Formula for growth at little-known Zogics blends customer focus with workplace fun
By John Townes, Berkshire Trade & Commerce
If you asked a random sampling of people to make a list of products associated with Berkshire County, it is unlikely that sanitary wipes would be on that list.
That may eventually change, however, if Zogics, a company based in Lee, continues on the growth track it has experienced since founder and owner Paul LeBlanc started developing it as a one-man business in 2006.
In a few short years, Zogics has grown to become a leading producer and supplier of cleaning and sanitation supplies for the fitness, healthcare, education and military sectors. LeBlanc said the company, which currently has a sales growth rate of 30 percent a year, has become a preferred business-to-business vendor for several thousand commercial and institutional facilities in 50 states and 30 other countries.
Zogics founder and owner Paul LeBlanc (second from right) encourages a free-spirited office environment as a counterbalance to the demanding and fast-paced nature of the business. Among those buying into this philosophy are, from left: operations manager Craig Simmons, business development manager Brian Cruey, and McKensie Saldo, who interns at Zogics when not attending Marist College. Non-staff beneficiaries include Cruey’s mixed breed Buddy, and LeBlanc’s Rhodesian Ridgeback S’Bu, who are regular fixtures there.
He attributed this growth to a combination of factors, including a concentration on a specific niche and an emphasis on customer service. “I guess it’s a traditional story of hard work, building a great team and having a good amount of luck,” he said. Zogics also qualifies as one of the more unusual workplaces in the area.
The company is based in a nondescript 10,000-square-foot industrial space at 10 Valley St. (just across the Housatonic River from Crystal Street in Lenoxdale), which serves as its corporate headquarters, assembly facility and primary distribution center.
Although the workload is demanding for Zogics’ small staff, LeBlanc has fostered a casual environment that encourages employees to enjoy themselves while they are on the job.
The Valley Street site was chosen, in part, because it is adjacent to the October Mountain State Forest. This proximity allows staff members to take breaks during the day for short bike rides, walks or cross-country skiing. When they do so, they may be accompanied by their dogs, which they are welcome to bring to the office on a regular basis. (Two were on site during a recent visit: S’bu, a Rhodesian Ridgeback; and mixed breed Buddy.)
Beyond outdoor recreation and canine companionship, the Zogics workplace has other quirks and perks. The headquarters has a large, central room with offices on either side. While this room is fitted with some standard workplace accoutrements, these are largely obscured by other more eclectic equipment and furnishings. Among these are a living-room-style set-up with bright red sofa, chairs and coffee table, which come in handy when the workday is interrupted by an impromptu social gathering. These eye-catching furnishings give way to a space dominated by a full-size – and well used – ping pong table.
When business discussions are not taking place over a game of ping pong (or air hockey), they may be conducted in a conference room equipped with a drum set. Full-time employees also receive such perks as complimentary dry-cleaning and health club memberships.
LeBlanc explained that the company’s free-spirited office ambiance reflects a philosophy of balancing hard work with other aspects of life. “We’re trying to grow something here, and this is a very demanding, fast-paced business to work in,” he said. “It requires a lot of commitment and focus. I believe it’s important to offset that with an appealing work environment. The amenities are a way of saying thanks to the people who work here. It’s also a recognition that life does not have to be all work all the time.”
Beginning with development and marketing of a citrus-based hand towel, Paul LeBlanc has guided Zogics’ growth into a leading provider of various cleaning and sanitizing products to customers that include fitness centers, healthcare facilities, schools and other public and private institutions across the country.
Zogics’ primary focus is on supplies for cleaning and sanitizing. Its customers include commercial and public gyms and fitness centers, hospitals and other healthcare facilities, schools, colleges and military installations, among others.
The company’s products are used by these businesses and institutions to clean and sanitize their facilities and equipment. They are also used by individuals in those facilities for personal clean-up and sanitary purposes. The products are designed to be safe and environmentally friendly.
Among Zogics’ specific merchandise are cleaning wipes for gyms, a broad-spectrum surface disinfectant, air fresheners, hand sanitizers, towel-free hand-drying machines and other supplies. In addition, Zogics sells first-aid kits and AED defibrillators to handle emergency situations that might arise in those settings.
Zogics (888.623.0088 or www.zogics.com) develops and produces most of the items it sells.
Zogics also carries a limited selection of products from other manufacturers, such as defibrillators from Philips Electronics.
In addition to its Lee headquarters, Zogics has satellite distribution centers in Montreal, Utah, Minnesota and Australia.
LeBlanc is a native of Boston who moved to Berkshire County in 2000. He is an entrepreneur who previously started two other companies, a renewable energy business and a telecommunications firm in Eastern Europe.
LeBlanc said Zogics was born in a moment of inspiration that grew out of a frustrating personal experience.
