There's nothing rock and roll about the BioPlastics building in Avon Lake. Its egg-carton-like exterior is nondescript. Inside, the whir of conveyor belts and machinery creates a sweatshop atmosphere, with workers laboring over plastic straps of all dimensions, turning some into dog collars, others into harnesses.
In a small, isolated cubicle, Rob Stevens and Aaron Boron cultivate an affinity for both business and rock and roll. An assortment of backstage passes and posters by Derek Hess litter their work area. Stacks of CDs by locals Keelhaul and Craw sit on the desk. Stevens and Boron run Indestructa-Strap Guitar Strap Systems, a BioPlastics offspring that in the last year has grown to national prominence. As the name implies, the straps are virtually indestructible. They're made out of a patented material that can hold up to 279 pounds of pressure; the average leather strap, by contrast, holds 85 pounds of pressure. (For a list of local dealers, consult the website, Indestructa-strap.com.)
"They're made for warriors," Stevens says. "They're not gonna fall apart unless you light them on fire. One guy took a torch to it, and he was like 'Man, your stuff's not indestructible. I had a torch, and I burned a hole through it.' He was mad at me, and I was like 'Dude, you had a torch. Of course it's gonna melt. What kind of freak are you?'"
Stevens probably attends two or three concerts a week, weaseling his way backstage to hand out free straps to hard rock bands, ranging from Tool to AC/DC and Slipknot. Go to any big rock show in town, and you're likely to run into the guy -- the one who seems to have a permanent smirk painted on his face. "You gotta do everything from the top down and bottom up at the same time," he says with his usual know-it-all attitude. "Usually what the kids want is what their idols are using, whether it's a toothbrush or a car."
When it comes to name-dropping, you're not likely to meet anyone in Cleveland who does it better than Stevens. "I got paid 500 bucks a week to drink beer with Filter. I'm not kidding. I got paid to party, basically. I did the whole tour. [The record label] flew me around, and I stayed in million-dollar hotels. Dude, I had [model] Rachel Hunter in my hotel room in Hollywood. It doesn't make sense. When I tell people stories, they're like 'Yeah, right.' It's all heavy-duty shit."
When Boron first considered turning BioPlastics' BioThane material into guitar straps, it was little more than an afterthought. As the guitarist in the local indie rock act the DuValby Brothers, Boron had his strap break on more than one occasion while onstage. At the time, he was working at BioPlastics, so he took a two-inch-wide belt and converted it into a makeshift guitar strap. It worked. When the DuValby Brothers disbanded in 1999, Boron decided to try to market and manufacture the straps on a large scale. At first, they were a failure, partly because they were poorly marketed and partly because of design flaws. But after making several design changes and rethinking the marketing, Stevens and Boron have gone from selling a hundred dollars' worth of product a month to sales of over $5,000 a month. They're also in the process of making the straps available internationally.
"The guitar-strap manufacturers are worried, because they see that the product doesn't fail," Boron explains. "People whom we've given straps to eight months ago have called us up and ordered more, because they want them for the rest of their guitars and believe in them now. It takes them a little bit of time to test it out."
Stevens, who sold steel for six years and worked with "guys who were the most evil people I've come across in my life," decided to help Boron with the marketing two years ago, after noticing that his friend, Keelhaul guitarist Dana Embrose, was wearing one of the straps.
With the backing of BioPlastics, a company that does some $25 million in business a year, Boron and Stevens have the support they need to give it a serious go. They're discriminating about giving out their gear, picking and choosing from the best local and national hard rock acts, though they've been known to take pity on lesser bands. They really believe that playing guitar with one of their straps will make musicians rock with more authority. Even their slogan proclaims "We make it safer to rock harder."
"Along the way, we want to help as many bands in Cleveland as we can," Stevens says. "If the band's really pathetic, I'll try to give them a strap, just to help them be better musicians. The strap actually makes you play better. You don't have to worry about dropping your guitar or that it's gonna fall off."