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August 19, 2011
| By Norman Poltenson,
Journal Staff /
Central New York Business Journal
SALINA — It’s hard to get excited about a garden hose. Unless you are Jay Bernhardt.
Bernhardt is a serial entrepreneur who created JGB Enterprises, Inc. (JGB), a Salina– based company which, for more than three decades, has supplied hundreds of different styles of industrial, hydraulic, and braidedmetal hose and fittings for commercial and Department of Defense uses.
Bernhardt’s interest in garden hoses was a reaction to his own experience identifying the defects found in the products he purchased: They were all flimsy, inflexible, prone to developing kinks, not durable, and too heavy. “[I] always thought I could make a better hose,” says Bernhardt.
Today, JGB handles on average 300,000 linear feet of garden hose per month under the trademark “Tuff-Guard,” also known as the “Perfect Garden Hose” or the “Perfect Water Hose.” The product comes in four standard lengths with a helix (a spiral form) wrap to prevent crushing and kinks.
The precision-flow brass fittings are crush-resistant and the hose operates in temperatures ranging from minus 20 degrees F to 158 degrees F. The Perfect Garden Hose comes in six different colors, weighs 35 percent to 50 percent less than conventional hoses, and comes with a lifetime guarantee. A 50-foot version lists for $40.
Bernhardt’s saga into the consumer market began five years ago when he put up $50,000 for a matching grant. JGB and Syracuse University worked together for a year on the grant to prove that it was possible to put a helix on the outside of a hose, despite problems with heat, pressure, and glues. Conventional hosemaking was inadequate, so Bernhardt turned next to ducting as a technique and eventually drew on his experience with fire hoses.
JGB then turned to Goodyear for help in manufacturing the perfect hose. The giant rubber company already had a consumer product called “Kinkguard,” which Bernhardt quickly discovered was prone to cracking. “Goodyear finally recognized the problem, but only after numerous product failures in the field,” says Bernhardt.
On Jan. 1, 2011, JGB and Goodyear inked a two-year agreement to be partners. Goodyear will manufacture a specified volume of hose for JGB to sell via e-commerce, “small-box distributors” like Ace Hardware, exhibits, and catalogs. Goodyear, which sold off its manufacturing arm — Veyance Technologies — to The Carlyle Group, will sell the product to “big-box retailers” as well as to JGB. At the end of the agreement, JGB will decide whether to “manufacture” the product itself or continue to distribute it as well as receive royalties.
Since this is the first foray by JGB into the consumer market, the company is scrambling to set up sales channels for all of North America. Bernhardt has set up a five-person team to drive sales to a market that generates $295 million annually. The team consists of Josh DeFino, general manager; John Snyder, Internet sales manager; Mark Consroe, national inside sales manager, Jim Thayer, retail expert; and Guy Zipp, engineer.
Bernhardt grew up in Richfield Springs and graduated from SUNY Oneonta in 1966 with a degree in business. “My mother told me to go West,” says Bernhardt, who headed for Los Angeles “… with seven cents [in his pocket], a gas credit card, and an old car.” He worked for two years as an inside salesman for a rubber company before joining Goodall Rubber, which was opening a branch in Syracuse. Bernhardt spent seven years at Goodall, acquiring experience in the distribution of rubber products, before deciding to open his own business in January 1977. Sales the first year reached $300,000, the second year peaked at $600,000, and by the end of year three topped $1 million.
Thirty-one years later, sales at JGB will register $100 million of which 60 percent to 80 percent typically comes through Department of Defense purchases. The company currently employs 200 and occupies more than 200,000 square feet of office, manufacturing, and warehouse space that Bernhardt owns. The company also leases space locally and in Buffalo, Charlotte, and St. Louis. Bernhardt owns several other entities as well, including JGB Properties, Inc.; Key Firehose, Inc.; Hotel Clarence; Liquid Trans, Inc.; Precisions Systems Manufacturing, Inc.; and The Red Mill Inn. The non-JGB companies collectively generate another $50 million in revenue and employ 100.
Bernhardt and his team recognize that entry into the consumer market requires a longterm commitment and the need to restructure the company’s sales effort. Bernhardt says he’s up to the challenge.
JGB Enterprises is based at 115 Metropolitan Park Drive, near Henry Clay Blvd., in Salina.