In the back of a Dustex sales and support office in Acworth, Ga., testaments to the company’s past are tucked away.
Founded in Buffalo, N.Y., in 1947, the company has been customizing systems for controlling air pollution in industrial environments for nearly 70 years.
The story is all there, written in hand-drawn plans indexed in gray metal map cabinets. In another room sit boxes of microfilm that have to be read at the local library.
Seven decades has been enough time to become an industry leader in a field where demand has mostly been mandated, said Darlene Huggins, the company’s vice president of business development.
“Nobody wants it, and they’re not experts in it, but they have to have it,” Ms. Huggins told Global Atlanta.
But Dustex isn’t resting on its laurels. It’s seeking out further growth both at home and abroad, recently become one of 28 semifinalists for this year’s Atlanta Metro Export Challenge, which has provided $5,000 for each to boost their international sales.
Dustex helps power plants, cement producers, smelters, mining operations and other industries remove hazardous pollutants from the air, protecting workers inside the plant from chemical inhalation and explosion risks, while keeping the outside world cleaner.
Greg Blanar, a warehouse manager, explained one process in meticulous detail during a Global Atlanta visit, showing an injection system that pumps a mix of calibrated chemicals into a plant’s duct work when a pollutant is detected.
Dustex custom-designs systems like these, controlling hazardous air pollutants. It also provides installation services and supplies parts, from the circuit boxes that provide the brains of the operation to huge silos, scrubbers and baghouses or fabric filters.
Based in Kennesaw but owned by private-equity firm Insight Equity, Dustex’s design and engineering team helps customers meet air permit requirements that allow them to operate their plants.
It’s much more than just dust and particulate matter: Solutions include dry and wet scrubbers that control acid gas, carbon-injection systems that capture mercury and heavy metals, as well as wastewater evaporation systems.
In the last few years, the company has become more intentional about selling internationally, attending trade shows, translating marketing materials and researching new countries, even as it makes internal changes that should strengthen its product portfolio.
Finding the Right Markets
Ms. Huggins said the criteria for a new market is relatively straightforward: Dustex is looking for countries with a growing industrial base, the right air-pollution legislation and a track record of enforcing the rules.
“Even if the regulation is on line, if the government is not enforcing the regulation, nobody is going to spend the money,” Ms. Huggins said.
One strategy that has worked is targeting market leaders, especially state-owned firms or utilities that set the standard for the rest of the country. The “little guys” will eventually follow the leaders, Ms. Huggins said.
“We attack the market based on upcoming regulation,” said Ms. Huggins.
That’s been the case in Chile, where Codelco, the state-owned copper company, has deployed multiple Dustex systems. Using that relationship has helped the company break into Peru as well.
“Chile is the most progressive South American market,” she added.
But not all high-potential markets check out. India seemed promising, but after an exploratory trip, Dustex determined that it would be hard to offer service and protect its intellectual property from that far away.
Dustex engineers can travel for setup and commissioning, but often fabrication is done by local shops in-country in places like Turkey, an innovation that has helped Dustex cut down on its own overhead while moving up the value chain.
“We still do the smart parts,” said Ms. Huggins, noting that a North Carolina fabrication shop is being shut down, although the company still works with a partner in Ohio and other fabricators based on location and quality.
Dustex is also looking at new avenues for boosting sales and efficiencies. Last March it acquired Bellevue, Washington-based Lundberg, which makes wet filtration systems that Dustex could previously recommend but wasn’t selling. Lundberg is also more active in Europe, a place where Dustex is getting traction. (A project manager just returned from an install in the United Kingdom.)
Dustex Holdings also three years ago acquired Birmingham, Ala.-based Sparstane, which recycles captured dust from coal-fired power plants into reusable materials including fertilizer and building materials.
Ms. Huggins said the company is working on rebranding the company into something that will better reflect its expanded product offering.
That’s partially where the $5,000 Export Challenge grant money is going, along with a catalogue show to help out a new sales rep in Peru and translating marketing materials for the Power-Gen tradeshow in Las Vegas this December.
“We wanted to use it for things that are visible,” said Ms. Huggins, noting that travel could easily eat up grant money in a week or two.
Dustex is no stranger to export resources provided by both federal and state governments. Ms. Huggins has used the U.S. Commercial Service’s Gold Key Service to gain introductions to vetted sales reps, and she has asked the Georgia Department of Economic Development for targeted research in specific markets. The state operates 11 offices in 10 countries.
But Ms. Huggins does her own homework as well and lives by an unspoken code: Do your due diligence before calling for help.
“They know that if I call them, I really need it.”
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