Article - Environmental firm 'Booms' on the Web

Article published in Mass High Tech - The Journal Of New England Technology, July 12 - 18, 1999, Volume 17, Issue 28
Reuben Weinstein, left, president and CEO of Boom Environmental Products, with his father, Charles, and some of the products with which the firm is cleaning up on the Net.

Environmental firm 'Booms' on the Web

By Judy Stringer, staff writer

Reuben Weinstein, left, president and CEO of Boom Environmental Products, with his father, Charles, and some of the products with which the firm is cleaning up on the Net.

The 1990s have been a bust for the majority of companies operating in the environmental sector. A dwindling marketplace caused by cleaner air and water and scant new environmental regulations has put many companies on the skids.

Bridgewater-based Boom Environmental Products, however, has been more successful than most at evolving to meet the changing marketplace.

The latest move is, of course, to the Internet.

"The Web is driving our business today," said Boom President and Chief Executive Officer Reuben Weinstein, "so much so that we are looking to get much more involved in offering a wider range of environmental products."

People by now are accustomed to using the Internet to buy books and CDs, research health and drug information, and even make travel arran! geme nts or bid on a grand piano. But as the Web and e-commerce become more and more functional, obscure products and companies - like Boom, a maker and supplier of absorbents to swab up nasty oil and fuel spills - are finding cyber niches.

According to Weinstein, Boom's Web presence at dates back five years. It was not until last year, however, that the company beefed up the site and began offering a wide range of spill control products via the Net. Since then, Weinstein has noticed a sizable increase in sales. Today, he estimates that as much as 80 percent of Boom's sales are brokered on the Internet, and an ever-increasing number are stemming from its recently launched EnviroFinder.

"Nine out of 10 products that people are looking for, we can get our hands on right away," he said. "If we don't carry it we know where to go to get it, because we are in this business everyday. We feel that our role is to act as a! clearinghouse for a wide range of environmental products."

EnviroFinder has been a feature on the company's website for about six months. The idea is for people or companies to submit requests for environmental products. If Boom has the product, Weinstein and his staff will respond within 24 hours with the product and price. Even if the product request falls outside the company's scope, Boom has been known to purchase and resell items, or else direct queries to companies that carry the products.

Some of the biggest users of EnviroFinder today are engineers in the military, said Weinstein, who are looking for very specific products for very specific applications. For instance, federal officials have come to the site looking for turbidity curtains - absorbents used to keep tiny sediment particulates from immigrating into fish gills during dredging projects. The Air Force is also keen on absorbents that may be used to contain fuel spills that occur when fueling planes.

Other Internet clients include corporations operating ! or p aying for site remediation projects, as well as individuals interested in erosion control products to protect waterfront investments and homes. These items are offered through Boom's sister company, American Engineering Fabrics.

As the list gets longer and requests more obscure, Weinstein sees an opportunity for Boom to stay ahead of customer demands.

"Now we are not just thinking up a product and putting it out there, rather we are responding to customer demands," Weinstein said.

As an example, he noted a growing number of requests for absorbent materials that can help manage livestock manure. Left unchecked, manure can pollute waterways and infect drinking water systems with bacteria. The company has responded with an absorbent fabric lining for animal pens.

Being on top of rapidly changing customer needs is a critical aim in the environmental sector. Like many other "green" companies, Boom has been so successful at helping customers clean up contamin! ation, it has nearly put itself out of business. EnviroFinder has been the latest in a series of evolutions to lure new customers to the company and to help it maintain strong relationships with existing customers that increasingly want to communicate and operate via the Web.

Founded by Weinstein 10 years ago, Boom was the outgrowth of an old and closely held family business. Eighty-five years ago, the family established A. Weinstein & Son, a wool trading and blending company. It branched out into recycled wool, synthetics and nylon, culminating in the 1981 creation American Engineering Fabrics, a maker of polyester and polypropylene geotextiles for the construction industry.

In the third generation, Reuben Weinstein adapted its geotextile materials into fiber-locked absorbents and launched Boom in 1989. At the time, melt-blown polypropylene was the most commonly used material to address marine spills. Fiber-locked polypropylene, however, proved more useful. Designed with hydrophobic (that is, water hating) fibers, it floated ! with out absorbing water and could be custom-shaped, depending on the application.

Boom and Weinstein are now struggling with ways to grow the Net-based services. Partnerships with other environmental product companies are a must, said Weinstein, so the site can house a greater line of products. Deals are already being pursued. But to become "the environmental products" clearinghouse will take a significant investment in advertising the service.

"The key to Internet sales is that you have to seriously advertise. The big guys know that and they are doing it. We have to decide if we are going to make the big jump."

Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved. Mass High Tech 1999.