Protecting Those Who Protect Us

Stedfast

Headquartered in Granby, Quebec, Stedfast is a world leader in barrier technology. The experienced, innovative company has been in business since 1930, but it wasn’t until 1979 that it was purchased by a family of investors…
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Today, Stedfast’s specialized protective products – which include chemical and biological weapon-resistant textiles – are used in the medical, industrial, national defense, and emergency response sectors to ensure the lives and safety of those who work to protect ours.

While the ISO-certified company was originally established to supply the shoe, luggage and bookbinding industries, the Kay family added to the business’ sectors by branching into new markets with much-needed, leading-edge products.

One of Stedfast’s latest products is STEDAIR® PREVENT, the only particulate blocking, flame resistant material on the market that is highly breathable. The filtration fabric is used in special hoods to prevent carcinogens from entering the bloodstream of firefighters and other end users.

The product was launched in April 2018 at FDIC International (Fire Department Instructor’s Conference) in Indianapolis, and has received a great response. Toronto, Montreal, Pittsburgh, and San Francisco are some of the larger North American cities are currently evaluating the technology.

“It has really taken off in the industry. I think that almost every firefighter worldwide will be wearing STEDAIR® PREVENT,” says Jack Kay, who co-owns the business with his sister.

STEDAIR® PREVENT, like all of Stedfast’s products, was manufactured with worker safety in mind. Keeping people safe is a core value of the family-owned business, because its end users regularly put their lives on the line.

“The rate of cancer among firefighters is very alarming, and where it’s coming in is through the neck and groin areas. We’re doing everything we can to prevent that. I’m very proud, as the owner of the company, that we are helping to save lives,” he adds.

But even though Stedfast’s products for firefighters and first responders have boomed, it was its military division that dominated in previous years. Stedfast’s work for Canada’s Department of National Defense (DND) has been what put the company on the map, and it has proudly been awarded several military contracts, such as a CBRN contract through Peerless Garments to supply chemical suits for the Canadian forces. The CBRN defense product is designed to ward off chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear hazards.

The last two years have been the best that Stedfast has ever seen, with sizable wins for a company of 110 people. Jack Kay believes that it is the phenomenal team that has set Stedfast apart, even from much larger competitors. “We’ve been in business since 1930, and what sets us apart is our people. It’s a family business, so our values are all about families, working with employees through situations and then passing that on to our customers,” says Kay.

The Stedfast team is made up of passionate and family-oriented individuals. These are qualities that the ownership looks for when they hire. “If someone is passionate about what they’re doing, it reflects throughout the organization and to our customers.”

The values of this nimble and tight-knit family business are appreciated by the unique markets it serves. “The fire service market is very loyal,” Kay shares. “If you’re going to come to this market, you’d better come in with the right mindset. You put the firefighters first; it’s an honour to protect them, as it is with soldiers.”

To extend beyond Canada and into more of the Americas, the Quebec-based company also has a facility in Johnson City, Tennessee. Both state-of-the-art centres are equipped with testing facilities and R&D capabilities, operated by a skilled team of chemical engineers and technicians. “We hire the best and only the best,” says Kay.

Particularly for the U.S. market, namely its military and fire departments, the patriotic nature of the business means that its suppliers must produce within the country. “They want to come and see the product being made, so we bring the fire departments into Johnson City quite frequently and they feel better about it before they purchase,” Kay explains. The fire departments also like to see that the team is actively involved in the business.

Moreover, the barrier to entry in emergency services is testing-intensive and prohibitive for a lot of businesses because each product must be topnotch. Stedfast invests hundreds of thousands of dollars every year at Underwriters Laboratories, a renowned safety certification company that was established in 1894.

Stedfast’s investments are considerable, but the octogenarian company owes its longevity to the long-term approach it has undertaken. Management never shies away from making valued investments that will ensure the company’s viability for years to come. In 2005, Stedfast launched its R&D arm, Stedfast Research & Development, to provide scientific solutions and project management capabilities to emergency medical services and military applications. Every year, more than five percent of Stedfast’s proceeds are invested in R&D, ensuring the company’s constant growth.

Stedfast’s ISO accreditations include ISO 9001:2008 and ISO 14001:2004. These internationally recognized designations demonstrate that Stedfast’s quality management system consistently meets or exceeds customer requirements, and that its environmental management system is ecologically responsible.

An example of this sense of responsibility is a recent upgrade Stedfast made to its Granby location through the purchase of an RTO (regenerative thermal oxidizer). The RTO is a high-end air treatment system that ensures environmentally friendly emissions. Incorporating the new technology reinforces the company’s steadfast position as a leader in rubberized fabrics.

The investment was made “simply to make the environment better,” Kay explains. “Our factory in Granby is right downtown, and we are a rubber producing facility. We’ve spent this money so residents around us do not experience any smell or any smoke issues. We’re great neighbours and we’re committed to the environment.”

Having been very successful in Canada and the United States, Stedfast is now focused on offering its products all over the world. The Santiago, Chile Fire Department, which has a team of 10,000 firefighters to serve Chile’s capital city, will soon be visiting one of Stedfast’s facilities. Stedfast is also working to establish relationships with other major cities all over the world, including in Brazil, the United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, and Australia. Kay’s goal is for the STEDAIR® PREVENT product to become an internationally used firefighting standard.

Some creative, grassroots approaches that the innovative, family-owned company has taken in the past include running a hockey tournament for the City of Montreal and organizing golf tournaments for the City of Toronto. Stedfast was involved with these communities for years before getting the business. Kay reveals that it can take years of support to build trust with a new customer, but as with investing in R&D and sustainable technology, it’s a commitment that Stedfast is willing to make.

“It usually takes three to five years to get traction in a new market for us. You have to commit to a salesperson, spend the money, and usually, we see the return.”

Stedfast’s other future growth plans include keeping its facilities up-to-date with the latest technology, continuing to hire great people, and continuing to develop its relationship with Ottawa in order to supply Canadian soldiers with the best and safest materials available. Run by an investor family with a long-term outlook, growing via acquisitions is also an option for the business, provided that the right opportunity presents itself.

“We’re always looking at acquisitions that we feel are a fit. Our team is always looking to expand, but we don’t just want to acquire to get bigger. We want to grow organically. We’re constantly investing in our business,” Kay concludes.

Whether Stedfast is manufacturing for fire services, law enforcement, the military or industrial applications, the reliable business is committed to keeping its users protected and offering the best and most dependable products available.

April 23, 2019, 12:34 PM EDT

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