The Congress: A Show You Can't Miss

Image of Ashburn Hill Corp.s sales and marketing chief David Osbon.Lively parties, big deals, and a world-class city are hallmarks of the National Safety Congress & Expo. This year's event had all three, although far fewer acquisitions and mergers were announced in San Diego than in years past. New products were abundant. Aside from exhibitors' mild grumbling about low attendance, it was a solid success.

"We sell through distribution, so for us, it's great because we get to see what new products are coming out and we got to meet with all of our distributors," said David Osbon, global director of sales and marketing for Ashburn Hill Corp.'s Tecgen® Select apparel, which he described as a lighter weight, more comfortable protective product. It was announced at the Congress as a co-winner of the protective apparel category in the OH&S 2010 New Product of the Year contest.

"I did 15 trade shows this year, and there are a few of the smaller ones that I'm going to cut out just because the value wasn't there, the opportunity for business just wasn't there," Osbon said Oct. 13. But he won't skip the Congress. Osbon said the company definitely will exhibit at the 2011 NSC in Philadelphia.

"We'll definitely be back. If you're not there, everybody notices you're not there, and people start to say, 'Hmmmm,'" he explained.

Legacy FR products that have been around for 20 years and more do a great job and are well established, he said. "Where the desire has shifted in the market, and I've seen this happen over the last seven years -- what we're seeing is that the market has desired to obtain products that are more comfortable." Before that time, having developed Nomex-based garments that were softer and wicked away sweat, he was disappointed that users simply would not consider changing from the FR apparel they had used for years.

"A lot of facilities that I have visited have problematic employees from a compliance standpoint. The people don't want to wear the products properly because they're hot and uncomfortable," he said. "To wear it properly, you're supposed to have your sleeves buttoned at the bottom, the shirt buttoned up. And when you've got a garment that doesn't breathe or a fabric that's heavy weight, and you wear it in that type of situation and it's 100 degrees outside, it's hot. And I've seen, all over the country, people complain. They've got heat stress problems, they've got to give employees breaks off their jobs," Osbon continued. "It's definitely very problematic for employees."

He said during the past six or seven years, FR manufacturers have spent a lot of money on R&D to reduce weight and increase comfort, which is important to both sides of the FR market: arc flash (NFPA 70E) and flash fire (NFPA 2112). Tecgen Select is a product for both, he said.

The we-won't-change attitude has disappeared, in part because employees now are doing their own research online, he said. "It is a complete 180 degrees from what it was before. Now, typically, the phone calls come to us," he said. "We've got a website out there; people are doing searches because they're tired of the other stuff. They fill out a form on our website and say, 'Please, will you give me a call and tell me more about your product.'"

He said 30-40 wear tests are under way now across the country, and Charleston, S.C.-based Ashburn Hill is securing Tecgen Select orders in more than 95 percent of the sale opportunities available to it from customers in oil & gas, petrochemicals, electrical utilities, and electrical contractors, which formerly outfitted their employees in a variety of FR garments, depending on their job tasks. "When everybody [at a site] is wearing the same thing, it's much easier to manage. I laid in a forecast earlier this year; I've already sold that and then some," said Osbon. "Basically, I've sold everything I could make this year."

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