Industry: Consumer & Lifestyle
Products: Law enforcement safety helmets and accessories
After starting in ski goggles, the Smith family business is now a leading domestic manufacturer of police and motorcycle helmets.
Bob Smith started Super Seer in the basement of his Evergreen home, initially designing and making ski goggles for which he won patents. That was successful enough that he took over 1,200 square feet of space in an old barracks near the Evergreen Lake dam. Super Seer's business expanded into making snowmobile goggles and the company sponsored a series of snowmobile races called the Super Seer Cup until 1985.
Super Seer acquired the recreational face shield division of ILC Industries in 1976. ILC made many of the space suits used by NASA astronauts, including the gold face shield. Smith modified the face shield, creating a double lens shield for the snowmobile. Along with the acquisition, though, came ILC's proficiency in police and general duty helmet manufacturing. ILC had been making helmets for the Chicago and Philadelphia police departments.
Smith wasn't interested in making helmets at the time, so he moved the helmet manufacturing equipment to Super Seer's facility in Evergreen and it sat for a couple of years.
Bob Smith and his son, Steve, who is now president of the company, went to a convention of the International Association of Chiefs of Police in 1978, where they were encouraged to start making police helmets. Soon after, Smith acquired the law enforcement assets of a major police helmet manufacturer, the Buco Division of American Safety Helmets.
That's when Super Seer became a leading manufacturer of law enforcement helmets, buoyed in no small part by the company's participation in a number of police motorcycle rodeos held around the country. The company became a sponsor of the rodeos, starting with a 1990 event in south Florida. The rodeos, which include timed skill events, became increasingly popular and a great marketing opportunity for the company.
The elder Smith, who is now chairman of Super Seer, was honored in 2012 at the Gulf Coast Police Motorcycle Rodeo for the company's support. There are now 10 police rodeos annually and the company has participated in more than 150 over the years.
"It is a great way to make a sales call when you have such a large number of agencies coming to one location," says Steve Smith.
Besides being a major supplier of police helmets in the U.S., Super Seer also sells to police agencies in Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom. Super Seer also has become the only manufacturer in the U.S. for law enforcement riding helmets, Steve says, with annual sales of about $2.7 million. The company supplies helmets to about 150 police agencies in the U.S. and Canada. The company also manufactures a line of recreational helmets and accessories for both lines, including face shields.
Super Seer manufactures all of the helmets at its 30,000-square-foot facility just north of downtown Evergreen. The hard exterior of the helmet is made by a subcontractor in the Denver area, but the assembly and all the other pieces are done in-house. That includes the foam liners, painting, and assembly.
Police motorcycle helmets differ from recreational helmets principally because officers wear their helmets eight hours every day they work and because the helmets must be durable. "They are mainly tailored to the extent of use and wear," says Steve. "The exterior uses a different paint that is more durable. All the components inside are removable and washable. There are additional safety features as well."
Super Seer's best-selling helmet is the S2102 carbon fiber half-shell helmet introduced last year, he says. A big reason is because it is very lightweight and durable. The company also designs helmets based on specifications from a single police agency, which it did for the London mounted police. "No one else uses that helmet," Steve says.
There has been an upswing in sales, he says, because of economic conditions that allow police agencies to hire more officers.
"We're in a solid market with government agencies that have budgets and equipment needs," Steve says. "We're extremely busy with the helmets we make. We're looking to add more electronics to helmets with emergency LED lights and 360-degree body cameras."
Besides the helmets, Super Seer also manufactures accessories. That includes the recent introduction of its Cool Cap, a helmet liner with fabric designed to keep the wearer's head cool.
Super Seer is a C corporation; the stock is mostly owned by the Smith family. In addition to Bob and Steve, there are Steve's children: Kevin, who is sales manager, and Crystal, who is purchasing agent and office manager.
Challenges: The number one challenge for the company is the labor market in Colorado, Steve says. "We're seeing a tighter labor market than we have in the past," he says, which is compounded by the company's location in the foothills and the smaller labor pool there. Super Seer tries to meet the challenge with attractive wages and benefits. "We've been in business 51 years and weathered these storms before."
Opportunities: A focus on a narrow market. "We're a niche-oriented company," Steve notes. As the only manufacturer of law enforcement motorcycle helmets in the U.S., that creates a huge opportunity for us."
Needs: "Labor is an issue," says Steve. "We also could use more physical space, which is currently tight but we use it efficiently. If we do expand, I'd love to stay where we are. I love Evergreen."