Dressage Daily's Newest Virtual Vendor - LivingStep Makes Truck Bed Access Easy!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Tom Livingston rolled out his LivingStep at the Specialty Equipment Market Association Show in Las Vegas in November 2008 and over 200 vendors swarmed his display, eagerly signing up to represent this new product.  What is a LivingStep? It’s a simple solution to the question all full-size pickup owners face – how to easily access the truck bed?  The LivingStep is installed on the tailgate to create a strong step that handles up to 500 pounds and allows you to simply step into your truck bed – no more jumping, climbing and crawling! 

“This product is incredibly handy!” enthuses Kristi Livingston. Kristi, a professional dressage rider and trainer, is Tom’s daughter and has been using the LivingStep in field trials for years. “Once you’ve used it, you really cannot live without it. It’s a tool for any job relating to the use of your pickup. It makes packing and unloading at horse shows or the feed store and all the other horse-related activities much more efficient.”

Tom conceived his step product 10 years ago, originally to fill the need in his business as a painting contractor. He has since found industry applications in a broad spectrum of markets including equestrian, outdoor sports and recreation, hunting, fishing, snowmobiling, and tailgating. “There are 30 million pickup trucks out there – Dodge, Chevy, Ford, Toyota, Nissan – and our step fits most all them,” Tom points out.

Made in the U.S.A. to OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) automotive industry standards, the patented LivingStep operates with just one moving part – a hardened stainless steel hinge pin. It’s easily installed by the truck owner or at a local garage and is available in a Surface Mount Model or Drop In Model. Tom is currently working on a new model designed for ¾-ton dually owners.

After the Las Vegas SEMA Show, Tom returned to his Pennsylvania, home and was inundated with calls from more representatives eager to introduce the LivingStep into retail venues such as Tractor Supply and Cabela’s.  One of the major vehicle manufacturers has expressed interest in factory installation of LivingStep on all its trucks. 

Tom’s company, LivingStep, LLC, and his team of 30 people ranging from lawyers to graphic artists, are ready to handle the boom that a major new product launch entails. Tom has also enlisted Kristi’s help. She handles aspects of the marketing and has become Tom’s ‘right-hand’ person in promoting the LivingStep.

Kristi has been getting positive feedback from users in the equestrian world. “They like the simplicity, the craftsmanship, and the weather resistant features,” she notes. “It’s easy to use, it’s durable because there’s only one moving part, and it withstands climate conditions like snow, ice, sand, and mud. Plus our Surface Mount model can be transferred from one truck to another, adding additional value to the vehicle.”

New LivingStep user Rick Rockefeller-Silvia, a Grand Prix dressage rider and owner of Dream Street Stallions, is thrilled with the product and appears in a full-color ad offering a glowing endorsement, “It is essential for me to have a LivingStep on all of my farm vehicles.” 

Now that Tom Livingston has successfully launched his LivingStep as a product that makes truck bed access easy, he is on a mission to let truck owners know that it also makes tailgates into versatile tools, ranging from mounting blocks to desks.

“The pickup truck has been around for 80 years, but all anyone has ever done with the tailgate is open and shut it,” Tom points out. “With the LivingStep, you can use your tailgate as a very nice seat with a backrest for putting on boots or even mounting your horse. If you want to fill the truck up with hay, you can lift the step up and tie off a whole additional row. The tailgate doubles as a desk if you sit on the LivingStep and put your legs through. You can really make your tailgate a useful feature of your truck!”

The world is welcoming this much-needed product with open arms now, but it’s been a long haul getting to this point. Tom Livingston is a long-time entrepreneur and independent businessman whose philosophy saw him through the ups and downs of the LivingStep decade-long saga.

“Ever since I was little, I learned the art of working for myself,” Tom explains. “It involves risk and it involves hard work, but the return on the dollar is far greater than a job where you have to work so many hours at such-and-such a rate to make your money.”

Tom’s first entrepreneurial venture was a lawn mowing business he launched at age 13. In the late 1970s, while earning his college degree in Communications, Tom launched a paint contracting business. Today, Tom’s company has a large team of painting contractors and specializes in the elite field of renovating posh hotels.

The idea for the LivingStep surfaced because of Tom’s painting business, but it also proved to be the solution to Kristi’s horse-related activities. Kristi, who has been involved in horse showing for most of her life, noted, “Someone was always crawling up the truck for hay and equipment.”

