Grand Junction, Colorado
Industry: Medical & Bioscience
Products: Ice rescue sleds, poles, and accessories
Husband-and-wife co-founders Bo and Becky Tibbetts are laser-focused on saving lives with innovative search-and-rescue gear.
"We started out in the underwater crime scene world," says Bo. "That doesn't really correlate with Ice Rescue Systems. This is about rescue."
But the Tibbetts' other business informed their knowledge, he says. "We knew what the industry needed for rescue and it wasn't out there in the marketplace," he says. "We used other people's equipment and we said, 'We can do better.'"
After first envisioning the company in 2006, the couple had issues getting the project off the ground. "What we expected is that things would be so easy and we kept hitting a brick wall," says Bo.
After searching for the right contract manufacturers and suppliers for two months, they gave up on the idea. "In 2016, we picked it back up," Bo continues. "We prayed about it. We're big followers of Christ, and he said, 'This is the time.'"
The second time proved a charm. They outsourced plastics and found suppliers for carbon-fiber poles. "Things just fell into place," says Becky.
"A lot of these components are manufactured and tooled in Grand Junction," says Bo. "We try to do business as locally as we can."
If they're unable to find a vendor on the Western Slope, they look to Denver, then Salt Lake City, then the U.S. as a whole. "We have not gone to China and refuse to do that," says Bo.
His rule of thumb for finding manufacturing partners: "It's about finding somebody who cares as much about saving lives as we do."
In late 2016, Ice Rescue Systems embarked on its first production run. Assembly and fulfillment take place in Grand Junction, but Bo says the company may move the latter to Denver for the sake of logistics.
"All of this is proprietary," say Bo of the company's catalog of sleds, harnesses, slings, poles, and soft goods. "The unique thing we do with Ice Rescue Systems is it's a system. One component plays on another component. That's the instance for the entire line."
The bags unfold into dressing stations, for example, because it's all about a speedy deployment. "These rescues last five to 10 minutes, max," says Bo. "What we try to do is minimize risk in this industry."
That means putting the fewest number of rescuers on the ice possible, displacing their weight, and keeping people low to the ground and horizontal.
The old methods had all sorts of problems. "They used to go out there with a rope and a big carabiner and pull them out, which isn't good for the victim," says Becky. "They used to pull them across the ice with no protection."
Adds Bo: "We sled to take the punishment instead of the body."
That means the products need to be durable, and they have a warranty to match. "Anything that's damaged or destroyed during a real-life rescue, we'll replace it, no questions asked," says Bo. "It's about saving lives. There's not price we can put on that."
The market is responding. "Since 2016, we have doubled our gross sales every year," says Bo, forecasting a tripling for 2019.
Customers include municipalities, fire departments, and search-and-rescue teams. "Everything north is our market," says Bo. "The further north we go, the longer we have ice, so the bigger the market." Beyond Colorado, Nebraska, Utah, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey have been lucrative states for Ice Rescue Systems.
No single product dominates sales; it's about systems. "What accounts for most of our sales are kits," says Bo.
The vast majority of sales come through a dealer network, although Ice Rescue Systems does some direct business with end users, often ice-fishing enthusiasts and other outdoor recreationalists. Case in point: The Get a Grip Ice Awl is a good item to have in hand when you're on a frozen lake.
A value-add is training on their equipment; the company taught about a dozen teams during the winter of 2018-19. "My first class was two hours long," notes Bo of his background in search and rescue. "Our ice rescue class is 20 hours long."
Challenges: "Finding the workforce is the biggest challenge," says Bo. That involves recruiting people who are "safety-minded and very detail-oriented."
Ice Rescue Systems is currently looking for help with marketing, training, and assembly. "It would be nice to find somebody who cared about it as much as we do," adds Becky.
Opportunities: "Number one, it's all U.S.A. manufacturing," says Bo. "Public safety is red, white, and blue. They want made in the U.S.A."
Looking north, Canada is a big target in more ways than one. "We just put that dealer on this year," says Bo.
New products are another area of opportunity, including an anchoring system slated to hit the market for the 2020-21 winter. Field testing is exhaustive. "We want to make sure it's viable," says Bo. "There are certain things we catch in the field you wouldn't catch on a computer."
One example: The patented Ice Screw tip on the ice awl gripped ice without fracturing it, while the straight tip caused more cracks. Bo credits engineer Jim DeCino with a design that "has about 85 percent more grip than a traditional ice pick."
Needs: "More space would be good," says Becky.
"As inventory and demand increases, production is obviously going to increase, so space is a big one," echoes Bo.