Local startup Lanaique has to start over

When her beach umbrella blew unpleasantly in the wind, she thought: ‘Why can’t these umbrellas be more like palm trees whose fronds wave in the breeze and don’t break or go inside-out like plastic umbrellas?’

Provided that spark of inspiration, she invented the “Palmbrella,” patented in 2007, and a product she is now trying to sell to Jimmy Buffett and his array of businesses.

Braithwaite felt a similar spark a few years back while sitting inside her North Port pool cage and feeling like she was in a real cage. She called her son, Danny, 36, a former Navy Seabee, and told him to dress it up.

“When I saw that cage, I couldn’t stand it,” she said. “It’s like you’re a bird sitting in a cage.”

After six months of trial and error, her son accomplished covering the metal bars with decorative columns and arches formed out of heavy foam. This was in 2003, and the company Lanaique (pronounced lan-eek, like unique) was born, right in the midst of a building boom that was certain to bring the Braithwaites a fortune.

Except the prototype was completed just three days before Hurricane Charley, a storm that blew Lanaique and even its patent paperwork off the map for a while.

The Braithwaites fought against others stealing their idea, with their patent lawyer moving to the Villages where a tornado blew away the same paperwork that Hurricane Charley first destroyed.

The idea of Lanaique survived, however, and by 2009 the Braithwaites had a marketing agreement with Robb Stucky. But that deal, too, ended with the furniture company’s bankruptcy this year, and Danny had to take a job as a commercial diver scraping barnacles off hulls of yachts to make a living.

“Unfortunately Robb Stucky is no longer with us, so we’re not a startup but a start-over-again,” he said.

In December, Lanaique’s patent was approved, but Braithwaite said competitors who copy the idea seem not to know this. All and all, Danny estimated $500,000 has been spent on Lanaique, while they wait for construction to pick up or for someone to notice. In eight years, Lanaique has booked maybe two dozen jobs total.

“I just need one person to say to me, ‘This is a really stupid idea, Peggy,’ and it’s over,” Peggy said. “But no one will say that.”

Now Lanaique is little more than a website with a flashy video. The fabricator in Bradenton that does Lanaique’s foam work went from 20 employees down to three. Everybody seems to be waiting and hoping for better times, for the Palmbrella to catch on, for people to call for decorated pool cages.

“At some point it just becomes a way of life, and you don’t think about the struggle so much,” Danny said.

Article source: http://www.heraldtribune.com/article/20110905/article/110909785

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