Zogics finding business brisk in COVID era
Acquisition, warehouse expansion, Navy contract keep Lenox firm moving
From Berkshire Trade & Commerce, October 2020 (full issue here)
BY JOHN TOWNES
While the COVID pandemic has depressed the overall level of economic activity, it has brought a surge of business for Zogics, the Lenox-based provider of cleaning and sanitary supplies.
“In March, when COVID first emerged, our volume of sales increased five times almost immediately, and that has continued,” said Paul LeBlanc, founder and CEO of Zogics.
This further stimulated the ongoing growth that Zogics had already been experiencing prior to the emergence of COVID-19. The company had also been pursuing strategic plans for expansion and diversification.
“Before COVID, we were already on an aggressive growth trajectory,” said LeBlanc.
As part of that overall strategy, in early September Zogics finalized the acquisition of half ownership of Ardent Fitness, a Virginia-based supplier of health and fitness equipment and supplies, and related consulting and installation services.
This was its third acquisition within the past eight months, according to LeBlanc.
Previously, Zogics purchased Clean Holdings, a business that had developed a patented system of dispensers called the Cleaning Station. It also purchased a small competitor called Wipeshoppe.com.
Zogics received an additional boost in August when it announced a new $5.5 million, five-year contract with the United States Navy to supply cleaning and disinfecting supplies to help combat the spread of COVID-19.
“We’ve been a long-term supplier of cleaning and sanitation supplies to the U.S. military, and we already had a relationship with the Navy,” said LeBlanc. “Recently they approached us to provide supplies to help their effort to handle COVID on their ships and facilities.”
To accommodate this growth, in late August Zogics expanded its warehouse and distribution center at 10 Valley St. in Lee from 13,000 square feet to 73,000 square feet by moving into an adjacent space that had been occupied by Excelsior Integrated, a logistics and order fulfillment business that recently relocated its operations to larger facilities across town. Zogics is leasing the space.
LeBlanc started Zogics in 2006 as a oneperson business operating out of his parents’ home. An avid cyclist, his initial focus was producing and selling sanitary wipes that cyclists could easily carry on rides.
Since then Zogics expanded and diversified into other products to become one of the largest e-commerce and multi-channel marketing sources for cleaning, disinfecting and sanitizing products to customers in 70 countries. It sells sanitary wipes, disinfectants, cleaning solutions, towels, body-care products, pet cleaning supplies, and other personal care products. It also carries spraying devices and other equipment.
Zogics serves a wide range of customers in fitness, healthcare, education, corporate, hospitality and workplace wellness sectors.
It carries products from other companies, as well as its own branded products (through contract manufacturers).
Zogics initially moved into a 10,000-squarefoot facility in Lee. In 2017 it purchased a 6,000-square-foot office building at 309 Pittsfield Rd. (Route 7/20) in Lenox, which became its corporate headquarters.
The company presently has a staff of about 25 here and has warehouse and distribution facilities in Tennessee, Utah, Minnesota and Ontario.
Zogics has been named one of Financial Times Americas’ fastest-growing companies in 2020 and was included in Inc. 5000 Fastest-Growing Private Companies in America in 2020, 2019 and 2018.
One factor in the spike in business for Zogics during the current pandemic is the nature of the products the company sells, according to LeBlanc, who noted that not all sanitation products provide protection from viruses, including COVID.
He said the EPA came out with a list of guidelines for the characteristics that make cleaning and sanitation products effective against the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
“Many of our products were already effective against viruses including COVID, according to those guidelines,” he said. “We’ve ramped up those and are also sourcing additional products that are effective against it. We also carry masks, gloves, and other personal protective equipment (PPE).”
While the pandemic has dramatically escalated business at Zogics, LeBlanc emphasized that he would much rather return to the type of growth they were experiencing before COVID.
“I’d gladly trade the surge in business we’ve had because of COVID for a situation where we did not have to deal with this virus,” he said. “We were doing well before this, and I’d much rather nobody had to deal with this crisis and COVID-related health and safety concerns.”
The combination of heightened demand and the restrictions on operations imposed by the pandemic and resulting emergency orders has also placed extensive pressure on the company’s employees and operations, LeBlanc said.
“When COVID first hit, everyone was dealt a very scary hand,” he said. “We were no exception.”
While they could continue to operate under the state’s emergency orders as a designated provider of an essential service, they had to make significant changes.
