Biolife in Manatee expands retail footprint nationally

As reported in the Bradenton Herald

MANATEE — Sam Shake smiled as he sat at his desk following a routine safety meeting last week. It was that feeling the boss of every company gets the moment success sinks in.

As CEO of a small medical manufacturer in South Manatee, Shake was entrenched in a Red Cross training procedure when he turned to an unrecognizable face.

“What the heck are you doing here?” he yelled.

The 30 or so employees gathered in the stuffed conference room burst out laughing.

Shake had unwittingly just embarrassed the new hire fighting through his first day on the job. That’s what happens when hiring begins to mushroom.

“I guess I need to go in the back warehouse more,” Shake said with a grin.

BioLife LLC has reached a potentially life-changing deal for the small start-up. Its flagship product, WoundSeal, will soon be on the shelves of nearly 20,000 big-box retailers by the close of summer.

The deal is expected to double company sales this year, with projections to sell more than 1 million units.

What started two years ago as an experiment in selling WoundSeal directly to the public through Walgreens drug stores in Southwest Florida has grown into a thriving retail marketing success that now includes CVS, Target, Giant Eagle and Safeway. And the company is in active discussions to add Walmart to that roster.

WoundSeal’s ability to instantly stop a bleeding wound has attracted seniors on blood thinners desperately seeking an alternative to gauze and ointment.

Once consumer demand spiked, interest from national retailers wasn’t far behind.

“It’s very unique putting brown powder that looks like dirt on a wound,” said Andrew McFall, BioLife vice president of marketing. “Mom always told us not to do that, so it’s different. But then you show people how it works, and within a few seconds they’re amazed.

“WoundSeal is a nonprescription topical powder used for external bleeding wounds. Active ingredients hydrophilic polymer and potassium ferrate create an instant protective seal that naturally falls off when the wound heals.

The product was created by accident when two inventors were developing water purification technology in 2000. One of them — on blood thinners at the time — noticed a cut on his arm healed much faster after contact with some of the experimental powder.

BioLife was officially born as a small start-up in 2002, growing into a 22,000-square-foot facility on 25th Court East near the corner of U.S. 301 and University Parkway.

Although WoundSeal works on any skin abrasion, the retail packages mostly have been marketed for seniors on blood thinners plagued by their constant battle with bleeding.

For Donna Weeks, 82, whose 92-year-old husband Kenneth is taking the blood thinner Coumadin, the product means no more accidental blood stains on the sheets, carpet and sofa in their Bradenton home.

“When you cut yourself, sometimes the bleeding just doesn’t stop,” she said. “This worked miracles for us.”

The product comes with four individually wrapped applications in a plastic travel container, which retails for $6.99.

BioLife’s original marketing push was through hospitals and medical personnel. The product is used in first-aid kits and in hospitals and clinics for medical treatments. In hospitals, WoundSeal mostly is used to stop bleeding during surgeries.

“We actually use it when we put central catheters in people to hold the seal and make sure no bacteria gets in,” said Dr. Louis Guzzi, a critical care physician with Florida Hospital in Orlando. “There’s really not an alternative that works as well.

“Company officials expect their retail footprint to grow exponentially as the brand builds credibility with consumers who have been tacking a bandage on their wound for decades. They also plan to continue the focus on hospitals, which Shake admits is a harder market to break into.

“The rest of the world just doesn’t know about us,” Shake said. “For now.”

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