By Eric Peterson / CompanyWeek | Nov 08, 2015
Employees: 300 worldwide (about 40 in Utah)
Burton's background in accounting led him to work for Executive Armoring. "That company was sold and I moved to Utah," he says.
International Armoring came to be after he started getting calls for armored vehicles. "I wasn't planning on [starting a company]," he says. "I was very fortunate in that regard."
But Burton also wanted to push the boundaries of armored vehicles. "I wanted to be different than everybody else that was out there," he says. "When we started, everybody was using glass and steel."
International Armoring's differentiator is Armormax, which initially weighed less than eight pounds per square foot, compared to steel at 13 pounds per square foot. "Steel is still the same weight," says Burton. "Now our product is at 3.3 pounds per square foot."
While it considerably more expensive than steel, the lightweight material allowed for vehicles to retain the same look and feel after armoring, he says. "We want it to look original. There's a lot of little things and a few big things."
The big innovation stems from "designing the armor to the car rather than designing the car to the armor," Burton adds. "It's a no-brainer."
The upcharge for the armoring is typically about $70,000 to $80,000 on top of the price of the original vehicle. "We can deal with all cars," says Burton. "There are cars I prefer to do."
The market immediately gravitated to Armormax. "We went from six to 90 employees in 120 days," says Burton. "It was kind of an entrepreneur's dream, but it was a lot of hard work."
As of 2015 -- about 8,000 armored vehicles later -- the company has about 300 employees at seven manufacturing facilities worldwide, including Nigeria, the Philippines, and the U.K., as well as the headquarters in Centerville.
Customers are largely government agencies and large corporations and the domestic market has taken a backseat to other countries. "The demand in the U.S. used to be a lot greater," says Burton. "The growth is all international."
Today International Armoring sells to clients in 60 countries. "The biggest markets are in the Middle East as well as Africa," he notes, citing corruption and crime as factors that lead to higher demand.
Latin America, formerly a target, is no longer a big market for the company. "We've divested ourselves," says Burton. "It kind of became a race to the bottom."
Challenges: "The challenge here in the U.S. is cost," says Burton. The perception is "because we're building these cars for wealthy people, you can sell them for whatever. That's just not true."
Internationally, tariffs are the big hurdle. "Until we got to Brazil, we never sold a car there because of high importation taxes," says Burton.
Opportunities: Special projects ranging from locomotives in Africa to snowcats in Turkey to safe rooms. "They can be very lucrative," says Burton. Now representing roughly 5 percent of sales, such custom projects are "increasing," he adds.
He also sees room for growth in numerous countries and sees a possible return to Latin America, possibly via a joint venture with an automaker. "There are a lot of unexplored markets out there. As we get on the ground in those countries, there's an opportunity to grow."
Needs: About 40 local workers to scale up manufacturing for a domestic order. "We don't have a pool to draw from," says Burton. "You need to have a significant pool to find the skill set that we need."
But capital is not a need. "We're self-funded," says Burton. "I don't even use banks anymore. It gets a little dicey when I have to go out and buy 80 vehicles."