PORTLAND, Maine (NEWS CENTER) — A business that specializes in unique steel products moved its operations from Massachusetts to Maine a handful of years ago and almost immediately began to flourish.
The company, called Zootility Tools, designs and laser cuts useful, utilitarian products — what they call re-imagining everyday products. Their hope is to successfully compete with Chinese imports.
Zootility Tools operates out of unassuming warehouse space in Portland’s Bayside neighborhood. Two dozen employees run the company’s daily manufacturing operations.
Simple looking, yet complex products are being made: the WildCard is a credit card-sized folding knife.
"It’s a knife that you can carry in your wallet but the blade folds out to be able to do anything you’d throw at it," said owner and designer Nate Barr, "cut an apple, cut a cord.”
Barr crafted the idea and the company name, Zootility — a play on the zoo animal faces that adorn each piece.
"I wanted it to be something that people gravitate towards and enjoy. Not just purely functional," Barr said. "It’s like when you blend art and function, then you come up with something even more."
It all started with Barr’s PocketMonkey: a monkey-shaped pocket tool, also the size of a credit card. Then there’s the "hedgehog comb," a small, steel comb that fits into a regular-sized men’s wallet. And the WildCard tool? Well, that’s a wolf.
"The body of the wolf flows through the whole tool," he said. "We didn’t name it wolf blade, because it sounded a little too aggressive. But the character’s still there."
Barr started out small, selling to local companies in Massachusetts. Once he moved to Maine, he said business exploded — he now sells to 2,500 stores.
"When we came here, I was able to find really passionate, creative people that thought this was something they wanted to join and be part of and had a lot to bring to growing the team quickly," Barr said.
He’s also managed to grow the product line to include items specifically for women. Twenty percent of the workforce at Zootility Tools, representing the number of female employees, has a vested interest. Among them is newly hired head of design Pamela Chevez Zendejas.
"I was like, yeah, I can do this!"
Chevez Zendejas is originally from Mexico and is heading up packaging designs for the company’s new "Tulry" line of utilitarian, steel jewelry.
"Yeah, we work with heavy duty metals sometimes, but the other side is we make them functional," she said. "We make them nice and I want this company to reach that feminine side."
A V-designed necklace is the first piece of jewelry Zootility Tools is selling commercially. Attractive on the outside, the necklace features stackable, removable pieces: miniature screwdrivers, bottle openers, wrenches.
"This necklace was more for girls. Girls actually have a lifestyle that requires tools," Chevez Zendejas explained. "We change a lot from being casual to suddenly being more fancy. And we’re trying to keep it in the middle."
Which is what Zootility Tools attempts to be: all things to all people. And it seems to be working. Barr said orders come in every day from all over the U.S. and even more so from New Zealand and Japan.
Barr said no matter how big the company becomes, he will always keep it based in Maine. "Absolutely. It’s where we’ve grown. My employees are just excellent."
The company currently has seven products with three more in the design phase. Learn more about Zootility Tools and the company’s soon to launch Kickstarter campaign at zootilitytools.com