Searching for ways to be more efficient, Tom looked for a product in catalogs and bought several different steps that were on the market at the time.  “I put them on my truck and it became apparent within about 30 seconds that they were junk!” Tom assessed. “It was at that point I began to express to my wife and my workers – this is cheesy stuff! It doesn’t work! I can remember drawing my present concept for the LivingStep with my fingers on the tailgate and describing how it would work with two hinges – just like mine is now.”

That was in 1999. Tom admits that even though he had the perfect solution, he did nothing about it for nearly three years. 

What motivated Tom to finally take action was reading How the Scots Invented the Modern World by Arthur Herman. Tom read the bestseller in 2001 and was shocked to learn that the motto of Scotland was, “Just do it, ” which inspired Scotsmen to tackle extraordinary projects such as the Panama Canal.

“They saw a problem and they said ‘let’s just do it’ – so that really, really motivated me to just do something and quit talking about it!” Tom recounts.

Six months after reading the book, Tom was at a local sheet metal shop with his drawings, telling them how to make the initial version of the LivingStep.

“They had no idea what they were building, but they designed it and I refined it and we went back and forth,” Tom says. “It took about two years until finally we got the leg, and the angle, and the pitch and all of those things designed. It’s a very simple design, but there’s a whole lot of engineering in that hinge system, which is what all the patents are about. I’ll never forget the day when I realized it was going to work. I had it on my truck and I went and got my wife. I was so excited.”

Once he had his first working LivingStep, Tom hired lawyers and went to work on getting patents, disclaimers, non-compete forms, and other legal documents in place. Then, with great enthusiasm Tom sent his LivingStep to General Motors, Ford, and Dodge. General Motors responded immediately and negotiated with Tom for nearly two years before opting out in 2003.

The LivingStep project went on the backburner until 2007. Tom and his family were watching the Super Bowl and one of the truck makers he’d sent his prototype to aired an advertisement with a tailgate step.  At first, Tom was devastated, but his supportive Board of Directors and family were quick to bring his concerns to a positive light. “The fact that a major company was using a tailgate step on all their trucks turned out to be the greatest thing that could have happened,” Tom beams. “People have seen it on those trucks, so essentially that validated our concept as the best design for a step feature on a truck.”

During the next 18 months, Tom focused on getting his manufacturing base in line and preparing to rollout his product. First he went to a local shop, which produced about 200 steps, but Tom determined the craftsmanship was a bit rough. Each step was made slightly differently, which was unacceptable for the automotive industry. “There are all kinds of certifications that you have to comply to,” Tom pointed out. “One of them being an ISO rating, which requires that your product is tested with micrometers and devices that measure exactness of size. They have to be exactly the same.”

Tom moved his manufacturing to a company that makes parts for Volvo, Harley Davidson, John Deere and Mack Truck, and that is where the LivingSteps are currently made.

“We re-engineered the step to make it really, really a quality step,” Tom enthuses. “If we shipped you 200 steps, you could inter-change parts on all of them and they would all fit perfectly. So we’ve got our manufacturing base in line, which means if you were to give me an order for 5,000 steps, I have the people to make 5,000 steps.” 

Additionally, Tom secured his trademarks, and worked on branding and marketing. “We did the whole route that you do when you try to rollout a new product,” Tom sums up.

The display at the 2008 SEMA Show in Las Vegas, which is the largest aftermarket auto show in the United States, was the final piece in Tom’s plan. It proved to be successful far beyond his expectations. 

Pride is evident in Tom’s voice as he talks about the LivingStep he is able to produce today. “This is a difficult product to display with a picture or even a video. You almost have to see the product to believe it and once you touch it and feel it and try it, that is when you realize this thing’s made well,” Tom says. “You have to feel the finish. We put a lot of extra expense into developing this step and producing it so that it is a very rugged quality type product.”

One of Tom’s goals now is rolling out the newest model of LivingStep, designed for dually owners. “It’s in the patent process right now,” Tom says.  “There are important modifications to be made before the roll-out, but this step works exactly on the same principal as the current model. It will be made out of stainless steel and it will be really, really rugged.”

With the surge in business, Tom credits Kristi for helping him keep it all under control. “I had no idea how many marketing skills were imbedded in her until I put her to work,” Tom says. “She can find out information that I would never get because I’m just blinded by all my concerns. I wouldn’t be where I am if it weren’t for her help right now.”

LivingStep is available at special rates for direct purchase by retailer merchants including feed stores, tack shops, and local and national auto aftermarket retailers.

Complete product information with videos, photos, and purchasing options is available on the product website at www.LivingStep.com.  For further information or if you have questions about the LivingStep, email your inquiries to info@livingstep.com.

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DressageDaily's Virtual Vendor - Living Step