Cathie Anderson

Fast-growing El Dorado Hills company ratchets way onto Inc. 500

This belt is designed to help save your life

SlideBelts co-founders Brig and Michelle Taylor demonstrate features of their newest product, the survival belt. The El Dorado Hills-based company is growing rapidly and reaches markets around the world.
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SlideBelts co-founders Brig and Michelle Taylor demonstrate features of their newest product, the survival belt. The El Dorado Hills-based company is growing rapidly and reaches markets around the world.

SlideBelts co-founders Brig and Michelle Taylor ship their ratchet belts around the world from El Dorado Hills, and they have celebrated that fact by surrendering about 20 feet of wall in their company headquarters to a world map.

That wall provides a portal for viewing the company’s rapid growth.

“We just expanded again last month, and we had to put in a doorway to the new space,” Michelle told me, “so we lost some of South America and Africa when we did that.”

Indeed, the top of the doorway cuts right through the two continents. The Taylors were just preparing to move into 3,740 square feet of their current space when this columnist initially wrote about them in August 2014. Their company now leases about 6,500 square feet.

The continental incisions and the expanding floor plan provide tangible evidence of the growing consumer interest in the company’s products, but numbers offer an equally vivid picture. SlideBelts’ annual revenue in 2015, $2.7 million, was 24 times what the company earned in 2012.

That feat landed the company at No. 151 on the Inc. 500 list of the nation’s fastest-growing private companies. Among retail companies on that list, they ranked 10th for their growth. This year, the Taylors project that revenue will easily surpass $5 million.

“We’re so forward-looking that we always think, ‘This is how much farther we have to go,’ ” Michelle said. “Comparatively, we’re still very, very small, and a very small number of potential customers know about SlideBelts. … We’re always thinking about the next product or the next hurdle.”

One challenge is controlling costs as the company grows. That’s why the couple sought $100,000 in tax credits from the state of California through 2020. SlideBelts secured the business incentive with its pledge to hire at least eight additional full-time employees and invest nearly $365,000 in the local economy. The company’s rolls will grow to 21 full-time staffers in 2020, up from 13 in 2015.

“We’ll be hiring another accountant or two this next year,” Brig said. “We need to make sure we’re on top of everything. I can’t run it from my gut anymore. Any mistakes at this point in the game could cost millions.”

In September of this year, the Taylors launched retail sales of their survival belts. Selling for $180, the belts come equipped with a fire starter, flashlight and a titanium-coated knife in the buckle. The waterproof straps retain their strength and flexibility in the face of frost or extreme heat, and can be used to tow, carry or secure objects, Brig said.

The Taylors funded development of the product with a 2014 Kickstarter campaign. They told potential backers they could make a buckle with a bottle opener and fire starter if they raised $60,000, but if they hit a stretch goal of $140,000, they would add a multitool. They hit the $60,000 goal in a week and raised $200,032 by the time the nearly 60-day campaign ended.

Brig also had a $750,000 stretch goal that would have integrated GPS into the buckles, and he told me that he’s dedicated some SlideBelts earnings toward integrating that technology.

The survival belt’s strap is produced in Ohio, but most manufacturing is done overseas. The couple are in the process of moving their manufacturing to Taiwan because their current factory was having trouble scaling up to meet demand. There were problems with late shipments and quality control, the Taylors said, and that had to be resolved before SlideBelts can supply large retail chains. The change also will free up local staff members to do more with guest services and custom orders.

The couple, who met while studying at Brigham Young University, sell their product at 100-plus boutiques. That’s up from roughly 10 in 2014.

The Taylors started out by selling their ratchet belts only online in 2008. Brig received his first ratchet belt as a gift, while doing missionary service in Moldova. It had no D-ring or prongs – and no holes in the strap. Instead, there was a thin line of teeth-like ridges where the holes typically were.

To tighten the belt, Brig would ratchet those ridges into a buckle that had a latch mechanism. While he loved the belt’s utility and ease of use, he said, he thought it lacked panache. He refined the buckle design and latch gear, then patented his concept.

It was largely Michelle, Brig said, who plugged away and managed to get their first 400 belts sold. It took almost two years. Now they sell hundreds of belts each month. Roughly a third of their sales, however, come during November and December, the busy holiday shopping period.

After they graduated from BYU in 2010, the Taylors moved in with Brig’s parents. He got a job as a bagger and checker at Nugget Market while Michelle continued to work on building the SlideBelts business. Sales grew by word of mouth, the couple said, and things got so busy by late 2012 that Brig had to quit Nugget to help out.

Yet Brig learned lessons at Nugget that he has adapted to his business. In 2014, he told me: “I treat our website, e-commerce in general, very much like a grocery store. When somebody logs on to the website, you can really direct traffic just like they taught us in the grocery store. It’s all about the displays, making them look bold, to make people feel confident about buying a product.”

In 2014, the Taylors started opening a seasonal kiosk in the Roseville Galleria, and the experiment was so successful that they continue the strategy even now. Sales opened there on Nov. 15 and will end Dec. 30. They also have integrated online advertising through Facebook and Google.

“Once we acquire a fan, they’ll spend $150 to $200 in their first year either for themselves or for another person,” Brig said. “It’s worth spending the money to acquire those customers.”

Cathie Anderson: 916-321-1193, @CathieA_SacBee