Joseph, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I often ask myself that question when I am in the laboratory manufacturing the Zoombang polymer. I’m not a chemist and don’t have any background in chemistry yet here I am with a trade secret protected formula in the lab forcing a chemical reaction to occur so that I can manipulate the molecular makeup of some otherwise rather simple constituents and create a visco-elastic polymer that protects professional athletes in every sport as well as military, tactical and police forces around the world. That’s what drew me to Zoombang when first introduced to the company back in 2012. For the past 30 years I’ve built and sold a number of companies. One of the most important questions I ask myself when considering a business opportunity is, will this afford me the opportunity to impact people’s lives in a positive way. After selling my last company, and what I do whenever I am in between ventures, I act as a M&A (Mergers and Acquisition) Intermediary for small to medium size companies. Basically, I help find and match buyers and sellers. During this go around in 2012 I had been meeting on a monthly basis with my now partners Paul Marsh and Nathan Dagley. We developed a personal and business relationship over the previous years and decided we would explore the possibility of starting a new venture together. My access to the M&A world facilitated exposure to many companies that were looking to be acquired. During a national conference call in May of 2012 one of the Intermediaries on the call gave a brief introduction to his new sell side client company, Zoombang. I was immediately intrigued and followed up with the individual. After getting the appropriate paperwork in place, I was able to answer that first question, Will this company impact people’s life’s in a positive way. The answer was resounding yes. I was certain that Nathan and Paul would be interested in exploring this closer so I called a meeting and a week later the 3 of us flew up to Pittsburgh, PA to see the operation and meet with the owner of the company. We are very impressed with the product, the clientele and the backstory on the origin of the company (more info on that in the About your business section) and we quickly came to the conclusion that we would enter in to a due diligence phase with the objective of putting together an offer to acquire the company. After a year of negotiating and several iterations of what the operation would look like we along with our group of Limited Partners closed the transaction In June of 2013. Prior to closing the transaction one of the key employees that was with the company decided to vacate his position which put me in a difficult position as although I was the partner who would run the day to day operations of this new acquisition. Nathan and Paul have several other ventures that they operate on a daily basis. I had not intended on having to make a full time move to Pennsylvania. My initial plan was to spend about 2 weeks a month there and 2 weeks home here in Katy. Unfortunately, with the loss of the key employee I had to make the commitment to move to Pittsburgh for the first year with plans of relocating the manufacturing plant to Katy at the end of our lease. This was a difficult decision and an extremely challenging time as I was only getting home 1 weekend a month to see my family (wife Alison and daughter Alexandra 13 years old at the time). During the first 6 months of operations, most of my time was spent learning the chemistry of the polymer and how to manufacturer it. This equated to long days at the plant and studying polymer chemistry online during the evenings.
Seems crazy and always does make me wonder how I got here since my first company was a plumbing and heating company I started in Philadelphia. You may have seen me on the TV show Rescue 911 or Code 3 or Real TV I was on them all after being buried alive at a jobsite where I was replacing a sewer line in a 14 feet deep trench. It was March 16th 1994 when the walls caved in and I was buried. I could not even wiggle my finger away from the white hot torch tip that I was using to melt lead in the hole. They estimated that there was 1200lbs of pressure per square inch on my body and later told me that the survival percentage for this type of event is less than 1%. Yet after I was fully extracted 5 hours later and rushed to the waiting team at the trauma center, I refused the helicopter ride that they had ready and waiting and opted for just the regular ambulance, I ended up signing myself out of the hospital that night to the shock of the entire trauma team and first responders. I felt fine. Again, I attribute this success to have great employees. Although, the first responders took control when they arrived prior to that my guys acted immediately, digging frantically until they finally hit my head with a shovel. From there they dropped to their knees and dug till their hands were bloody and my head was exposed. Once my head was exposed I caught my first breath and knew I would be OK.
