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Since middle school, my friends have saddled me with the nickname, “Safety Pup.” I used to resent it, but now, a few decades forward, I confess that I am the fellow who custom-ordered his last car, because even luxury manufacturers still list rear side airbags only as an “available option” rather than as standard equipment.
Water safety is a particular passion of mine, as I’ve long understood that drowning is a leading cause of accidental death among young children, and pretty prominent as well for people of all ages. (I don’t need to wear you down with statistics on this; the Freakonomics authors have already done the grisly honors.)
So, I enjoyed getting in contact with Eric Lupton, the entrepreneurial president of Life Saver Pool Fence. Lupton began his stint at Life Saver Pools in 1997 and has grown it to its current status to its current status as the number one pool fence company in the world and one of the few recognized by the US Consumer Product Safety Commission’s Pool Safely Campaign.
Lupton manages all of this while living with cerebral palsy, a disability which requires him to use an electric wheelchair and to get help for many day-to-day tasks.
His symptoms, he says, are similar to those that can be experienced by near-drowning survivors, providing him, he says, with a unique level of professional and personal empathy for what he has made his lifelong mission to avoid.
Micah Solomon, Forbes.com: Please tell me about Life Saver‘s product offering
Eric Lupton, President, Life Saver Pool Fencing:Life Saver offers removable mesh pool safety fencing that’s both almost completely (87%) transparent and yet surprisingly strong, with each pole withstanding over 100 pounds of force. It’s been proven for over 80 years to be the most effective way to keep children from accessing the pool.
Solomon: You don’t seem like that old of a dude. 80 years?
Lupton:Why, thank you… yes,my father, Robert Lupton, started Life Saver in 1987. And mesh fencing has been demonstrated to be the most effective fencing solution, according to multiple studies, for over 80 years.
Solomon: Please talk to me about how Life Saver pool fencing works in a residential setting.
Lupton: Traditionally, parents have known they needed to childproof the inside of their house to make it safer for toddlers, yet often the much larger hazard, their backyard pool, would be left unguarded, protected only by supervision and the door leading to the pool area. A mesh pool safety fence applies the same concept we all agree with in regard to childproofing the home to the most dangerous part of the house, the backyard swimming pool.
Solomon: If you don’t mind, could you share your perspective on people with disabilities, both as it relates to your own situation and as it relates to pools and pool fencing.
Lupton: I was born with cerebral palsy, which requires me to use a power wheelchair and need assistance with things like dressing and getting out of bed. My symptoms are very similar to those experienced by many non-fatal drowning survivors. Being a company President and entrepreneur is actually the perfect role for someone like me, who requires a unique, custom-tailored environment and assistance in order to be successful.
Also, drowning remains a leading cause of death for children with autism and accounts for approximately 90 percent of deaths associated with wandering or bolting by those age 14 and younger. I am very passionate about reducing this number and believe that the more pools with barriers around them, the safer this community in particular becomes.
Solomon: Tell me a scary but heartwarming story about how your fence has saved lives.
Lupton:In June of 2016, a mother in Sacramento, California, wrote to us describing how her daughter, who had never been able to open the French door leading to the backyard pool, wassuddenly outside, just a few feet from the edge of the pool, leaning against the mesh of the pool fence. She wasn’t sure how long her daughter had been out there, but she told us she was certain her daughter would have reached the pool had the Life Saver Pool Fence not been standing in the way. “It really is a life saver,” she wrote.
Solomon: What does a typical day look like for you at work?
Lupton: In the last few years, the size of our staff has tripled in tandem with our revenue. Having more people to do the nuts and bolts, day-to-day work of the business has allowed me to focus on what I am best at: growing into new markets and improving the Life Saver brand. I normally arrive to the office at 9:00 a.m to visit with office staff. This is a particular joy for me as I have gone out of my way to fill the office with my family and closest friends. I figure, if I’m going to spend a third of my life here, I would prefer to do it with people I like spending time with. After that check-in, I take a look at various metric reports, either financial or marketing analytics until about 10:00 a.m., when I get on with the rest of my day.
Solomon: How has your past shaped what you want to do accomplish with Life Saver and how you go about doing so?
Lupton: When I was 16, I started a web design and internet marketing company with some friends in high school. One of my first clients was Life Saver, which my dad started and ran until he retired in 2003. In my teens and early 20s, I was featured in two NY Times best sellers as an expert on writing copy for the web and advertising online. This digital marketing background is no doubt a big reason for our focus on that at Life Saver. We pride ourselves on dominating the web and social media.
Solomon: How have your varied and various prior experiences, both in life and professionally and where those two overlap, led to your outlook and how you do things today?
Lupton: Having cerebral palsy, I have learned patience and problem solving to a level most people, who aren’t as fortunate to have been born with a disability, don’t have access to. I am used to trying at something over and over again before finally getting success. I believe this helps a lot when trying new things for the business.
Solomon: Most people say, “safety first” but live more like, “safety fifth.” Tell me about this.
Lupton: One mom whose son fatally drowned has been poignantly quoted as saying, “Drowning happens to other people until you become ‘other people.’” A lot of us know these statistics, but due to optimism bias, we don’t believe that they apply to us.
Solomon: What kind of impact, speaking broadly, is Life Saver having?
Lupton: Drowning statistics for children under 5 years old are down significantly for 2019. This decrease correlates almost perfectly with the sharp increase in pools we have put barriers around in the last few years. Between literally stopping children from reaching swimming pools and the extensive educational work we do on social media and otherwise, we really believe that we are saving lives on a national level.
Solomon: Have you received pushback? If so, from whom?
Lupton: Early on, the pool building community was averse to pool fence, thinking it made their pools uglier, and the idea that a pool could be responsible for a child’s death might scare away a customer. These days, builders are typically on board and want the safest options for their customers.
Solomon: What kind of competition does Life Saver have?
Lupton: There are roughly a half dozen other pool safety fence manufacturers, many of them reputable and all of them, like us, aiming for the same goal.
Solomon: Because, like you, I care a lot about safety, please talk about your opinions on things like whether hotels have lifeguards, etc.
Lupton: I have always said that the first layer of protection for child drowning is active and qualified supervision. When a pool is in use and anyone is swimming, a designated water watcher whose sole responsibility is watching the pool – no phone, no socializing, nothing but watching the pool. In a commercial facility like a hotel, this should be a professional lifeguard. In a residential pool, this is a responsible adult. In either context, water watchers should work in shifts of no longer than 15 minutes. (Or, as you’ll see at waterparks like Great Wolf Lodge, rotating their location every 15 minutes.) Even trained lifeguards have a hard time maintaining focus longer than that.
Solomon: Can you talk about how the best safety fence can still be thwarted—by a cinderblock propping it up for the load-in for a kid’s birthday party, for example?
Lupton: A pool safety fence is just one layer of protection. Make sure that your pool service tech treats the fence with respect, closes it behind him, and never leaves it open. Keep furniture that can be climbed on away from the fence. And remember that the most important thing a pool fence does for you is give you time. Other layers of protection that should be put in place include high locks on all the doors and windows that lead to the pool, door and window alarms, alarms in the pool itself, teaching your child to swim and how to self-rescue starting as early as 6 months old, and making sure anyone who supervises your child knows CPR, especially the parents themselves.
Solomon: Any thoughts on the future–for water safety in general?
Lupton: New legislation have been moving water safety in the right direction by mandating the implementation of multiple layers of protection. These laws, combined with an increase in education, will hopefully end drowning being the #1 cause of accidental death from children between the ages of 1-4.
April 25, 2019 at 08:38PM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs