To some, picking a toothbrush is the most basic of decisions. But to dentists and people who obsess over their teeth, the choices are endless.
Soft bristles or hard? Bent neck or straight? Manual or electric? The checklist goes on and on.
In Kutztown, the toothbrushes manufactured by Radius Corp. under the leadership of CEO and President Saskia Foley are unique in their composition and shape compared with most store-bought brushes.
Thatâ€™s because Radiusâ€™ toothbrushes are ergonomically built, meaning they more easily fit a userâ€™s hand, and designs are available for both right- and left-handed users. The toothbrush handles also are made of bioplastics, or plastics derived from renewable sources, including wood and retired paper currency bought from the U.S. Mint.
The oval-shaped head, with a mass of fine bristles, and chunky handle are designed to improve gum health â€” enabling the user to massage the whole mouth, according to the company, which also claims it can help reduce bleeding and receding gums.
Now, the company, which has been in Kutztown for 30 years and is nearing its fourth decade in business, is making big moves in the borough to accommodate its growth â€” from one former 19th-century mill the company restored into another undergoing rehabilitation.
Last summer, Radius launched a $3.4 million renovation of a former silk mill on Willow Street with help from a $1.4 million loan from the Greater Berks Development Fund. Last month, the state awarded Radius a $150,000 tax credit toward its construction expenses under a program that encourages the reuse of older factories that fall under the designation of a historic site. It was one of 21 projects across the state that shared $3 million in credits. Lehigh Valley projects included in the list were Eastonâ€™s Simon Silk Mill complex and Lehigh Valley Cold Storage in south Bethlehem.
The company has 28 employees and plans to add 14 by the time it completes its move next year.
â€śItâ€™s been a perfect place to grow our business,â€ť Foley said of the decision to remain in Kutztown. â€śFor us, it was simple: We had great people working for us. Kutztown, the Lehigh Valley and Berks County have helped us.â€ť
People who have assisted the company hold up Radius as an example of a smart, local manufacturer.
â€śTheyâ€™re just amazing people in terms of what theyâ€™re doing,â€ť said Connie Faylor of Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania.
Faylor, a regional manager who oversees Ben Franklinâ€™s work in Berks and Schuylkill counties, said Bethlehem-based Ben Franklin has assisted the company several times during the last 20 years. For example: It connected the company with Pennsylvania College of Technology in Williamsport to help it come up with a more durable toothbrush replacement head.
â€śTheyâ€™re really focused on innovation,â€ť Faylor said of Radius, which received Ben Franklin iXchange recognition in 2017 for its innovative application of technology.
Chris Witmer, project development director with the Greater Reading Chamber Alliance, has known Radius since it moved to Kutztown from New York City in 1988. The toothbrushes were previously manufactured by a company in Massachusetts.
â€śThey needed capital when they made their initial move, and weâ€™ve been able to assist the company through additional financing,â€ť Witmer said, adding the company has been able to retain and add jobs with the funding.
Foley became CEO in 2011, nearly 30 years after her father, Kevin Foley, and business partner James Oâ€™Halloran invented the Radius design. An original toothbrush â€” it was actually named The Original Toothbrush â€” sits in the permanent collection of Smithsonianâ€™s National Museum of American History.
The company is renovating a former three-story silk mill just off Kutztownâ€™s Main Street, a few blocks from a former feed mill that Kevin Foley, who is an architect, renovated years earlier with the help of state funding.
Saskia Foley and Justen Scholl, operations director, led a tour of the mill and adjacent building, which houses its permanent manufacturing and packaging departments, its temporary offices and outlet store. The three-story mill building will house offices, the outlet store and perhaps warehousing.
A conveyor belt starts on the third floor and winds down two flights amid the millâ€™s original brick structure with wooden floors and large pillars. It recalls a time when finished silk-woven products made their way from manufacturing to shipping.
Today, Radiusâ€™ toothbrush manufacturing process starts and ends on one floor. Boxy, clean Belgian-made toothbrush machines combine handles with bristles. The bristles are microscopically trimmed, then the brushes are dusted for any residue.
From there, workers take the finished products, place them on nesting trays and package them in boxes. Scholl and Foley said the company has the capability to produce up to 2 million toothbrushes per month.
Foley said its toothbrushes are meant for a premium market, but even a small slice of the oral care market could be lucrative. Globally, itâ€™s expected to grow about 5 percent annually to nearly $41 billion by 2025, according to an August report by Grand View Research Inc. of San Francisco. Thatâ€™s up from 2017â€™s market total of $28 billion, Grand View said.
Foley, 38, believes Radiusâ€™ growth is limitless. While declining to release sales figures, she said the privately held company is looking to expand its childrenâ€™s line of toothbrushes as well as its pet care segment. In recent years, it has expanded product lines to toothpaste and floss. The company sells toothbrushes on its website, via Amazon.com, at large stores such as Wegmans and Whole Foods, and through other national and local retailers and dentistsâ€™ offices.
â€śItâ€™s not like it flies out of here â€¦ like Crest brushes, but there is a steady following,â€ť said Barbara Fluck, store clerk at Queenâ€™s Nutritional Products in Allentown. â€śThe fact that itâ€™s a local company, thatâ€™s a plus.â€ť
Dentists also carry Radius toothbrushes, though Foley said Radius doesnâ€™t sell many to them. Part of the reason she said, might be cost, which ranges from several dollars for a childâ€™s toothbrush up to $10 for an adult brush.
Kathie Bowen, administrator at Oral Dynamics in Allentown, said the practice doesnâ€™t regularly carry Radius, but she was familiar with them. She said the toothbrushes might make a good choice for people with arthritis or who have suffered a stroke.
â€śThe thing that comes to mind most is they are very user-friendly for people with dexterity problems,â€ť Bowen said.
One patient, she said, prefers Radius because of the toothbrushâ€™s â€śvery large head.â€ť
Witmer, of the Greater Reading Chamber Alliance, said he also has become a Radius fan.
â€śThe grip will feel odd at first, but I use it all the time,â€ť he said.
Radius, it seems, has held a positive hold in the tiny borough of Kutztown.
Address: 40 Willow St., Kutztown
CEO: Saskia Foley
What it makes: Specialty, premium toothbrushes for adults, children and pets. It also sells related products for consumers and pets, including toothpaste and dental floss. The companyâ€™s products are sold nationwide and in 45 countries.
Year founded: 1982
Year it moved to Kutztown: 1988
Whatâ€™s new: The company recently moved from 207 Railroad St. into a 19th-century silk mill on Willow Street, a few blocks away. Alvin H. Butz Inc. of Allentown is construction manager for the estimated $3.4 million renovation project.