Two Sault Ste. Marie entrepreneurs are heading to market this summer with an eco-friendly deck product made from recycled steel.
John Naccarato and Joe Severini of Casata Technologies Inc. have developed a steel decking product with galvanized sheet that they intend to take to national and regional home improvement and building trade shows.
The patented product is trademarked and being marketed as Evolutiondeck.
The do-it-yourself kits range from 10-by-10 feet to 14-by-14 feet and comes with beams, panels, fasteners and screws that can be easily put together with a drill.
"It's a project you can assemble in an afternoon," said Naccarato.
The surface is finished with a choice of travertine stone tile, granite tile, porcelain tile, concrete pavers and PVC decking that is glued down.
Priced between $800 and $1,300, Naccarato said it's cost competitive with building traditional pressure-treated lumber and composite decking.
With a 30-year warranty, the sales pitch is it requires zero maintenance.
"It's the best investment you can make in a deck – a long life, low maintenance and more aesthetically pleasing than deck boards," said Naccarato.
They showcased the product last year at a handful of home shows to gauge consumer reaction and ended up selling a half-dozen kits, all of them custom installs.
The company has secured two southern Ontario distributors and are focusing on setting up a dealer network as well as hitting up some nationally-known big box and home improvement retailers.
Locally, Soo Mill Build-All is the first retailer to sign on.
Their target market is the commercial, residential and cottage market.
The product had been in the development stage for three years. They chose recycled galvanized steel, sourced from Dofasco in Hamilton, for its long life. The structure is able to withstand corrosion and weathering.
The partners moved into a 5,000-square-foot space on Second Line in the city's north end, which serves as office, storage and R&D facility for pilot production. They also maintain a Newmarket office.
As a two-person operation, they contract out much of the manufacturing work to JIT Manufacturing in Toronto. Stone is sourced from Europe and Asia. The decking and aluminum railings are sourced in Ontario.
Naccarato, a materials engineer, was director of market and product development at Algoma Steel.
Severini is a mechanical engineer who worked for Magna International for 18 years.
Both from the Sault, they grew within blocks of each other in the city's west end and only met professionally when they collaborated on developing a new seat system for Ford Motor Company.
Each had separate ambitions to someday start their own company.
When the seat project was done, they decided to go into business together, forming Casata Technologies, a product development company, with an aim to bring innovative original equipment and patented products to market.
The “Casata” name, they believe comes from Latin and roughly means “in the family.”
"The idea was we were going to develop an incubator where you develop businesses to spin out into a family of companies," said Naccarato.
"We do only products we can (intellectually) protect, we don't do anything that is a me-too," said Naccarato, the latter meaning creating copy-cat products.
The product feedback from attending home and garden shows in Toronto this spring has been "fantastic," said Severini.
They came back to the Sault with 15 orders from consumers and custom home builders.
"We're in general discussions with some national distributors in Canada and the U.S.," said Naccarato.
This summer, they are also launching a new dock system using the same structure technology in the form of a floating dock.
As to what's in store for future products, Naccarato said there's no shortage of inventions in Northern Ontario, some that they've turned away.
"It becomes an issue of dedicating the time and financial resources to execute. You can only do so much at a time."
But they will entertain any idea that they feel has consumer demand and the opportunity to add product value.
"It's got to be innovative and got to be something new that offers a competitive advantage to somebody, otherwise we don't look at it."
That's evident in their plan to start manufacturing a holistic pet treat.
Known as Life Bites, it's a human-grade dog treat, verified by the University of Guelph made from deer meat and filled with vitamin supplements that they're selling by the box and bag.
"A veterinary came to us and we ended up buying the technology, took her formulation and we developed the manufacturing process to make it," said Naccarato.
A final step was developing the proprietary process to dry it using an infrared dehydrator to ensure a year's shelf life since the product has no preservatives.
As experienced engineers, both are very skilled on the technical and intellectual property side, but they find the real work starts on the marketing end – whether it's decking or dog treats – in adjusting to the fickle nature of consumers.
"The direct consumer is a market that even the steel industry doesn't understand which is why we go to consumer shows and meet and talk with them," said Naccarato.
"It's important we listen to them. We've made modifications to our deck product based on feedback received from the market place."
The original Evolutiondeck prototype is unrecognizable from this final version.
"It was heavier and more clumsy and difficult to work with," said Severini.
"This is the strongest (model) we know of per unit weight of steel. The advantage is we use a lot less steel than otherwise would be required to achieve the same structure."