A recipe that sticks

Nearly 10 years after production started, North American Tapes growing

Darrin R. Prance, founder of North American Tapes, Watertown, in his office. Photo by Amanda Morrison/NNY Business.

Darrin R. Prance, founder of North American Tapes, Watertown, in his office. Photo by Amanda Morrison/NNY Business.

In 2004, Darrin R. Prance and business partner Martin J. LeMoine launched North American Tapes LLC in Watertown, with Mr. Prance serving as company president, Mr. LeMoine as vice president of sales, and a dozen employees. In nine short years, the firm has doubled its work force — and its footprint. Mr. Prance talks about the journey and his firm’s bright future.

NNYB: Thinking back to your firm’s early days nearly 10 years ago, what were the main keys to making this happen?

PRANCE: We were in this plant in 2004 and producing tape by April of that same year. Going back even further, my partner’s father and my father sold their two plants to an investment company that we both worked at for a while. The demands were too great at their age to continue feeding it and they were of retirement age. [Our fathers] sold to Scapa. At this plant, we needed to find the right equipment or we were looking at opening another business that was not in the tape world at all. We found a calendar that applies adhesive through pressure and temperature to make tape. We found it in Akron, Ohio, had it broken into two pieces and shipped from there.

NNYB: You strike me as someone who believes in perseverance. You had an agreement to not start a business that would compete with Scapa for two years. What did you do during that time?

PRANCE: I hobby farmed. We mostly did hay crop but we do have four horses. When I lived in Western Canada I was around horses while I was young and we had acreage there. I waited my two years and then started finding my equipment.

NNYB: You are from Canada. When you had the offer from Scapa Tapes to move to Renfrew, Ontario, you turned it down. Why?

PRANCE: The offer wasn’t enough. We felt quite comfortable with the people working here at this plant. The problems weren’t here at this plant, but they were shutting it down. I just didn’t want to go back to that environment. They had wanted to become No. 2 in the tape world. Second to 3M.

NNYB: What kind of investment does this operation represent?

PRANCE: We have doubled the size of our operation. We came to a point where we had to make our move. We added 20,000-square-feet to the operation. That enabled us to add two more machines and have the room to stage and ship that much more product. We filled up the building.

NNYB: What’s your total employment level today? Payroll?

PRANCE: We have 23 employees now, all included. Payroll totals more than $500,000 annually.

NNYB: How important is the Foreign Trade Zone designation to your business?

PRANCE: We have one ruling completed and we just sent a response to see if we can get a further ruling in our favor. We are competing with Canada who is making hockey tape up there and they are bringing in cloth from overseas duty free and shipping it into the States duty free. In the Foreign Trade Zone we could bring the same cloth into the U.S., stage it as a duty free material controlled by customs and after it’s manufactured into tape and exported back out it would be relieved of any duties. If we did sell that product in the U.S. we’d pay the lesser duty of tape. The Department of Commerce is currently working on that. It’s a slow moving wheel but they’ll get it done.

NNYB: You market your company as the No. 2 supplier of hockey tape in the world. What has driven you to such heights in a short amount of time?

PRANCE: There were once five plants that made hockey tape. There are now really two, possibly three. We got the market share because we had the original formulas and procedures of Renfrew Hockey Tape. That’s what we did it with. There are traditionally two tapes on the hockey stick, black on the blade and white at the top of the stick for grip. Then there is a clear plastic tape for shin pads that holds socks up. There are those types of applications. The NHL is a small part of hockey tape sales. It’s important, but it’s a small part.

[Editor’s note: This is a truncated version of this story. For the full version, please see NNY Business in print or subscribe.]