Rich Ison won a contest for startup ventures last year with his line of secure doors and windows – a business that has held up as strongly as the products themselves.
He has 10 employees making and selling them at Nx Stage Security in Riverbank and hopes for as many as 100 by the end of 2014.
It seems the judges made the right call at the San Joaquin Entrepreneur Challenge, an annual event open to people from eight counties.
“Nx Stage Security was impressive in that they had identified a real consumer need that they could reasonably address and were pretty far along in developing their product and working out marketing strategies,” said organizer Mark Plovnick, director of economic development at the University of the Pacific in Stockton.
Sign-ups have started for the fifth version of the contest, which will feature a pair of Stockton gatherings where selected entrants will make pitches to a judges panel and the audience, a la “American Idol.” The winner and runner-up will get $24,000 in cash and business services.
The contest is sponsored by the San Joaquin Angels investment group with help from several partners in business, academia and economic development.
Ison, 46, is among 34 tenants the city of Riverbank has lured to the vast Claus Road plant that had made ammunition for the Army since 1952. Nearly 300 people work there, and more could follow as hazardous materials are cleaned up.
Nx Stage makes its doors and windows with steel in the frames and screens, a design that deters burglars while providing natural light, air flow and energy savings.
And it means no bars on the windows, Ison said during a tour of the business Tuesday. “People don’t want to feel like they’re in jail.”
The products are pricey – $995 for a basic door, $1,895 for french doors – but they come with warranties against damage by burglars.
“No one has ever gotten through the doors,” Ison said. “They see them and go somewhere else.”
The products come in more than 40 colors and can be customized, such as an ornate installation Nx Stage recently did for a Marriott hotel in Hawaii. They even can have pet doors.
The company mainly sells through home improvement shows and county fairs, but could have products available at a few Home Depot stores in the Bay Area as soon as next month, Ison said. Other stores could follow.
The growth will mean openings for welders, metal fabricators, installers and other employees. Some of the work is contracted out to other companies, such as the powder coating that provides a tougher surface than painting, but Ison hopes to bring everything together in Riverbank.
Nx Stage has leased about 100,000 square feet in two buildings at the former ammo plant, but only about a sixth is in use. Ison said the complex has been “really like an oversize business incubator” for his young company.
He got $7,000 in cash for winning the Entrepreneur Challenge, but he said the additional $10,000 worth of business services was even more useful. It included marketing help from Never Boring Design and consulting by External Resources Inc., both based in Modesto.
Before he made doors and windows, Ison had a kitchen and bath showroom in Manteca. He also led a team that designed a digital paint-selection system for Home Depot, while working for a San Francisco company called Avenue A/Razorfish.
And Ison served for seven years in the Marine Corps. He is well aware of the Riverbank site’s history, which started with aluminum processing during World War II.
“What we’re trying to do is to restore some of that pride – that we can make the best things on the planet,” he said.
More information about Nx Stage Security is at www.nxstagesecurity.com.