Phil Castle, The Business Times
An avid mountain biker, Dewet Marais can tell the difference in the types of lubricants used on the chain of his bike — not only in the way his bike performs, but also the sound it makes.
A wet lubricant that combines with dirt or sand to form a sort of grinding paste makes an irritating squeaky noise, Marais says. “You just hear the grating sound of the sand on your chain.”
Danie van Wyk, also a mountain bike enthusiast, notices other differences, among them the way gears shift and how often he has to replace a chain.
Marais and van Wyk prefer a chain lubricant that contains waxes and water in an emulsion. They say the lube remains clean, lasts longer and extends the life of the chain and gears.
Marais and van Wyk also happen to be among the five shareholders of the South Africa-based company that manufactures and distributes what’s branded as Squirt Lube.
Responding to growing demand in the United States for its chain lube and the other products, Squirt has opened a distribution facility in the Business Incubator Center in Grand Junction. The company plans to open a distribution and manufacturing facility in the Grand Valley within the next two years.
“The growth will happen over the next two years, so we’d better be prepared for it,” Marais says.
Brad Stieg, an entrepreneur who previously operated a company at the Business Incubator Center manufacturing and distributing reusable plastic canning lids, has joined Squirt as logistics and production manager.
Stieg says he’s excited about the potential for the company, its products and Grand Valley operations. “This is a great business to be in.”
Marais and van Wyk, both lawyers, joined with an engineer and a pharmacist to develop Squirt Lube in 2003. The idea was to invent a better chain lubricant, one that would remain clean, last longer and extend the life of the chain and gears.
The product they developed contains wax — four kinds of wax, in fact — and water in an emulsion. Unlike oil and other petroleum products that attract dirt and sand, a wax lubricant remains clean.
Moreover, Squirt Lube is made from biodegradable products that make it environmentally friendly. That’s an important attribute, Marais says, given how little oil or solvent it takes to contaminate water and how many times mountain bikers ride through streams.
After the initial success of Squirt Lube, the company developed other cycling products, including bike cleaner spray and concentrate and a tire puncture sealant. The company also is working with KMC to manufacture high-end bicycle chains pre-lubed with Squirt.
In addition, Squirt has developed Barrier Balm to protect skin from chafing for cycling and other endurance sports, such as triathlons. SweatSucker and Slurp keep perspiration away from users’ faces and their protective eyewear.
Since the launch of Squirt Lube in 2003, products are now sold through distributors and importers in more than 60 countries worldwide, Marais says. Products also are available from online retailers, including Amazon and eBay.
The products are more popular and sales are higher in Europe than the United States, Marais says. But growth is expected to accelerate more rapidly in the U.S. — as much as 50 percent a year, he says.
That makes it important to not only establish and expand a distribution system in the U.S., but ultimately open a manufacturing facility to bring production closer to the market, he says.
Marais says he was familiar with Colorado and the Grand Valley. He has friends who live in Grand Junction and he’s frequently visited.
In offering low-cost space and other resources to entrepreneurs, the Business Incubator Center offers what Marais calls a “great facility” from which to distribute products to the U.S. market.
Jon Maraschin, executive director of the center, connected Marais and van Wyk with Stieg.
Stieg previously worked as president of S&S Innovations, a company that operated at the center to manufacture and distribute the Tattler brand of reusable plastic canning lids. He says he sold his interest in the business in 2014.
Stieg joined Squirt on a part-time basis in October and expects to begin working full-time for the firm in July. While Squirt is well-established elsewhere, the company remains something of a startup in the U.S. and he’s excited about the potential for growth. “This is certainly the place to be.”
Stieg says he works for now as a logistics manager, buts hopes to also serve as a production manager once manufacturing starts in the Grand Valley.
Marais says he hopes to move the operation from the Business Incubator Center into the company’s own building within two years. He expects about 4,000 square feet of space will be needed for a combination warehouse and production facility.
While the facility initially will package bulk quantities of lube and other products shipped from South Africa, local manufacturing will be phased in, he says. A staff of 10 will work there at the end of two years, he says.
Eventually, the operation could serve not only the United States but also Canada, Central and South America and even Japan, he says.
A couple of sites could be considered for a facility, Marais says, including the business park under development at the Riverfront at Las Colonias Park in Grand Junction.
RockyMounts, a company that manufactures a variety of racks and locks for bicycles, announced plans to move its headquarters from Boulder to the park. Bonsai Design — a company that designs, builds and installs adventure courses and zip lines — will become the anchor tenant of the 15-acre park.
Marais says he’s also considering a Fruita business park as a possible location.
While the centralized location of the Grand Valley offers a geographical advantage, the popularity of outdoor recreation also plays a role, he says.
It’s a great place to ride a mountain bike, he says — not to mention use a chain lubricant that keeps that bike performing well.
For more information about Squirt Lube and other products, visit www.squirtlube.com.