After gaining the experience and confidence in the chemistry and making of the polymer (I learned enough to know that I could never learn enough and that hiring a chemist would be a future need as we move toward further developing the polymers and expanding our market opportunities.) my focus moved on to marketing, brand development, client relations and business development for the next few months and then during the last quarter of the first year it was all about preparing for the move.
Since we been up and running at our Katy Texas location we continue to experience year over year growth and we’ve seen a significant uptick on the military and tactical sides of the business with steady growth on the sports side. We currently sell to most NFL teams, many NHL teams and every NHL referee wears our gear. Our objective is to partner with a big name brand on the sport side so we can capture the youth market and we’ll continue to develop the brand and the technology as we move in to that position.
At our core, we are polymer manufacturer, that’s what we are great at and we have the ability to provide the best protection available.
We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Smooth as a skateboard on a gravel road. Manufacturing offers challenges on a daily basis be it a machine malfunctioning that you have to learn how to fix on the fly or a delay from material supplier everyday offers a new challenge but being blessed with having some great employees we are able to overcome and keep pressing forward.
Another major challenge was relocating the facility from Irwin PA to Katy Texas. I had never been through the process of relocating a manufacturing plant before and hope to never have to again. It was an arduous task from interviewing and contracting with a rigging company, prepping for the move, making inventory for the down time and ultimately getting back up and running. We had 5 tractor trailers loaded with all of our equipment that left PA on a Friday and were unloading at the new facility in Katy starting that Monday. The ideal scenario would have been that the building we moved in to was built out and ready for us hook everything up and get rolling.
Unfortunately, it took quite a while to find this location and by the time we acquired the property we were already scheduled to move out of the PA location. We had basically an empty shell of a building and I had to have the riggers set the machines in the locations I felt would be optimal but we didn’t have any electricity to tie them in and test them. It ended up taking a solid 3 months to get the build out completed. Ultimately, we got up and running we had prepared the best we could and didn’t lose any clients as a result.
Working in a plant with no A/C in Texas from July through September is not the ideal work environment.
So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Zoombang story. Tell us more about the business.
ZB Products dba Zoombang (“ZB”) is currently operating in the impact protection industry as a polymer manufacturer producing protection gear for use in all sports, military, police, tactical, industrial, equine and medical applications. Additionally, the company manufactures custom polymers for use in breaching operations. The company’s most recent product development is a structure that is designed to be placed over an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) and effectively captures all lateral frag and focuses the energy upward.
ZB Products is a privately held company located at 26947 Katy Freeway in Katy, Texas. The polymers the company manufacturers and develops can be engineered to manage energy by dissipating, transferring, or accentuating blunt force trauma, shock, g-force loading, and vibration. The company has developed a range of proprietary polymers to reduce injury and dramatically increase comfort for applications where protection to the body is critical, such as in all contact sports, medical (post-transplant and surgical protection), and military / ballistic applications and hazardous work environments.
Further, the company has a line of polymers used for ballistic breaching operations that facilitate a Zero Frag Blowback scenario resulting in a safer breach operation for Tactical teams and Room Occupants alike. This product will set the new standard in the breaching world as it will replace the water bladder tamp charge due to the reduction in the requisite net weight explosive and over all weight reduction of 80%.
Additionally, the company recently completed field testing on the 1st generation ZB3 IED Containment Structure which effectively contained the lateral frag and resulting sonic energy created by a large pipe bomb. The company expects to be in production on this product in the first quarter of 2018.
In the early 1970s Extrude Hone Corporation president and scientist Lawrence Rhoades developed a series of proprietary visco-elastic polymers filled with various types of abrasives that were used as part of a special finish machining operation to polish high value parts such as jet engine components, turbine blades, vanes, and fuel spray nozzles to medical implants such as knee and hip joints to heart valves. The polymers were engineered to have a specific “flow rate” to be able to travel through the various components depending on the passage size and to suspend the abrasive grains. Special machines were built to hydraulically force the abrasive laden polymers back and forth through the complex internal geometries of the parts. The process was thought of as a 3D grinding wheel or liquid sandpaper flowing through the part.
