a cordless drill to make installing the stands a breeze. All stands feature a large platform area; the custom-designed seats are extra wide for maximum comfort.
Design and IP progress
Berry’s “aha moment” came while he was at a career crossroads. He had more than 15 successful years in commercial real estate, but the stress and grind were starting to wear on him. He was soul searching, seeking a pursuit that would be more meaningful. At the same time, he had been spending a number of years making his own modifications to his tree stands and had a vision of the perfect one.
He had massive enthusiasm and a great blueprint for the products but lacked the engineering and manufacturing experience to bring it to life. He found a local design and engineering firm, Enventys Partners in Charlotte, and used its contract design and engineering services to help. The company worked for approximately two years to make Berry’s desired features into a great design.
During this process, the Enventys Partners team developed key innovations such as the forward step (a step between the ladder and the platform to make getting in the stand more comfortable), and developed the winching mechanism for easy installation. Then the prototypes were built and installed in the woods to get hunters’ feedback.
He conducted a number of intellectual property filings during the design and prototyping process. He filed design and utility patents on the product as well as trademarks on the logos for the brand.
Berry admits that it was a big expense for his start-up to invest in the portfolio, especially considering that Heaven’s Trail is a family-run business and there is no plan to license the IP. However, he feels the patents will help the business build credibility as it expands around a unique product line.
Trail and error
Transferring the design to a suitable manufacturer proved formidable and time-consuming. Through referrals and his own research, Berry worked with a number of metal fabrication groups that also offered design services. Each firm refined the design of the stands to take cost out, reduce assembly time, and still keep the stands strong and durable.
However, it was still a struggle to find the firm that could finish the job. “It is a real challenge to hire the right talent for the right position … I made a ton of mistakes. (One) was not letting people go fast enough.”
After years of starts and stops and seven different major iterations of the product, he finally found Alabama-based Harco Metal Products, Inc. The tube bending and forming company is making the first go-to-market stands.
“They brought automation and sophistication to the manufacturing side of it,” Berry said. “Being really small, you (usually) don’t have the luxury of going after that.”
His vision and unending perseverance have helped build a product that is resonating with consumers. The stands have been displayed at more than a dozen hunting and outdoors shows, winning Best of Show at the Virginia Outdoor Sportsman Show. The ease of installation, safety features and attention to comfort in the stand have been a hit with hunters—especially female hunters and wives of hunters who want to keep their partners safe.
The Heaven’s Trail team took its first customer order in July and looks forward to increasing sales and building brand awareness, all to develop a loyal customer base that has successful and safe hunts.