Acton International Inc. hasn't struck gold in the military products market, but it's done extremely well since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the U.S.
The manufacturer has captured a nice chunk of the chemical, nuclear, radiological and biological glove, boot and gas mask markets, nailing down contracts in the U.S., Canada, Greece, the United Kingdom, Norway and a number of other NATO countries.
The AirBoss of America Corp. subsidiary has had relatively steady growth since 9/11, with sales of its defense division products increasing about 20 percent annually over the last four years, according to Earl Laurie, military products business manager. However, many niche suppliers experience high and low periods.
The lags come because of lack of funds, he said, a pretty common problem in dealing with governments. ``So we haven't had a huge increase because of the continuing conflict.''
The U.S. is Acton's biggest customer. The company has a significant contract for CNRB gloves with U.S. forces, provides boots to the Marines and gas masks to Special Forces.
Overboots are probably Acton's most popular product with other NATO countries, and the firm also has a sizable contract with Canada and national defense networks for gas masks.
Acton Vale-based Acton, which has been involved in the military goods arena since the early 1940s, already was a major player in the industry when terrorists hit the U.S. on its soil in 2001. The company was ready to hit the ground running when the U.S. needed special gloves, boots and masks, Laurie said.
``It takes a long time and patience to develop the business,'' he said. The firm worked on its AirBoss CNRB Lightweight Overboot for about seven years before it landed a contract with the U.S. and has been providing them to the military for the last three years.
Companies usually bid yearly on contracts with the country, upgrading their products as they go. That has been the case with the AirBoss CNRB Molded Glove. Acton won its first contract for the product a few years ago and has been improving the glove annually since then to meet new criteria.
``Tendering procedures generally take from six to 12 months,'' Laurie said. On some products, it can be a two- to three-year process. But once a company is in, it stays there, because it takes a long time to displace them, he said.
Acton usually is shipping product three months after an order is placed. ``We succeed because we have really good products and we have a strong defense division,'' comprised of military, first response and national defense units, Laurie said. ``We constantly work on new compounds to give us an even broader spectrum for footwear, gloves, gas masks and chemical suit closures that help prevent leakage.''
Because it's a subsidiary of Newmarket, Ontario-based AirBoss-which makes Acton's compounds at its Kitchener, Ontario, plant-the defense products department is provided everything it needs.
Of course, he said, ``we've seen a rise in costs for the materials, but because AirBoss' mixing facility has done such a good job, that gets us out the door...on time.''