Banner couldn't believe his eyes. A mountain man type had just taken a rock and set it on fire. A rock! A few months later, Banner encountered him again and asked him how he'd managed the feat. "I think it has some real potential," Banner wound up telling the man, sensing both a business opportunity and emergency-preparedness demand for a product of that type.
It turns out there was more to it than just the rock itself, the man explained. Although Banner could tell the overall concept had promise as a quick fire starter, the additional ingredients which, when combined, had previously allowed a rock to be set alight before his very eyes weren't exactly what Banner considered safe.
After working out a royalty-based deal with the mountain man, Banner and co-founder Frank Weston set about in an abandoned warehouse to come up with a marketable product. After nine months of R&D work, Insta-Fire -- as it was known before a recent sale that resulted in the dropping of the hyphen -- was born: a mixture of super-heated, expanded perlite rock mixed together with wood pellets (predominantly pine and douglas fir), and coated with paraffin wax and oils.
Because it's self-insulating, InstaFire can be set on fire on top of snow. It can stay lit floating on water. On its own, it can hit 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit and boil water. But place a little bit down on the dirt ground, arrange some wood around it, set a match directly to the mixture -- which ignites similarly to a candle, notes Banner -- and a roaring campfire is practically guaranteed.
It's also safe sitting within its two-gallon bucket inside the family home. "You can store it anywhere," says Banner. "You can put it right next to a furnace, you can put it next to a water heater: a regular spark won't light it. We purposely made it that way."
Sales took off after Banner and Weston appeared on preacher Jim Bakker's television show. "He sold over 10,000 six-gallon buckets in an hour and a half," says Banner about the doomsday preacher. Then, they received a huge boost in terms of publicity in 2016 when Banner and Weston appeared on Shark Tank, which resulted in Mark Cuban and Lori Greiner making a deal with them on the show. Banner says annual revenue jumped to about $1.5 million at the point when the company was sold in December 2020. "We were in over 2,500 Walmarts," says Banner. "We had almost 10,000 locations when we sold the company."
Today, the new owners, Ready Alliance Group, see that InstaFire is marketed directly to consumers, in addition to their other survival items like Ready Hour dehydrated foods. InstaFire's product line now includes additional fire starter products and related merchandise, such as lighters. And while Banner no longer runs day to day operations, he's stayed on as Head of R&D. He says a patent-pending home heater -- which will turn fire into electricity -- will be ready by early October. Another product will be an indoor oven that can cook without electricity.
InstaFire is still made in Ogden, using ingredients purchased from outside vendors, such as the perlite from Malad City, Idaho. On a related note, Banner points to the teachings of the LDS Church for helping to make Utah a "hub" in the preparedness field, since it advises its followers to stay well-stocked on essential food items.
Banner says he's always had an "emergency-preparedness mindset," himself As a teenager, his sister's family had to flee their home during the Teton Dam flood within a 10- to 15-minute window, forgetting several practical essentials. Speaking with a police officer after Hurricane Katrina, Banner heard that some people asphyxiated trying to boil water, in order to purify it for drinking, using window and door moldings within their attics. Those events were on Banner's mind when the idea for InstaFire came together, making use of safer ingredients to be used in times of crisis.
"Our motto is that an emergency doesn't have to be a disaster," says Banner.
Challenges: "The biggest challenge right now is coming up with innovative products," says Banner.
Opportunities: The anticipated popularity for the company's upcoming products: "I think we'll triple to quadruple the sales."
Needs: The time necessary to bring the new products to market and garner attention for them, Banner indicates.