Collins White, President of Defenshield Inc., flew home to Syracuse in October 2001 noting the airports full of well-armed National Guard, state troopers, and local police - all wearing little body armor.
At that point, White, a former manufacturing engineer at Carrier with a background in sheet-metal work, decided that there might be a market for armor that was mobile, 100 percent protective, and aesthetically pleasing in an aviation-security environment.
“I built a couple of prototypes and they tested successfully.” White says. “I received a National Institute of Justice certification and the highest commercial available rating, then started the marketing and sales push.”
Defenshield’s first sale came in early 2003, when the Naval Station in Mayport, Fla., purchased seven rifle-rated units. Currently, there are over 400 Mobile Defensive Fighting Positions (MDFPs) in the field, 340 of which are in Iraq.
There are also units at the Nine Mile nuclear power plant and 16 located at the entrance to the Pentagon. “I know they are being used to save lives, which is a great feeling,” White says.
He also makes an effort to outsource manufacturing work locally.
“Instead of buying a lot of capital equipment and competing with struggling local sheet-metal shops, we keep them busy and when we are slow, no one gets laid off,” White says. “So it is really good plan for us and for the local manufacturers.”
White outsources to five Syracuse-based companies, including Falso Metal Fabricating Co.; Vance Metal Fabricators, Inc.; and DMI Productions. During busy times, Defenshield has employed regional sheet-metal shops from Buffalo to the Mohawk Valley.
The company made a recent sale of 240 units to the Marine Corps for over $2 million. The units were manufactured in two weeks.
“We do the design, research, and development here,” White says. “Syracuse-based Bond, Schoeneck & King, LLP, helped us to secure a patent for the MDFP.”
White designed the unit to be easily fabricated, with a single piece of laser-cut steel acting as a base. The MDFPs sold to the Marine Corps feature a supplemental armor plate to stop rifle rounds and small arms fire.
Defenshield employs five people, and White is looking to hire a sales person in the Washington, D.C. area to service the company’s main customer base.
“We sell primarily to the U.S. military, Department of State and Department of Homeland Security,” White says. “Our Department of State certification allows us to sell to government [agencies] and foreign consulates.”
White, however, wants to expand beyond the government sector.
“The market is huge, because the units are useful anywhere there is an entry-control point,” he says. “We are looking at markets like aviation security checkpoints and casinos.”
White owns 84 percent of Defenshield which is a closely held New York State S corporation. The company has tripled sales every year it has been in business, and White says sales for 2006 tripled the previous year’s total within the first two months. He is projecting sales of $5 million this year.
“We recently hired Commonwealth Consulting Corporation, a Washington, D.C.-based lobbying firm to market Defenshield products,” White says. “They have been so successful that I am looking to hire a production manager and engineer here in Syracuse, so I can spend more time in Washington, D.C.”
The MDFP has filled a niche between hand-held tactical tools and tanks, in a large and highly competitive market for protective equipment. White says the portability, head-to-toe protection, economic viability, and customized features of the MDFP’s have made them attractive to government customers.
We build each unit to specification,” White says. “The majority of units currently in Iraq are 76 inches tall and 36 inches wide, with ATV tires so one person can push the unit in unproven terrain.” The units lack motors and batteries – to eliminate the chances of mechanical failure – and range from 250 pounds to 900 pounds.
Defenshield also uses a process called camography, in which a combination of photography and camouflage overlay is added to each unit, to mimic the environment in which the unit will be placed.
White employs the local Image Press to transfer the pictures to the units.
“On July 24, we shipped a unit to the Prince William County Sheriff’s Department for use in the court house,” White says. “We added a wood grain finish so the unit looks like a podium or desk and not out of place in the setting.”
After starting the business in a living room, White is looking to expand Defenshield for the second time in 2006, by leasing a larger space from Steve Oliva, a local real-estate developer who owns the company’s current 800 square foot offices at 6700 Old Collamer Road in DeWitt.
We want 2,000 square feet of office space and an additional 5,000 to 6,000 square feet of storage,” White explains.
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