It took a little more than two years for two Durango entrepreneurs to go from an idea generated during a weekend water-skiing on Navajo Lake to sales of their product, more functional and aesthetically pleasing boat fenders and dock bumpers, on Amazon.
Impact CBS Inc., formed after that water-skiing outing in summer 2017 when Courtney Gates and Brian Slaughter began searching for boat fenders better than the existing awkward bulbous contraptions and discovered “there really wasn’t anything better on the market,” said Slaughter.
Gates and Slaughter think they are now ready to handle an onslaught of orders from the online retailing giant, after moving into a 2,400-square-foot manufacturing facility earlier this year on Animas View Drive.
“We make all our products ourselves, we have the equipment, we have the space for growth,” Gates said.
Slaughter, who has a background in the manufacturing industry, currently leads production of the fenders and bumpers, but Impact plans to add three to four employees by spring 2020 to handle manufacturing duties.
“We realized we need to focus on sales, marketing and distribution,” he said.
So far, Impact has had $60,000 in sales and plans to double that amount by the end of the year, with a push into wholesale and Christmas sales – led by a concentrated marketing effort on social media along with going live on Amazon.
Gates said the couple looked at manufacturing sites in Mancos and Aztec that might be more affordable. But in the end, taking into consideration travel time and weather conditions, they decided to keep manufacturing in Durango.
“Brian has lived here for 32 years. We have kids in the schools. It’s home. It feels good to grow an industry here and to employ people,” Gates said.
Impact, an alumni of the Southwest Colorado Accelerator Program for Entrepreneurs, is currently raising capital to expand its manufacturing capability, product development, marketing, distribution and wholesale operation.
A goal of $250,000 in capital has been set and Impact currently has commitments for $110,000 already, Slaughter said.
The firm is also seeking an additional $250,000 in capital from the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade through a competitive grant process aimed at supporting early-stage job-creating businesses in Colorado.
Gates said they should hear if they have been awarded the grant by the end of the year.
Getting word out about their product, Gates said, has been one of the most difficult aspects in developing Impact so far.
The couple has been to dozens of boat shows and plans to go to 16 more in 2020, twice the number they went to this year, and Impact was awarded the best new product at the Utah Boat Show & Watersports Expo in February.
“It’s getting people to know about us, that’s been the hardest thing,” Gates said. “Once we’re in front of people, we’re good. People see the product and they’re like, ‘This is fantastic.’ We’ve been to enough boat shows to know that will be the reaction. At one show, one guy told us, ‘You’ve reinvented the frickin’ wheel.’”
Gates said Impact is now working on social media marketing, search engine optimization and other targeted digital marketing efforts to move beyond boat shows in marketing its products.
Impact is working with a business class at Fort Lewis College to develop a social media marketing plan.
“We want to pop up first when people search for ‘boat fenders’ or ‘dock bumpers,’” Gates said.
Also on the marketing front, at the LA Harbor Show in September, Impact signed Taylor Garcia, a competitive water skier, to a sponsorship deal to endorse its products, and Gates said Impact plans to build a team of sponsor athletes to help get the word out about its products.
The fenders and bumpers are manufactured by using a pliable metal mesh sandwiched by durable dense foam and wrapped in 32-ounce polyester (also used to make whitewater rafts) to make the tough, durable products.
“People love that they are storeable, and they have multiple uses. You can sit on them or kneel on them. They float,” Gates said.
Impact is seeking a patent on its pliable metal mesh used in the fenders and bumpers.
Impact is finalizing an agreement with Centurion Boats to provide two boat fenders on 75 Centurion boats in 2020. Providing fenders to boat manufacturers would open up another revenue stream for the firm, which has concentrated on selling to owners of high-performance boats and is expanding sales to owners of pontoons, sailboats and yachts.
“It makes sense. It’s pretty easy to bury the cost of boat fenders in a $200,000 boat,” Slaughter said.
Impact spent the day Tuesday preparing its universal product codes for Amazon sales.
Gates and Slaughter are looking for Amazon to take them to year-round sales and move the firm beyond boat season sales.
As for calling Durango home, Slaughter said SCAPE offered the firm invaluable assistance in marketing, financing and manufacturing and raising money from local investors.
“We’re lucky to have a lot of experienced, skilled people in the community who want to support local businesses, who want to see them succeed,” he said.