Hungry bears feed appetite for bruin-proof containers
Thanks to garbage-loving bears, Henry Fox has a booming business.
Fox, who lives in Battlement Mesa, designs bear-proof trash containers and food lockers.
Bears have become the bane of some residents’ existence, raiding garbage cans, breaking into homes in their quest for food.
Fox’s bear-proof containers help both people and bears. The containers discourage bears from hanging around humans in the first place. And they prevents bears from getting reputations as problem bears, which are killed after their second infraction.
Fox’s original business plan didn’t include bear-proof trash containers.
After moving to Glenwood Springs from Texas in 1996, he worked at BFI as its Western Slope general manager for five years.
“It got to the point where it was time to move on,” he said.
In August 2001, Fox left BFI and formed Waste Services Unlimited, Inc. to service the trash industry. He repaired trash containers and sold equipment such as trash compactors and containers.
But as time went on more and more people on the West Slope clamored for bear-proof containers.
As it happened, Fox also had experience in that field. While working for BFI he designed bear-proof containers for the city of Aspen and helped write a trash ordinance requiring people to have bear-proof containers.
At the time, he found there weren’t many such containers on the market and the ones that were available were expensive.
In January, he formed a division of Waste Services Unlimited called BearProof, Inc.
“We looked around at the market,” he said, which covered the 40 states that have bears. He targeted 18 western states and sent letters to national and state parks, highway departments and trash companies that might have a use for his containers.
“It was slow starting out,” Fox said.
Then he had a website created and his business took off.
“It’s been the most productive tool. I’d estimate 80 percent of our business comes directly from our Web page,” he said.
Much of its success depends on website links to organizations such as Griz Tracks, a bear conservation society, and the National Parks Conservation Association.
“We targeted those groups that work with bear problems, and that really drove our traffic up,” he said.
But the biggest break-through for the company was a contract with the Department of Defense, which found Fox on the Internet and asked him to design bear-proof containers for Army bases in Alaska.
That was soon followed by similar requests from, and contracts with, the National Park Service for the Bridger-Teton and Great Smoky national parks.
“We’ve been in business a little over a year and we’ve grown exponentially since January,” Fox said.
The containers are manufactured in two facilities in the state, in Pueblo and Grand Junction.
Fox is currently working with the Colorado Mountain College Small Business Development Center in Glenwood Springs to find a locale on the Western Slope for a manufacturing facility.
“We’ve grown enough that we can justify that,” he said.
Fox’s design, he said, stands his containers head and shoulders above the competition. The containers are all-metal, unlike some that have plastic parts. He uses 12- to 14-gauge hot rolled steel in the containers. For special orders, such as food containers used in national park campsites, he uses heavy-duty 10-gauge steel.
Fox offers a variety of products, from a 95-gallon “roll-away” for $299, to a trash locker that holds two 95-gallon trash containers for $799.
“If you live in bear country, we have a product to fit your needs. If we don’t, we’ll build it,” Fox said.
The containers also have a simple locking device, a carabiner such as those used for mountain climbing.
“We played around with a lot of designs and this was the simplest,” Fox said. “It was the easiest to use and cheap to replace.”
Most important, however, the container passed the bear test.
At the request of the National Park Service, which wanted to create a set of standards for trash containers to be used in its parks, a BearProof Inc. container was tested at the Grizzly Bear Discovery Center in West Yellowstone.
“We put the container in the pen with two 750-pound grizzly bears,” Fox said. Inside were smelly fish and vegetables, a real treat for the bears.
In a scenario reminiscent of the old Samsonite luggage ads in which a gorilla jumped up and down on one without crushing it, the bears tried their best but could not breech the metal armor of the BearProof Inc. trash containers. “It was awesome. They jumped up and down on it,” he said.
Grizzlies have been known to claw their way into the locked trunks of cars. And a traditional Dumpster top is no match for them.
More than being satisfied at having launched what has all the earmarks of a successful business, Fox draws a deeper satisfaction from the work.
“We’re not just peddling a product, it’s for a good cause,” he said.
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