In addition to increased sanitary and social distancing protocols in their warehouse and distribution facilities, the company’s office staff have been working remotely at home since March 13. “
We had to suddenly flip a switch and adapt to these new restrictions at the same time that demand was rapidly escalating,” LeBlanc said. “It placed an enormous pressure on everyone here, and we’ve all had to work longer and harder to keep up with a much heavier workload.”
He credited the staff for pulling together and making the necessary sacrifices.
“We have a great team, and everyone has been heroic,” he said. “Everyone is aware that this has been a difficult time for every business. So, they put their heads down and moved forward.”
LeBlanc added that they have also had a sense of mission because of the role their products play in dealing with the pandemic. “As suppliers of sanitary and PPE supplies, we’ve felt a strong responsibility to do whatever we can to combat the virus and support the health system and the safety of the public during this,” he said. “There has been no time to dwell on the diffi culties.”
He added that the transitions have been smoother than they might have been because of the way their internal operations and systems are set up. “We’ve been lucky because we had built cloud-based systems that were already designed to allow people to work and share information anywhere,” he said.
One of the core principles of Zogics has been a corporate culture that emphasizes a positive work environment that gives employees maximum fl exibility and encourages social engagement. For example, staff have long been encouraged to bring in their dogs to work with them, and Zogics even gave a stipend to employees who got new pets.
In 2018 and 2019, Zogics was included on the list of Best Workplaces by Inc. magazine.
LeBlanc said that, while the new remote working conditions have obviously had an impact, the company remains committed to its corporate culture.
“You don’t just turn off your values when the situation changes,” he said. “It’s more difficult, but we still have the same policies. We just do it online instead of in person.”
He noted that they continue to have daily staff gatherings on Zoom. They also remain engaged with the larger community.
“We know that other businesses in town are struggling,” he said. “So, we gave our employees $500 gift certificates to be used at Lenox businesses.”
He added that they have retained other perks as much as possible. “We’re still offering a pet stipend to our staff, even though bringing your dog to work has a different meaning when your office is in your house,” he said.
Fitness sector hit hard
One of the original core markets for Zogics has been cleaning and sanitary supplies for fitness centers. While it has diversified, that remains an important segment of its market. In addition to cleaning supplies it carries flooring material and other products for facilities.
The fitness industry has been significantly impacted by COVID. In most states, fitness centers were shut down during the initial phases of the pandemic. Since then, they have been gradually reopening, but the process has been convoluted and controversial.
“It’s been a challenge for that industry,which has affected demand for our products,” said LeBlanc. “However, that industry has been doing an incredible job of making their facilities safe and welcoming as they open up again. So that aspect has continued.”
LeBlanc described taking on part ownership of Ardent Fitness as a logical extension of the original goals of Zogics and its confidence in that sector.
“Initially fitness centers were 80 percent of our business,” he said. “As we evolved to serve other industries, that continued to be important to us. This acquisition will enable us to expand and better serve customers in that market.”
Ardent was founded as Victory Fitness Equipment by a couple, Ginny and Evan Lyon of Falls Church, Va., who are experts in the fitness industry.
Zogics is buying a half-interest in the company, which has been rebranded as Ardent Fitness. The Lyons will remain active in its management and services. Zogics will provide support services for storage, shipping, order fulfillment and logistics operations.
“It is a separate company with its own identity,” said LeBlanc. “It will offer a full spectrum of exercise equipment and accessories for cardio, recovery and mobility training. It also offers consultation and facility design services.”
Ardent’s line of equipment includes brand name products such as Echelon, Schwinn, Nautilus and Troy, among others.
LeBlanc said that is oriented to facilities at all scales, including commercial and institutional fitness centers and gyms, and individual consumers setting up home equipment.
With the acquisition and other activities, LeBlanc said he expects Zogics to expand its employment here up to the mid-30s this year. He noted that, since the pandemic, the company has hired several people who had lost jobs at other businesses in the area.
When asked how he believes the COVID situation will affect Zogics on a long-term basis, LaBlanc deferred.
“I don’t know what the future has in store in terms of COVID,” he said. “Hopefully, it will not be a serious problem at some point reasonably soon, but I’ll leave predictions about that to others. For now, we’re focused on the immediate situation. Our goal is to be here for our customers during and after this crisis. Beyond that, we intend to continue to supply their everyday needs and be able to handle whatever else might come along in the future.”