“I was taking a bike ride one day, and I got a flat tire,” recalled LeBlanc, a former member of the U.S. National Cycling team. “My hands got really dirty fixing it. I went to a local outdoor-equipment shop to buy a hand towel to clean up. However they didn’t carry anything like that. I decided that there is a need for hand towels that cyclists can take with them.” LeBlanc did some research and developed CitraWipes, a non-toxic, eco-friendly moistened hand wipe made with citrus juice. He launched Zogics to bring it to market.
The venture was self-financed. “I needed to come up with the capital to pay for the first run of the product,” he recalled. “So I rented out my house in Richmond and moved into my parents’ basement for a while. I used the income for the business.”
He initially worked alone and put in 18-hour days to get the company off the ground.
“I started out in a very old-school way by hitting the pavement,” he said. “I put the products in the back seat of my car and drove door-to-door to call on potential customers. I made some sales and started to advertise. It gradually gained word of mouth, and within 12 months it had national distribution. That momentum has continued.”
His first employee, Craig Simmons, now manages the company’s operations. Other staff members were subsequently added, including Brian Cruey as business development manager.
“Help more. Sell less.”
The business also evolved from its original product into its present role of providing a broader array of sanitation supplies for commercial and institutional buyers.
“We primarily deal in business-to-business sales,” LeBlanc said. “We sell a few items on a retail basis, but it is a very small share of the business.”
LeBlanc said the company is strongly oriented to service and customer relations. “Our basic goal is to offer top-notch service and develop great relationships with customers,” he said. “We figure that if we do that, it puts us on a path for continued growth and expansion.”
He added that the company’s internal motto is “Help more. Sell less.”
“We always remind ourselves of that principle whenever we have questions or need to make specific decisions,” he said. LeBlanc noted that this takes many forms, including ensuring rapid and accurate delivery of orders, being responsive to requests or problems, and soliciting feedback and suggestions. They also make it a point to treat their customers as individuals, he added.
“It’s a combination of little and big things,” LeBlanc said. “When someone places a first order with us, we send them a handwritten note thanking them for their business. We also include an organic lollipop with orders. And we’ll send flowers to a regular customer if we know they have experienced a major event, like a wedding or death in the family.”
He added that the company will go the extra mile to gain and keep customers. “For example, sometimes when a potential customer makes an inquiry they complain that they had placed an order with a competitor and were not happy with it, but the other vendor would not allow them to return it,” he said. “In some instances, we've offered to accept the return ourselves and take care of them by giving them equivalent items to no cost.”
LeBlanc said this dedication to service has paid off with a loyal base of customers. “We get very positive feedback from customers, who often say we are their favorite vendor to work with,” he said. “Frankly, I’m surprised at the level of enthusiasm we hear. If we were Apple, you might expect people to gush over an exciting product like a smartphone. But the items we sell are more basic and utilitarian. So we’re very grateful that people appreciate what we do and take the time to let us know.”
LeBlanc noted that Zogics stays tightly focused in its offerings and adds products very carefully. “We don’t try to sell a lot of different products,” he said. “Our main criteria are carrying items that will help us to serve our customers, and things we believe we can do better. Usually we look into carrying a new item after customers specifically request it.”
When they are planning a new product, the staff handles its development in conjunction with outside experts. “We lead the R&D process to determine the basic idea and specifications,” he explained. “Once we have a basic concept, we explore the options for materials and sources. For example, we’ll look at various fragrances and skin conditioners that might be used in a product, and then test them to see what works best. ”
Ping pong plays a prominent role in the daily workflow at Zogics, with fast-paced games played as a backdrop to business discussions or as a refocusing break from the day’s demanding workload. The office’s proximity to hiking and biking trails provides ready access to other recreational pursuits for the active staff.
He said that he is committed to remaining in Berkshire County and growing the company here. “The quality of life is a major benefit of being in the Berkshires” he said. “I’ve lived in a number of places, and in terms of the overall package there is no other place that compares to this.” He added that it is also geographically well situated. “We ship a lot of items in and out, and having I-90 right down the road is a major advantage,” he said.
LeBlanc said that the company plans to expand its workforce to accommodate growth. All of the current staff are from Berkshire County, and LeBlanc had high praise for them. However, he added, it is a challenge to find people with the required characteristics.
“You have to be a certain type of person to work here,” he said. “We expect a lot of hard work and dedication. Because the population is smaller here, it’s more difficult to find people than it would be in a larger population center.”
“We’re always on the lookout for talent,” he added. “I always say that if someone phenomenal walks through the door, I’ll hire them whether we have a specific opening at the time or not.”
Zogics is a member of a movement of businesses called “1% for the Planet,” in which companies pledge to donate at least 1 percent of their total income from sales to environmental organizations. “We give primarily to local organizations that work to conserve land,” said LeBlanc, who is a Corporate Trustee of the Trustees of Reservations. “Part of the reason we chose that is because our staff are physically active people and we use the open space these organizations protect. So it seems right to support them.”
Regarding the company’s unusual name, LeBlanc said Zogics does not have any particular significance or meaning. “It’s just a word I made up with when I was trying to come up with a name,” he said. “I liked the sound of it.”