Behind the Scenes•
Posted on March 15 2019
If you know anything about The Stair Barrier origin story, then you may know Janelle Fitzpatrick as the brilliant mind behind it -- the mom of two who invented a safety gate for her stairs when she couldn’t find any viable options on the market and later launched that invention into a successful business, bringing her innovation to parents everywhere.
But you may not know that she also has two goats on her property and a dog named after a Marvel superhero, or that her two kids keep her busy by playing three sports each. Today, we’re excited to share a look at the life and the woman behind the invention to give you a better sense of the foundation on which The Stair Barrier is built. We think you will find that the heart of The Stair Barrier is not just innovation, but family, and the fulfillment that comes from building something that truly matters.
Janelle lives in Georgia with her family of four and their handsome dog, Thor. During the work week, Thor makes the trek with Janelle to the Better Options Company headquarters in Canton, Georgia where all the magic happens for their first brand, The Stair Barrier.
Though Thor is a loyal work buddy with the face of an intimidating guard dog, he is “an absolute princess” and a “cry baby” who makes his opinions heard and avoids getting his paws wet at all costs. If it’s a rainy day enroute to the office and there happens to be a puddle on the ground on his side of the car, Thor will cry until Janelle gets out and lets him out on the opposite side. He’s friendly almost to a fault; Janelle admits that she’s a little embarrassed by how eagerly he greets people.
The family has endowed Thor with a human voice that mimics Shaggy from Scooby-Doo. If you were to be a fly on the wall, you’d hear everyone speak for Thor in that iconic voice, and Janelle owns up to being the worst offender of all. “I admit I am the worst. It keeps us laughing, but if anyone heard us, they would think that we are not all there.”
Unfortunately for Thor and his inclination for tidy paws, Janelle and her family live on a small farm. Thor shares his roost with two goats, Cookie--who has made a name for herself as the boss of the two--and Peaches.
A typical weekend for Janelle, her husband, Press, and their two kids looks like a mini sports tournament. Her daughter, Peyton, plays travel softball, basketball, and track, and her son, PJ, follows in his big sister’s footsteps, playing travel baseball, basketball, and track.
Most games, Janelle can be seen in the outfield, soaking up the peace and quiet, and squeezing in some work between innings if she can. She finds a lot of joy in watching her kids navigate the many life lessons that come with juggling school work and practice. “It is truly divide and conquer,” Janelle says of the busy, action-packed weekends, “but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
And on the rare occasion that the active family of four finds themselves faced with some downtime, they like to order in Chinese food or pizza and kickback for a family movie night. On the weekends, this translates to tackling one of many projects around the house, of which no one is exempt from helping out--except Thor, of course, since it would require him to dirty his paws.
Though Janelle and her family have since moved on from the custom home and the staircase that inspired The Stair Barrier’s design, they’ve put a lot of love into their current home. It’s farmhouse style (as you may have guessed from the goats!) and proudly sports the handiwork of Janelle’s husband, Press. “He likes to build, so several of our feature pieces--like the center island in the kitchen and the bunk beds in the kids’ teen room--he made. I love that they will forever be a part of the house.”
When it comes to decorating their farmhouse, Janelle loves mixing the old with the new. “I don’t like everything to match perfectly,” she says. So, it makes sense that her favorite room in her home is the dining room, where she loves to gather nightly with her family and hear about her kids’ days, and which features a farmhouse table made from repurposed European hardwoods. She describes this staple piece as “perfectly imperfect.”
Janelle’s daughter was two years old and her son just two months old when they moved into a custom-built home with an open-concept foyer that featured a staircase as the very first thing you see when you walk through the front door. Their brand new staircase sported volute curved bannisters, and, though they were gorgeous, they posed a problem. Amidst a pile of moving boxes, it dawned on Janelle that none of her baby gates were going to fit her stairs.
She set about her hunt for a solution and happened upon a huge hole in the baby gate market -- a functional solution for banister to banister stairs that also wouldn’t be a huge eyesore in an open-concept home like hers. But rather than settle for anything less than what she envisioned, Janelle decided to design her own baby gate that was made of fabric with internal struts to support it. She had her friend sew it, and just like that, the very first Stair Barrier was up and running in her own home.
But it took some time before that first prototype became the business and the brand that Janelle and Thor report to Canton, Georgia to run every day.
For awhile, life simply went on. “I had initially come up with the idea and then sat on it. My kids grew up. I was a mother; I worked. I had my own business, [but] I was a little bored. It wasn’t quite fulfilling.”
Janelle had a friend who had a patent for an invention with her husband, which they’d been pursuing for nearly ten years. Janelle had always been inspired by their courage and tenacity, but it wasn’t until a particular visit from that friend that something really clicked.
Janelle can still recall the exact moment. “She was over. She was looking at the product, and my kids were standing there, and they were like, Mom, you invented this? They had no idea! We had been using the product in my house for about eight years, and they didn’t realize it.”
Inspired by both her friend’s persistence and to set an example for her kids, Janelle questioned why she ever gave up on her invention. “I felt like, what kind of lesson am I teaching my kids if I have an idea and I don’t go for it and try to live out that dream?”
As you can guess, she did finally go for it. In March of 2014, Janelle filed for a patent and incorporated Better Options Company and in January 2015, the company’s first brand, The Stair Barrier, started selling nationwide.
Today, Janelle’s favorite part about her business is knowing that they provide a solution for families. She also finds deep fulfillment in the team that they have built at all levels, and that she has set her business up in such a way that allows her family to be involved.
At the end of last year, Janelle and her team opened an office and distribution center that is just a seven-minute drive from her home. So, if you were to drop by Better Options Company headquarters, you might just happen upon Janelle’s two kids “making boxes, stamping bags, playing some music, and dancing as they do it,” while Thor lounges on the couch, content to supervise from afar.