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Saturday, Feb 4, 2023

Simi Valley Retailer Recognized by Amazon

A Simi Valley medical retailer is one of six finalists in the running for Amazon.com Inc.’s first ever women-owned small business award. EazyHold, founded in 2014 by sisters Kerry, Merrily and Wendy Mellin, makes adaptive aids for people with disabilities that affect their grip. Stroke, cerebral palsy, Parkinson’s, ALS and arthritis can impede people of all ages from eating, drinking, drawing or writing. EazyHold’s “universal cuff,” made of hospital-grade silicon, can be fitted on pens and pencils, cups, eating utensils, toys and other household items to make those activities easier. The company was chosen by Amazon out of 1,300 applicants for its vision, customer centricity, product innovation and value. The grand prize winner will be revealed in December. “The award for us is mainstream market coverage for an abilities tool,” said Kerry Mellin. “When we initially wanted to sell EazyHold, we hit up some mainstream retailers like Target, Walmart and Home Depot, and they weren’t interested. They said we needed to go to specialty medical and rehabilitation distributors. But I’m dedicated to getting our products into the hands of people who need it and having it in front of them in places like Rite-Aid or a supermarket.” Mellin, a career Hollywood costume designer, has spent decades building ergonomic devices for people to wear. The idea for EazyHold came about when her arthritis flared up so badly while sweeping her barn that she had to tape her fingers around the broom. That evening, she and her sisters discussed the rising difficulty for the aging baby boomer generation to maintain an active lifestyle. “We were thinking of adults but realized there’s a huge population of kids who needed it also,” she said. EazyHold still hasn’t been picked up by brick-and-mortar retail outlets. It is sold only on the company’s own e-commerce site and Amazon.com, which Mellin said accounts for roughly two-thirds of her sales. The sisters run the company out of their individual home offices in Simi, at which they each store a small amount of inventory. They fill orders through e-commerce software Shopify and manufacture with a liaison called Hercules OEM in Lake Forest. Mellin said the main challenge of growing an abilities-based retail business is simply getting the wares in front of the target audience. “With products for the special needs or individual needs community … it’s difficult to advertise. You need to be sensitive to people. The best way we’ve found is (word of mouth).” To test the EazyHold cuff’s viability, the sisters took their thousands of kitchen-made prototypes into the hallways of hospitals and therapy centers around Southern California. After stints volunteering in the spinal cord injury wing at Northridge Hospital Medical Center, Kerry knew the industry standard assistive grip tools were flimsy and made of fabric, Velcro or elastic — materials that dirty quickly and are prone to spreading bacteria. She thought that if presented with a 100 percent silicon alternative, therapists and physical rehabilitation workers would almost certainly make the switch. She was right. Those guerilla marketing tactics have placed EazyHold products in 7,000 care facilities so far, as well as every L.A. Unified School District special education classroom. And in 2017, after being denied six times, the company was finally awarded a utility patent. In May, EazyHold was awarded a second patent for design. Still, Mellin continues to fight for more public exposure for EazyHold. “The words inclusion and diversity are just popping into the mainstream, and up until now, there have not been a lot of tools for that kind of diversity and inclusion,” she said. “We try to make EazyHold not look like a medical device, but a fun tool that’ll help kids and adults.” Amazon’s awards program highlights the e-commerce giant’s third-party sellers, which account for more than half of all sales on its online marketplace. It is also issuing awards for “small business of the year” and “small business owner under 30 of the year.”

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