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The LaVa Cart Story

New York City, June of 2020. The photo industry was even tougher than normal. The few clients that were still hiring for productions have their hands tied with government mandated caps on crew sizes. Crew positions to get the axe first were photo and production assistants.

The few times I was lucky enough to get hired that summer, I was bitching to my life/work partner Leah about how much gear we were lugging around since we couldn't hire any crew. A lot of our clients prefer to shoot at their offices, showrooms, homes, rented locations, etc.

She suggested we buy a cart. Me being a bit of an equipment brand snob, my first thought was an INOVATIV cart.

I said, "But those things cost like $5,000!" She replied, WHAT!? that's insane.. there has to be other options."

She was right, but I just never thought twice about other options.

I started researching for alternatives. I've always wanted something that could both haul gear AND be used as a tethering station after setup.

I came across the RocknRoller R12 Stealth. I was a bit reluctant to purchase it since I've heard mixed reviews about RocknRoller, but the price was right and I needed something.

However, when I received it I was very presently surprised! After using it to haul heavy gear for a few jobs I started really analyzing it's anatomy and thinking how I could modify and improve on this already great foundational frame work.

I should mention I'm a handy person, I like to build things and modify my equipment. My father is a skilled tool and die maker. I spent a good deal of time in a garage and machine shops growing up. Perhaps it's just in my blood.

Analyzing the RocknRoller R12, I noticed the perforated holes on the cart arms. This was a no-brainer. The options were endless. From here I took every measurement imaginable and drew up some ideas on how to make a quick release top and bottom shelf for the RocknRoller.

Since I was living in a New York City apartment, I didn't have many tools at my disposal. I went to a lumber yard in China Town at 123 Chrystie Street and asked for my lumber needs. It's great because they will cut lumber to any dimensions that you desire within 1/8th inch tolerance. Great for people that don't have a table saw or don't wanna make a mess of saw dust in their living space. They didn't have exactly the types of lumber I wanted, but it was close enough. At a local Ace Hardware I bought some all-thread rod, hand knobs, paint, rubber cement, etc. I went to Canal Rubber Supply to find something for the surface. They wouldn't let me inside to browse since covid was still roaring. A young salesman met me at the door and I explained what I was looking for. He brought me one sample that was sort of ribbed. I said, I guess that could work (Wishing I could go inside to see all the options). He said "Wait, I have another option I'd like to show you." He came back with this pebble textured non-directional ripple rubber matting. I remember being excited. I knew immediately this was the perfect material. It's the very same material we use on our products today. The last finishing element was trim. I found a supplier that sold a heavy duty U-Channel trim. It was overkill on durability since it's extruded with a metal core. I couldn't find a 90º miter notching tool so I used a Dremel tool to manually miter all the corners. I made a hell of a mess in the apartment.

Finally, I had something that I could use on photo shoots and that looked sleek. I had no intention of selling or manufacturing them. I just wanted something that made my RocknRoller cart more useful for shooting tethered, and looked great and professional on a photo set. As months went on of bringing this setup to more and more productions, almost every assistant, tech, sound engineer, etc that came across the cart asked what the hell it was. I was beginning to think more people in the industry had the same needs as myself and maybe don't want to invest in something like an Inovativ cart.

Don't get me wrong, Inovativ makes great products. However, knowing what I know now and giant price tag aside; they are not the best solution for everyone. They are a very specific type of cart. They don't have as much gear-hauling capacity and loading ease as the RocknRoller carts, they don't have telescopic extension, no open flat deck, they don't breakdown as quickly, and you can't easily load them into a normal sized vehicle. You'll need a proper van with a ramp and all that jazz. Which is fine if you have that, but a lot of times you just gotta throw some stuff in a car or a cab and get to a job.

By February 2021 I talked myself into building some products I could sell. I decided to build a proper prototype and see what would really be involved to scale production of these products. I traveled upstate New York where my family lives. I started working on prototypes in my father's well-equipped garage. We spent weeks choosing materials, hardware, and refining the design. After our prototype was complete I photographed the product and fully designed LaVa Cart's website. By May 2021, LaVa Cart NYC, LLC was fully registered in New York State and accepting orders.

For the next 7 months I was traveling upstate to produce small batches of 18-20 units a month out of the garage and often selling out faster than I could build them.

In November 2021, I decided to hire a very skilled local cabinet maker to do a bulk of the first steps while I could handle the finish work and shipping.

In addition to our sub contractors, my father, mother and sister have joined the LaVa Cart team with product design, production and administrative rolls. LaVa Cart secured an angel investor to help us produce parts at higher volumes. Since then, LaVa Cart has tripled production rates.

We manufacture and ship all of our products from Upstate New York.

Thanks for reading and being a LaVa Cart fan. Happy creating!

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