SafetyMax of Albany Sees Economic Uptick

Barbara Kieker

Wednesday, July 10th, 2013

Sales at SafetyMax, a distributor of workplace safety, first aid and fire extinguisher products, are up 15 percent so far in 2013 over the same period in 2012. The company serves numerous, diverse industries including agriculture, service and manufacturing as well as local, state and federal government entities.

"Over the last five years, not many small contractors were buying because of the economy. Now we're seeing small contractors coming in and you can just sense the economy turning around," said SafetyMax owner Ken Barnhill.

Barnhill founded SafetyMax in 1995, operating out of a closet in his home. He had recently sold a janitorial supply company and turned his sights to opening a safety and first aid distributor. The only employee, Barnhill spent much of his time driving to companies in southwestern Georgia to establish SafetyMax as a supplier. Now SafetyMax has 15 employees and serves customers across the country.

Three months ago, Barnhill completed the University of Georgia Small Business Development Center (SBDC) in Albany GrowSmart™ program for business owners and senior managers. The program provides tools and strategies to help meet the needs of growing businesses.

"GrowSmart really changed this company," Barnhill said. "It helped me focus on working on my business rather than working in my business. I highly recommend it."

A One-Stop Shop for Customers
SafetyMax focuses on being a one-stop shop for customers by offering a full range of safety-related products. For example, the company offers a drug testing service for pre-employment and post-accident situations. It also offers fire extinguisher sales and service.

"We want customers to write one check and deal with one person for all their safety needs. That helps entrench SafetyMax in the customer's business," Barnhill said.

"Our number one focus is customer service. We treat every customer the same, whether they are buying a large order or one item. In fact, we want to provide a good experience to everyone that contacts SafetyMax – even the person who walks in the door looking for directions."

According to Barnhill, turnover among the company's customers is very low. Some customer relationships began when the company opened more than 17 years ago.

Building Volume Through Government Sales
About five years ago, SafetyMax secured a vendor contract with the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA). A GSA contract enables companies to provide commercial products at volume discount pricing to local, state and federal government entities. GSA contracts account for approximately $50 billion per year in spending and roughly 35 percent of that goes to small businesses, according to the GSA website.

The GSA contract turned SafetyMax into a national distributor. While government sales build volume, Barnhill acknowledges the margins are slim and the business is demanding.

"It took us two years to get the GSA contract and it's a constant battle to stay current with the rules and regulations. We have a dedicated person who monitors the requirements, which are constantly changing," Barnhill said.

Minding the Fundamentals
While the economy remains challenging, Barnhill believes there are opportunities in every market. Companies need to mind the business fundamentals to take advantage.

"I think you have to position your company to succeed by finding the right market niche, hiring good employees and implementing appropriate pricing," Barnhill said.

Finding good employees is one of the challenges Barnhill believes business owners face nationwide.

"There is a huge shortage of skilled people in our country. And by skilled I mean people with a positive attitude, good work ethic and integrity. I think it's a cultural issue," Barnhill said.

"Currently we don't have any job openings at SafetyMax, but if someone came in who had a positive attitude and was willing to work as part of our team, I would find a place for them."

More information on SafetyMax of Albany is available at

About Barbara Kieker

Barbara Kieker is a freelance writer who writes on business-related topics for a number of web-based properties. She also provides communications services to Fortune 500 corporations, small businesses and nonprofit organizations.