Entrepreneurs Ken and Jessica Carhart hoped to secure funding four years ago at the annual Bend Venture Conference so they could grow a manufacturing business that uses recycled plastic to protect wood from decay.
While the venture conference didn’t select the couple for angel funding, they persevered.
Today, the couple’s Rotbloc LLC can be found in more than 400 Home Depot stores . It employs six people and churns out 11 products across four target market areas, all from the company’s Bend location.
Carhart and his team of friends and family are proud that they’ve played a role in diverting more than a million pounds of plastic from the landfill to make its products.
Rotbloc is a barrier around fence posts that protects the wood from rot and decay. The first few inches of soil have agents of decay — fungi, bacteria and organic matter — that cause fence posts to start rotting. But Rotbloc shields it by serving as a barrier.
“Our mission is still to develop and manufacture sustainable products that contribute to a more sustainable future,” Carhart said. “Our vision has always been to get our products in the big box stores. I’ve always felt that if we did the research on the product, that people would want something that was affordable and had an environmental piece that not only made it sustainable but used less natural resources.”
Growing a business like Carhart’s is just what Central Oregon tries to court when luring and supporting new traded sector businesses. These kinds of businesses bring jobs and industry to the region, said Jon Stark, Economic Development for Central Oregon CEO.
“Businesses like this bring money to our stores, create jobs and require capital investment,” Stark said. “Rotbloc is a good example that started here and leveraged the ecosystem here. They built a great product.
“There’s so much innovation in our community.”
Carhart founded the company with his wife in 2012. A former landscape architect, Carhart at developed the product and hired another company to manufacture the product. But shortly after getting into business, that manufacturer closed and Carhart had to develop and design a system to turn the recycled No. 4 plastic — low-density polyethylene — into the post protection sleeves.
The company hired Larry Braun, an engineer, who is a shareholder.
Braun built the manufacturing system to melt the recycled material to shape, cool and roll it into the product in the northeast Bend warehouse.
Braun’s son, Nick Braun and his wife Teri Braun, are also involved in the company.
“It has taken a whole tribe of people to do what we do,” Carhart said. “I would like to thank them all and especially our customers.”
In the stores are these pre-molded wraps that are attached to the bottom of a wooden post, Carhart said. The products are in Home Depot stores and 100 other locations west of Colorado, he said. Starting this fall, Rotbloc products will be going east, too, he said.
Also in the works are two new products that will be designed for the lumber and decking market, he said. The joist protectors will be available soon. If a study by the Oregon State University proves that the products work, Rotbloc could become part of the installation process for utility poles, he said.
“We’re keeping our fingers crossed on that one,” Carhart said. “It’s really about getting out there into the consumer perspective and making them aware of the importance of having a barrier system on their posts and the benefits of that.”