The former U.S. Cycling Team member stopped, put the bicycle down, and fixed it so he could continue on his way. But his hands were still sticky and dirty and he thought about buying some hand wipes for exactly those kind of occasions.
But there was a problem: he couldn't find the right product. It didn't seem to exist.
So he designed one and that was the start of what is now an international health and fitness product distribution company called Zogics.
"It is that classic startup story where I had an idea for a product, it was a wipe product, developed it, brought it to market, and really grew the company out of my home. My first employees reported to my living room," LeBlanc said.
"We continued to grow the company from there until we needed more space. There have been a series of steps along the way that brought us to a bigger storage space, a bigger warehouse, expanded warehouse, bigger offices, to now where we are at currently."
After getting the company off the ground, it has expanded by some 20 to 30 percent every year. It started adding more and more products to sell and developed new ones.
Earlier this year, Zogics ran out of space in its current location.
"We essentially just filled our last seat in our office in Lee. Knowing we were continuing to grow and continuing to hire, we set out looking for a bigger space," LeBlanc said.
The company purchased a new location on Pittsfield Road, expanding its footprint. Zogics will still retain its warehouse and office space in Lee, but is moving marketing, administration, sales, and customer service to the new location.
"It more than doubles our current footprint. We have much more office space to grow into. It is in a gorgeous natural setting in Lenox with lots of natural light, views, and grounds. It has a combination of private offices, open offices, and private spaces. As it functions as an office, it is ideal," LeBlanc said.
The company employs about 15 people now but will be at 20 by the end of the year. LeBlanc said as long as the company keeps growing, he'll keep hiring. And now he has more than enough space to do that.
"Right now we have excess capacity. So what I've done is leased out a few offices on the first floor to a pilates instructor, a yoga instructor, and a massage therapist. Not only are they able to run their private practices out of the space but it dovetails nicely with our wellness ethos. We serve the health and wellness community and it gives the staff access to their services," LeBlanc said.
LeBlanc attributes the growth to his employees, who need to go above and beyond in order to grow the small business. Zogics is deliberate in its hiring process, seeking a certain drive and passion in the candidates who'll serve meaningful roles.
"Without a doubt, the No. 1 factor is the team we've assembled. Without that caliber of talent and commitment, drive, hunger, and excitement, it is very difficult to have a profitable business, let alone grow one," LeBlanc said. "It is certainly a reflection of who makes up Zogics that has been the key to our success."
Later adding, "we are at the size where everybody has a real role to play in moving us forward and what everyone does in the company matters."
The Zogics team isn't just one that sells health and fitness products, it fully embraces it.
LeBlanc offers an array of perks to the staff members including community supported agriculture shares, a company gym and bringing in personal trainers to lead classes. The company will pay for employees to participate in sporting events, provides unlimited paid time off, and gives members $500 to attend local cultural venues. With a masseuse in the building, it will now offer half priced massages.
"Often time people will say the perks we offer are great for attracting talent. But really the perks we offer are done to reward the talent we have," LeBlanc said.
While LeBlanc sees it as a reward, the unique job perks have been talked about wide and far and serve as an attraction for new hires. LeBlanc said when he posts a job, he gets hundreds of applications. That has opened the field for him to be even more deliberate in picking talent to join the company.
"We are very fortunate because when we post an opening, we'll get often 200-plus applicants. We're really able to attract the region's best and brightest. That's exemplified by the staff I have now and the caliber of applicants we are regularly getting," LeBlanc said.
And word has spread to other companies as well. And not just for attracting and retaining employees, but from a productivity view point. LeBlanc says for every dollar a company puts toward workforce wellness programs, $2.91 comes back in productivity.
"A healthy workforce is a top performing workforce, is a productive workforce, is a happy workforce. All of that adds up to both individuals and companies making greater and greater investments in health and wellness," LeBlanc said.
Zogics remains flexible in business, and LeBlanc goes so far as to say he dislikes business plans because that road map can blind a company from seeing a real opportunity. It began a consulting arm to help companies learn how to incorporate those programs into their operations.
"It has to be a holistic approach. It is not just put some weights and a treadmill in the room and hope for the best. It has to be incorporated and ingrained in your culture," LeBlanc said.
"For us, we built this popular amenity, which is our company gym. But we also support that by bringing in personal trainers during the week to lead company wide boot camp classes. We provide on site showers and not only permit but encourage staff to work out whenever they want. We do things like subsidizing CSA shares. More than half of the staff participates in the CSA program where they are getting discounted shares that provide them with weekly deliveries of locally grown, organic vegetables."
