When he was 16 years old, Hillel Glazer lugged a snow shovel around his neighborhood every snow storm, in the hopes of making a few bucks.
But eventually the Teaneck teen grew tired of pushing and toting the white stuff.
"I thought, there's got to be a better way," said Glazer, now 33, who owns HeatTrak, a Paterson-based company that manufacturers ice melting mats for residential and industrial use.
Glazer explained how he concocted a crude prototype using a heating pad, duct tape and an old doormat to avoid the back-breaking job of chopping ice and snow from his steps.
"Once I figured out that it would work, I needed to reach out to people who knew what they were doing," said Glazer. He had no professional contacts, so he called around to electricians and other tradesmen who gave him advice how to transform his ideas into practical applications using waterproof materials and insulated electric wiring.
Several years and dozens of test runs later, Glazer was ready to get going. He drew up a business plan, which he sent to about 15 friends in the hopes of raising $300,000 for initial research and development and other start-up costs. The networking yielded $350,000 from about 10 investors, whose stakes ranged from $5,000 to $50,000, Glazer said.
"The first year was slow, but we built a distributor base to about 10 online sites that sold traditional doormats and similar products. It seemed like a natural fit, and we gave them a percentage of whatever HeatTrak products were sold,” Glazer said. After 18 months, a private-investment group kicked in another $500,000.
The company has experienced steady sales numbers for both the residential- and industrial-sized products, he said, with the last two years each showing 75 percent annual growth. HeatTrak reached $4 million in sales in 2011, Glazer said, adding that business increased following a small retail roll-out to several hardware stores, such as Ace and True Value, and to Home Depot stores. Bed, Bath & Beyond also carries the residential mats online.
Residential mats for steps and walkways, which can be interconnected via insulated cords, retail for about $50 and $99, respectively. Industrial mats cost upwards of a few hundred bucks to more than $1,000, depending on the size. Last year, HeatTrak introduced a wireless remote and thermostat controller.
Among his customers are Sotheby’s auction house in New York City; Citi Field, which uses the mats at its delivery entrances; and the Billie Jean King Tennis Center, which placed the larger mats along the perimeter of its practice bubbles to prevent ice and snow from accumulating and damaging the structures.
The biggest market, Glazer said, is currently in the Northeast, particularly Connecticut and Massachusetts, and sales are surging in the Chicago area and Canada. This winter's mild weather has put a damper on sales in New Jersey and New York, but business is steady in the colder climes.
"We sold a lot of mats to security firms in the northern states who use them to keep the area around entrance gates from freezing up,” Glazer said. And ski lodges in Aspen, Colorado, have purchased the mats for use around their decks and hot tubs.
“Hey, if it works for them, it works for me,” Glazer said.