Plastic holster maker Blade-Tech Industries Inc. had been in Washington state since the company was founded more than two decades ago. Its new plant in Streetsboro, Ohio, is still a work in progress, but equipment is being set up and some light assembly is taking place.
Blade-Tech Industries had been in Washington state since the holster-maker was founded more than two decades ago.
In the fall of 2018, it announced plans to move to Ohio, seeking a skilled workforce, shorter shipping times and friendlier gun laws.
Blade-Tech got its start in the late 1980s, when CEO Bryce Wegner's father, Tim Wegner, started making plastic knife sheaths in his kitchen. That hobby turned into a business, and he officially incorporated in 1995.
Over the years, the company moved out of the Wegner home and into a series of facilities in Washington.
The name, Blade-Tech, stuck even as the company's product shifted from a focus on knife sheaths to firearm holsters and accessories. Today, about 90 percent of the company's products are in that space, Wegner said.
Blade-Tech's products serve the military and law enforcement in different countries, in addition to being commercially available. It also provides gear for the movies, with its products appearing in franchises such as "John Wick" and "The Hunger Games," according to Wegner.
Wegner, who became CEO in 2012, also is one of two owners of the company. The company does not disclose annual sales.
Wegner said manufacturers didn't often use plastic for holsters when his father started Blade-Tech. The more commonly used material then was leather. But leather wears over time and, at least when it comes to knives, a blade can cut through it.
For holsters, the plastic material allows companies to build in safeguards. For example, a plastic holster can be built to grip a gun so it's tough for someone to pull it from the holster.
Today, the industry has primarily moved to plastics, said Jarett Peterson, chief operating officer, so Blade-Tech has had to find other ways to differentiate itself. One has been by offering attachments for its holsters and sheaths, like those that allow police officers to attach body cams.
Washington had begun seeing an influx of tech jobs, like those at Amazon, Wegner said. That drove wages up, making it difficult for Blade-Tech to compete to hire assembly workers.
At the same time, the state began passing more restrictive gun laws, which also concerned Wegner. He was particularly concerned about a Washington law that defined when firearms could be transferred without background checks, as a company that sometimes uses firearms as part of its process. Ultimately, Wegner thought it was time to look into moving the company.
Ohio ended up being a good fit, chosen over other states where Blade-Tech looked, such as Tennessee and Texas. Wegner perceives the gun laws as friendlier, and he said people were positive about what it was like to do business here.
Much of the company's work is injection molding, and Wegner said he found a skilled workforce in Northeast Ohio.
"Back in Washington, there's very few plastic molders, engineers, suppliers — you know, all of the above," Wegner said. "Around here, there's an abundance."
In the fall, Blade-Tech posted three openings for jobs in Ohio, Wegner said. More than 160 people applied within 24 hours. Peterson said everyone the company has hired had at least two years of experience.
In addition, the company's plastics suppliers already are Ohio-based, and Wegner said about 60 percent of Blade-Tech's U.S. customers are on the East Coast. As the company competes more and more with online sales, it made sense to locate somewhere that would shorten delivery times.
Before making the move in late October, Blade-Tech produced six months of inventory, Peterson said. The company wanted to first establish customer experience operations and packing and shipping in Ohio before setting up production.
Its plant in Streetsboro is still a work in progress, but equipment is being set up and some light assembly is taking place. At the moment, there's about two to three months of inventory being stored there.
The plant covers 30,000 square feet, Wegner said. About one-third of that is office space, which the company had been looking for as it expands its marketing and sales.
At one point in Washington, Blade-Tech had more than 85 employees, Wegner said. But in the past two to three years, as the company struggled to find employees, it began outsourcing more of its work and relying more on its supply chain. Before the move, it was down to about 35 employees, the majority of whom did not come to Ohio.
Currently, Blade-Tech has about 20 employees, only three of whom — including Wegner and Peterson — relocated from Washington to Streetsboro. (Two members of the management team are not located in Ohio.)
In the next three to six months, Wegner said the company plans to hire another 10 to 15 employees.
At least to start in Ohio, Blade-Tech plans to work closely with suppliers as it did in Washington. Wegner said the company will evaluate whether it can bring more work back in-house in the coming years.
Thogus Products Co. in Avon Lake, Ohio, is one of the companies Blade-Tech will be working with locally. CEO Matt Hlavin said Thogus will mold some of Blade-Tech's holsters and other accessories, as well as work with them to design new products and new materials for their product portfolio.
The outdoors and firearms sectors are growing, Hlavin said, and companies in those spaces, such as Blade-Tech and others, require more sophistication in the supply chain.
"They've grown from small, like, machine shops and job shops into larger OEMs, but their supply base hasn't really grown and developed with them," Hlavin said.