Offering such things as classes bring a tighter bond between the employees, strengthening the team effort, LeBlanc said.
"Health and wellness are threaded throughout. A healthier workforce is happier. They are sick less frequently. They're coming together and bonding in ways that a traditional office does not facilitate. For instance, when we have one of our weekly fitness classes and the staff is in there suffering together and accomplishing together, and then at the end, they are high fiving each other. That creates a bond similar to an athletic team, that strong bond where you are rooting for the person next to you and feeding off their energy," LeBlanc said.
For Zogics, there is another benefit to the health and wellness programs as well. The employees don't just sell the health and fitness products to some 20,000 gyms throughout the country and abroad, but they use the products too. They understand their customer.
"It allows us to connect better with our customers. We are living and breathing what our health club customers are living and breathing," LeBlanc said. "We are using the products they use. We are seeing the benefits they are delivering to their clients on a regular basis. And it allows us to connect with and bond with a shared experience. For us, there is an extra benefit there. But if I was running a law office or a manufacturing facility or a retail operation, I would implement all of the same things I've implemented here."
His focus on health and wellness is partly what keeps him in the Berkshires. LeBlanc moved here 17 years ago. He ran a telecommunications company and then a renewable energy company. After selling his ownership of those company, he was seeking something else to do. That's when he started down the path of Zogics.
What keeps him here is the access to outdoor recreation and cultural facilities.
"We're an e-commerce company that really can be based anywhere. It all comes back to the quality of work life and where we can be positioned to make the experience of growing a company as fun and rewarding and as pleasurable as possible," LeBlanc said, citing nearby attractions for hiking, skiing, bicycling, running, and visiting cultural attractions. He called the Berkshires a "Mecca" for health, wellness, and recreation.
"I can think of no other region in the country that provides that unique mix of lifestyle quality that the Berkshires offer."
And it is working. It started as one product being developed in a living room and now it is quickly becoming one of the nation's largest suppliers of products for fitness professionals. Zogics sells some 5,000 products ranging from flooring to weights to bathroom accessories to high-tech devices for recovery or 3D body imaging. It's opened additional warehouses in Tennessee, Utah, Toronto, and Minnesota. It ships products throughout the world. It continues to expand a line of Zogics branded eco-friendly body care and cleaning products
"At the time I didn't think it would turn into a substantial company, certainly didn't imagine it would get to the point it is now. I just went with it and threw everything I had behind it. From that initial idea, we fed that fire with exceptional people we've hired along the way. And it just became something that is really remarkable, something we are all really proud of and excited to be part of," LeBlanc said. "It is really fulfilling to be part of something that is growing."
It wasn't easy to get to this point. LeBlanc remembers just putting his head down, putting in 14 hour days, to get to the next level throughout the last decade.
"It was as scrappy as it could get. We worked out of a home until we couldn't any longer. I rented a little bit of space in someone's warehouse and I put a little desk in there. We worked in that environment and then leased a portion of the warehouse we are in now, and put a couple of desks in there and just plowed through growing the company in its infancy while keeping costs to a minimum and far from luxury surroundings," LeBlanc said. "Winter came and we realized we were going to freeze to death if we stayed with our desks in the warehouse so we rented office space. It takes a good three to five years to really get something off the ground."
And this year is another milestone, another expansion. By the end of this week, the majority of the staff will be moved into the new space. The computer systems are all being revamped to support an even larger company. And, the space is there waiting to be filled.
"We're really fortunate that our struggles have been growth. What worked for a home-based business doesn't work for a business that starts to employ people. What works at a small regional level doesn't work at an international level. Every couple of years we will hit an inflection point that will cause us to have to revisit how we do things, the systems we have in place, the space we need. Those are significant challenges but welcomed," LeBlanc said.
LeBlanc said 10 years ago he couldn't envision the future of the company being what it is now, so he's not going to project into the future about what the company will look like in another decade. He'll keep the company flexible. But, he knows what he's created so far is a lasting model.
"I could take this team and move into a completely different industry and we'd do very well," LeBlanc said.
|iBerkshires.com welcomes critical, respectful dialogue; please keep comments focused on the issues and not on personalities. Profanity, obscenity, racist language and harassment are not allowed. iBerkshires reserves the right to ban commenters or remove commenting on any article at any time. Concerns may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.|