Walker firm is all ears
WALKER – CavCom’s trademarked “Talk Though Your Ears” hearing protection and radio communications device protects people’s hearing not only from high environmental noises, but also radio sound that could be high enough to damage hearing.
The business located in Walker Industrial Park started because owners Jeff and Barbara Morrill saw an unmet need for industries and emergency services.
This summer Tampa Bay Police Department will equip its officers, before the Republican National Convention, with these improved radio-hearing protection devices. CavCom products are sold throughout North America and are beginning to be available internationally.
Production and sales have grown throughout the recession. Part of the reason for this is that the Morrills saw an unmet need and addressed it, though it took them a while to push toward the potential it had.
How the Morrills chose to live in Walker and expand their business has a history.
Jeff grew up in Randolph, a town of a few hundred people south of the Twin Cities. Summers, he vacationed at his family cabin on Baby Lake near Hackensack.
After college, took a job in Minnesota Department of Health audiology division where he checked the impact of industries on employee hearing. After graduate school, he moved to Kansas City, Mo.
There he met and married Barbara, whose employment focus was on employment effects repetitive motion cause and to provide exercises to prevent and correct those effects on the body.
While in Kansas City, the couple started Impact Health Services where they conducted hearing and respiratory testing for industries and emergency service agencies such police and fire agencies to determine whether they met OSHA standards. They noticed employees suffered hearing loss not only from environmental noise, but also from radio communications when they wore headsets.
Sometimes headset noise levels like those in an airline pilot’s headsets ran higher than environmental noise, Jeff said.
Target practice shooters often use small foam inserts in their ears to prevent damaging their ears from gunshot sound. So, Jeff figured if it was possible to limit radio communications noise along with outside sounds like gunshots, he could prevent a lot of hearing loss for a wide variety of industries. He also wanted to downsize hearing protection from headset size to in-ear size.
The CavCom product he developed in the mid-1990s does just that.
It uses a standard small box clip-on radio, plus small hearing aid-sized earbuds for hearing – or in another model – only the earbuds that you can speak into as well as hear through. What makes these different is that farthest into the ear on the ear buds is a small foam hearing protector that not only cancels environmental noises, but also limits how high the radio sounds can go.
The Morrills began selling their device in 1997 and patented it in 2000.
About the same time, they sold Impact Health Services to U.S. Health Works, but kept the CavCom product line. They also sold CavCom manufacturing rights to Dooley Tackaberry Co. of Texas, but retained sales and marketing rights.
“We thought we were going to retire,” Jeff said. They chose to relocate to Jeff’s childhood vacation area and move to Walker. The only problem was that Jeff found he could only do so much fishing before he just had enough of fishing.
By 2006, they bought back their company’s manufacturing rights, got help from Gail Leverson at Cass County Economic Development to find a location and set-up help. They built a new business building in Walker Industrial Park.
The Walker park is in a Minnesota JOBZ zone, which means they were able to buy new equipment without having to pay sales tax on it, and they will pay property taxes only on the pre-development value until 2015.
When they bought back the product production, they found the former manufacturer was using some suppliers outside the U.S. and all others outside Minnesota.
One of the Morrills’ first steps was to find suppliers in Minnesota, two of whom are in this area – Nortech of Merrifield and JRS of Omani. Not only have they given business to other area companies, but CavCom has expanded to 12 employees in Walker.
“There is a good labor pool in this part of the state,” Jeff said. “You can run a business easily in this part of the state.”
While he has found customer companies have tightened controls during the recession and many require higher management approval for smaller and smaller purchases, their sales have grown.
Their customers include a wide variety of manufacturing industries where there is a noisy environment for workers such as steel, pulp and paper making and utilities. They also include workers who have to do their job in full-body suits like firefighters, police wearing riot gear and hazardous materials workers who have full protective suits.
The latter group would either have to try to hear muffled talking through protective masks or they can hear clearly through the in-ear sharpness of a CavCom hearing device.
CavCom hearing devices were used during the BP Gulf Oil spill cleanup. They are worn by Walker and Nevis firefighters. They are worn by ship builders who have contracts for the U.S. Navy.
CavCom sells directly to businesses and has become certified as a distributor through the federal United Communities Contract, which works something like the Minnesota State Contract where local governments can buy through a state bidding process without having to advertise for local bids.
Currently, North America represents 85 percent of CavCom sales, but they are working to expand international sales.
Of people who might be using CavCom’s device, Barbara said, “The only reason they’re not using it now is they don’t know about it yet.”
The Morrills aren’t done with improvements on their product. The current models require pushing a button on the radio box or hearing bud to talk into a radio system. They are working on a voice activate model next.