Mr. Rhoades identified these polymers had unique properties in the way they responded to energy, in all modalities, and conducted extensive research and further development finding there was a significant opportunity in the impact protection industry. In 2003 ZoomBang (Impact Innovative Products L.L.C.) was created as a Start-up subsidiary within Extrude Hone to explore possible applications and potential markets for materials that could be used to control energy. By the end of the 2004 football season every NFL Team was experimenting with ZB protective padding material. The Extrude Hone Corporation and its traditional finishing businesses were sold to Kennametal Inc. in February 2005 for in excess of a $137 million. The Ex One Company was then formed to develop and commercialize emerging technologies which included Digital Direct Manufacturing, Electro-chemical Machining, Super-Pulse Laser drilling and Engineered Polymer Materials.
Upon the completion of these transactions, Zoombang became the main focus of Mr. Rhoades as he continued to invest millions of dollars in research and development and building a business development infrastructure. By 2007 an agreement was secured with the Rawlings Company to develop a line of compression gear with Zoombang protection. This relationship continued to develop and Zoombang was in stores nationwide.
It was during this time Mr. Rhoades took a vacation to Hawaii and tragically died during a scuba diving trip. Zoombang then became an estate company. Ultimately, the family decided they would sell the company as there was no passion for running the business. During this time, the company saw a dramatic reduction in sales and ultimately the termination of the contract with Rawlings.
Joseph Scott, who was working in M&A at the time and meeting with Nathan Dagley and Paul Marsh weekly to discuss acquisition opportunities discovered the Zoombang opportunity. The group immediately met regarding the company and subsequently visited the company at its Irwin, PA location. After the site visit and due diligence, the group decided to make an offer to purchase the company. After a year of negotiating they closed on the acquisition on June 28, 2013 and Mr. Scott began managing the company on July 1, 2013. Mr. Scott relocated to PA with the intention of learning the chemistry, the business and relocating the company to Texas (which occurred in June 2014). Since the relocation, facility build out and ramp up of operations in November of 2014 the company has shown year over year growth.
There are numerous things that I am very proud of regarding the company and our product but the 3 that come to mind included my invention of the ZB-3 IED Containment Structure- this product will save lives once deployed and readily available at high pedestrian traffic locations. Also, our ZB-7 pad which protects police officers, military troops and security people around the world from the secondary impact on the body when they are shot. The armor vest they wear stops the bullet but the injuries that occur from the impact can be lethal in their own right. By adding our pad to the bullet proof vest, we can reduce the impact on the body by up to 90% which can be the difference between being injured and not being able to fight on or being completely fine and able to continue to engage in a volatile situation.
The best feel good area for me and Zoombang though is when we receive a garment (typically a shirt) from a surgeon that has an outline of an area that needs protection, for example where someone just received a new kidney. To know that we make a product that surgeons trust to protect an organ and to give that recipient the comfort level to go out and experience life without limitations is a wonderful feeling. We work directly with a few foundations including Kidney Kids and the Tripp Foundation. You can’t help but get a little choked up when you get a shirt in for a 2-year-old that needs a lot of protection on that tiny garment.
What’s your favorite memory from childhood?
Growing up in the city (Philadelphia), we were always out playing in the street, there were tons of kids and we all played hockey and football in the street with no pads (could’ve used some Zoombang Gear then). There were no video games, smart phones, etc. so everyone played outside…but you had to be home when the street lights came on.
Has luck played a meaningful role in your life and business?
There is always an element of luck in business as in life but for the most part you create your own luck. If you work hard and are laser focused with a good plan you tend to have better luck. I’ve been blessed with good fortune in my life and that’s not just by chance, it’s a result of giving it everything you have every day. I get up every morning and do my best to be better than I was the day before. Some days I fall short and others I accomplish great things. My hope is that days I am successful outnumber the days I fall short.
Also, when you are doing things like this you don’t want to rely on luck this is a video of me getting shot with a .38 cal at point blank range to prove the efficacy of our ZB-7 pad.
Article originally published by VoyageHouston