Revision looks beyond military eyewear
By Bruce Edwards
STAFF WRITER | July 01,2012
U.S. Army Spc. Devin Bryant provides security in the village of Dahanar in Afghanistan’s Wardak province during a meeting with the village elders Dec. 2, 2011. He is wearing protective eyewear made by Revision.
The timing was right for Jonathan Blanshay and Revision Military.
As chief executive officer, Blanshay was looking to grow the business beyond protective eyewear, and ballistic combat helmets seemed like a good fit.
At the same time MSA, a Pittsburgh safety equipment company, was taking steps to get out of the military end of the business. The company had already sold its ballistic vest business, and its North American ballistic helmet plant in Newport was next on the list.
“From everything we’ve been told, MSA was going to close that facility because the order book had shrunk considerably over the last couple of years,” Blanshay said.
According to MSA’s first quarter earnings report, sales of its ballistic helmets and vests declined $5 million during the quarter.
In March, Revision Military signed a deal to acquire MSA’s Newport plant — a move that saved the 45 jobs. Revision closed on the purchase last month.
Revision was already in the business of making ballistic helmet shells at its Montreal research and development center but needed additional space to ramp up production.
“We’ve sort of had quite a bit of experience in head protection over the last few years, but what we didn’t have was a facility capable of making tens of thousands of aramid (ballistic) helmet shells,” Blanshay said. (Aramid is the generic name for Kevlar.)
Blanshay said a significant military contract is in the pipeline that will increase employment at the 25,000-square-foot Newport facility.
“We have a new order from the U.S. Army that will be transferred to us and that’s for 90,000 helmets,” he said. “That is going to require us to hire 15 to 20 new people over the next three months or so.”
Blanshay singled out Sen. Patrick Leahy for his role is helping Revision acquire the Newport operation.
In an area of the state that often has the highest unemployment rate, retaining manufacturing jobs is critical to the region’s economy, said Steve Patterson, executive director of the Northeast Vermont Development Association.
“The helmet company up there has been very important,” Patterson said.
He said Revision’s acquisition not only saved jobs but holds the promise for expansion.
Patterson said the area has also benefited from the recent expansion of the Jay Peak Resort and the potential for jobs in the biotech field.
Revision estimates a year from now sales of protective eyewear for the military and law enforcement will make up two-thirds of the company’s business with helmet sales accounting for the rest.
Blanshay said the U.S. market for protective eyewear has dropped off “substantially” over the last couple of years, which coincides with a reduced combat role for the U.S. military overseas.
He said the decline in U.S. military sales has been offset by a sharp increase in international military sales.
“We’re pretty much exactly where we were three years ago,” he said. “And we foresee that continuing. There’s very strong demand in Europe and starting to be good demand as well in Latin America and the Far East.”
International military sales are growing because countries are buying protective eyewear not only for troops deployed for combat but for all troops, something that countries like Germany hadn’t done before.
Law enforcement eye protection is a secondary market for the company. In most cases, purchases are made by the individual police officer and not by the department or agency, Blanshay said.
Although it represents only a fraction of sales, Blanshay said he foresees the law enforcement sector becoming a more significant part of the eyewear business within three years.
He said ballistic eyewear provides fragmentation protection but will not stop a bullet.
Ballistic helmets are designed to protect against blunt force impact and more importantly protect against fragments.
“So it will protect against blasts,” he said. “(It) will protect up to 9mm kind of round.”
However, existing ballistic helmets will not stop a rifle shot. Blanshay said the next generation of helmets using new materials will have that capability.
With protective eyewear and ballistic helmets now part of its stable of military products, Blanshay said Revision will at some point make a line of body armor. He said the company has already done quite a bit of work on developing ballistic plates at its location in Montreal.
“I suspect that will be the next big growth area for us is body armor,” he said.
Including Newport, Revision currently has 225 employees in Vermont with most employed at the protective eyewear plant in Essex Junction.
Blanshay said pay ranges from $12 to $13 an hour for an assembly line worker up to more than $200,000 for senior vice presidents.
He said the average pay for all employees is roughly $45,000.