- By Christopher Calnan, Staff Writer
There aren’t any oceans nearby, but an Austin company is doing a booming business making anchors.
Two years ago, ClimbTech Inc. enlisted a new CEO to transform the company that develops removable anchors for preventing falls.
Since then, ClimbTech, which started in a Wimberley garage of one of its founders in 1998, has moved to an Austin industrial park, expanded its product line by a factor of 10 and now expects to post revenue that’s nearly triple what it was in 2009.
CEO Roberto Fiebig, who was previously a partner at Austin Management Partners, a local private equity firm, said he professionalized the company with several changes. His moves included setting the terms of accounts payable and accounts receivable while positioning the company as an outsourced research and development shop for major customers such as Minneapolis-based 3M Co. (NYSE: MMM).
The changes have enabled ClimbTech to triple the number of products it develops for industrial customers and grow revenue to $2.5 million to $3 million this year compared with $1 million during 2009.
Fiebig said that while the transformation was necessary, it hasn’t been easy.
“It’s been harder [than expected], but more rewarding,” he said. “It was kind of a homegrown company.”
Avid rock climbers Joseph Schwartz and Karl Guthrie started ClimbTech, developing anchors for climbing. But the spring-loaded anchors, which expand inside a hole to hold up to 5,000 pounds, have since found a larger and more lucrative customer base in the industrial and construction safety equipment market; one anchor can cost $120. Climbing now accounts for just 5 percent of ClimbTech’s business, Fiebig said.
The remainder comes from the industrial, commercial construction, military and mining industries.
ClimbTech’s products are designed and patented by Schwartz, the chief technology officer, in a nondescript industrial park off Burleson Road.
The company’s research and development strategy is to listen to what customers need and tailor existing products to make them better and more useful, Schwartz said.
“Really, it started with someone coming to us, saying, ‘Can you do this for us?’” he said. “It’s really been 10 years of whittling away and fine-tuning. Finally, you get something slick.”
Those devices are designed in Austin, while their various components are manufactured by an army of vendors elsewhere before final assembly and shipping from here.
The company introduced two products in 2010: a sliding I beam anchor and a heavy-duty anchor designed to work on concrete and steel and support 10,000 pounds. Meanwhile, it has other patentable products in development, including one designed to attach to vertical pipes, beams or columns using industrial ropes; a roof anchor with a patent-pending 360-degree swiveling D ring; and a swiveling D ring for harnesses.
ClimbTech, which employs eight workers, moved from Wimberley last year largely to save shipping costs and commuting time for workers.
Fiebig initially became involved in ClimbTech as an investor for Austin Management Partners, and he later took the CEO role when Schwartz and Guthrie wanted to take the company to a different level. Before Austin Management Partners, Fiebig was a partner at Austin-based Saguaro Partners and a finance and marketing executive at Round Rock-based Dell Inc. (Nasdaq: DELL).
For most safety equipment manufacturers, anchors are a sideline rather than a core business. But ClimbTech’s and Schwartz’s laser focus on the niche market has set the company apart from competitors, saidMarty Sharp, president of Ultra-Safe Inc., a Phoenix-based harness and fall protection equipment distributor.
As a result, the CleanTech anchors that Ultra-Safe has been carrying for four years have become the “highlight” of the company’s catalogue, he said.
“Karl is end-user savvy as far as what the needs in the field are and as far as being practical,” Sharp said. “It’s his specialty, and it’s more of a Cadillac.”