Small but successful, Zogics is the kind of company Berkshire business leaders seek
LEE — A gas grill is located near a fence adjacent to the front door. There's a bicycle rack inside the main entrance. Real bikes are attached to it.
Walk further into this office building on Valley Street and one will encounter a Rhodesian ridgeback dog named S'Bu. An African hunting dog, S'Bu can be found wandering around a desk, or brushing up against a visitor who happens to be sitting on a couch talking to the CEO.
"There are upwards of three dogs in the office at any one time," said Zogics CEO Paul R. LeBlanc, who is also S'Bu's owner, to the visitor. "You caught us on a single dog day."
The mood is casual at Zogics, which makes and sells nontoxic, eco-friendly gym wipes, towels and linens and a line of fitness and personal care products. But that mood masks, or maybe accelerates, what is a thriving, growing business.
Originally founded by LeBlanc in his garage in Richmond 10 years ago, Zogics has only 15 employees. But the company has grown at an average of 20 to 40 percent per year since its inception, according to LeBlanc.
Zogics' space in a small office complex located across the Housatonic River from Lenox Dale in the shadow of October Mountain State Forest is the third location in the company's brief history. Annual sales are roughly $10 million.
"The last few years we've been doubling staff every 12 months or so," LeBlanc said. "We went from just me to one other employee to four to eight, and now we're hiring for our 16th employee."
In addition to its success, Zogics is a prime example of the kind of small, growing company staffed with young professionals that local business leaders are trying to attract to the Berkshires. Staffers range in age from the early 20s to the mid-40s. But several employees are recent college graduates.
Zogic's employees also come from eclectic backgrounds. Business Development Manager Agessa Hughmanick holds a BFA in dance from The Boston Conservatory and performed at Jacob's Pillow before returning to school and earning an MBA in entrepreneurship and finance at Syracuse University.
Data Scientist Arsema Abegaz was born in Ethiopia, but came to the Berkshires via Williams College where she majored in economics. Order Management and Account Specialist Misti Mitchell has lived in the Berkshires for 20 years, but was born in Oregon and served in the Air Force during Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm.
LeBlanc, a 41-year-old entrepreneur originally from the Boston area, came to the Berkshires with a former girlfriend 15 years ago after attending Babson College and the University of Economics in Prague in the Czech Republic.
A board member of the Trustees of Reservations, the country's oldest statewide land conservation organization, LeBlanc is also a former member of the U.S. Cycling Team who was a three time Junior National Champion. He frequently cycles after work.
"Why we're here for me is all about the lifestyle," LeBlanc said. "These days most businesses can be located anywhere, so why not locate in a place that offers such a rich lifestyle as the Berkshires.
"Business technology is such that not only can you locate a business just about anywhere, but you can go after marketshare just about anywhere," he said. "So being here allows us to quite effectively go after customers nationally and beyond. And, we don't restrict where we go."
Despite many efforts, Berkshire County is still struggling to attract and retain large numbers of small, growing firms like Zogics. The infrastructure needed to provide the technological expertise that allows small firms like Zogics to grow and prosper in the Berkshires is still hit or miss in some areas of the county.
The $71.6 million MassBroadband123 project has increased access to high-speed internet to many Berkshire communities, but the initiative has stalled over the "last mile" process, which provides access to broadband for residents and local business owners.
Hiccups like these can be difficult for small businesses to overcome, but they haven't impeded Zogics' growth.
"I don't find that at all," LeBlanc said, when asked if it is difficult to establish a business here due to the technology handicaps.
"In fact, those areas served by broadband are served well," he said. "There's a vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem here that I think often gets overlooked. In place we have the infrastructure that we need to grow a company like this. Perhaps the density isn't as much as it is in other areas. But what (the Berkshires) lack in density it often makes up for in quality.
"So you have companies like Zogics, Jane Iredale, Pine Cone Hill, Blue Q, Country Curtains all doing extremely well and growing at an impressive rate right here in the Berkshires," LeBlanc said. "Combine that with the lifestyle that we enjoy here. It's a really appealing opportunity."
LeBlanc was involved in the energy and telecommunications businesses before forming Zogics. He became involved in the gym and fitness industry through his background in cycling. Zogics' original product was a portable degreaser handwipe that LeBlanc invented and marketed to enable cyclists to wipe grease off their hands after changing a tire or fixing a mechanical problem on their bikes while out on the road.
LeBlanc said Zogics products are made with biodegradable materials "where it's possible." Making products like body washes and lotions without dyes or harmful chemicals doesn't cost Zogics more money to make, and can be affordable if manufactured the right way.
"For the most part it shouldn't be if you're doing it correctly," LeBlanc said. "If we can make an environmentally, health-friendly decision, why wouldn't we?"
Zogics also allocates a portion of its annual earnings to support a variety of local environmental organizations. "We're conscious of our place in the community," LeBlanc said.
Manufacturing is done in a variety of locations, including the Boston area, and in the Midwest, Mexico and Australia. "Those are the four primary areas," he said.
Zogics is currently building a gym in another area of its building for employees to use. Other employee incentives include "Culture Cash," which provides a $500 allowance for an employee and a guest to attend events at 21 Berkshire cultural or environmental areas. There's also "Competition Cash" where Zogics will pay $250 toward the entry fee for any athletic competition that an employee wants to enter.
Despite its success, Zogics has no business plan, which was a conscious decision, LeBlanc said.
"One of our driving principles is to do as little planning and forecasting as we can," he said. "Rather than plan, or think we know the magic recipe and lay that out ahead of time, we instead react to opportunities.
"As far as five years from now, I expect we'll continue to grow and continue to make the company better, and continue to make more and more customers happy," LeBlanc said.
"What that actually looks like doesn't matter to me."
Contact Tony Dobrowolski at 413-496-6224.
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