(Front page of the Kerrville Daily Times 6/20/12)
Local business gets thumbs up for EIC funding to expand
By Mark J. Armstrong
Assistant Managing Editor
Tim Thomason from Northern California was on a private deer hunt in Laredo back in 2006 when he realized how much he disliked the typical square box deer stand most hunters use — so he did what anyone in that situation would do.
“I believe God gave me a good idea, and I took it back to California and started working on it in my garage,” Thomason said.
Six years later, that idea is the premier product for Nature Blinds, a Kerrville-based business making realistic looking hollowed out trees that serve as deer blinds. The product has gone through a few versions, including some made by third-party manufacturers, before the company opened a facility off Junction Highway this year to make them.
The new style deer blind has had such a good reception at trade shows across the country, according to company partner and director of business development Clint Fiore, the blind is on backorder, and the company is looking to expand and more than double its workforce in the next 24 months.
“There’s reason to think that we might be an overnight success story,” Fiore said. “But those of you in business know there’s no such thing as an overnight success story. It takes years of hard work and perseverance.”
Fiore and company CEO Jason Hardy pitched the company’s plans Monday to the Kerrville Economic Improvement Corporation along with a request for $730,000 in funding to assist with the company’s plans to purchase a 48,494-square-foot building and add 73 new employees.
Fiore said when they began making the deer blinds at their current facility, they didn’t think they would outgrow that space anytime soon, but he said they knew they were onto something after they received 100 orders at the first major trade show they attended in January.“The response was amazing,” Fiore said.
Called the Treeblind, Thomason’s design is a realistic looking tree stump about 80 inches in diameter and about 80 inches tall. The blind is made from high density foam with a hard polyurethane shell, which Fiore compared to an ice chest.
The blind is big enough for two people and light enough that two people can move it. The foam material also keeps the inside warm on cold days and doesn’t get as hot during the summer, according to Fiore. The Treeblind has a suggested retail price of $3,450 and also comes in a handicapped accessible model.
Each one takes five days to manufacture and, currently, Nature Blinds is producing about seven per day with a staff of 27 full-time employees.
The company has already closed on the purchase of the new building and said the EIC grant, similar to the funding approved for the Fox Tank Company, would help them increase their inventory and enable the company to offer medical benefits to employees.
The EIC board members voted in favor of the funding with certain conditions, including a finding that the new facility meets city occupancy and fire standards. Under the terms approved by the EIC, the funding would not be made in a lump sum, but the company would receive $10,000 for each new employee hired up to 73.
According to the application for funding to the EIC, the average starting wage for new hires will be about $15 per hour. The positions include manufacturing, sales and administrative jobs.
Nature Blinds would have to maintain those new positions for 10 years or would be penalized $1,000 for each year the job was not filled.
The EIC board also made the grant contingent on a performa of the EIC funds over the next two years showing adequate funding for the project. The EIC program is funded through the 1/2-cent 4B sales tax and generates about $2 million annually. The EIC has already obligated about $600,000 of those funds annually to repay the $7 million debt for the river trail project and improvements to Louise Hays Park and downtown streetscaping, $300,000 to Fox Tank next year and another $300,000 for the downtown project to bury power lines.
The grant funding agreement also must be approved by the city council.
The Treeblind isn’t the only product Fiore said they hope to be making in the new facility. On Monday, despite a cold that kept him from attending the EIC meeting and a hurt finger that kept him from using the hand tools, founder and inventor Thomason was working at their current facility on their next product. Calling it the shield, their next product is a smaller, portable version of the tree-like exterior of the Treeblind that a single hunter can kneel behind.
Thomason also has other prototypes including a rock blind and planter made to look like a realistic log. He said the applications for the product are endless. “This is fun,” Thomason said. “I get to spend every day dreaming up new products.”
Copyright 2012, The Kerrville Daily Times