When Bob Rebori, founder and CEO of Shawnee-based Bio-Microbics, makes a customer call, he may be in Dubai at a 4,000-person labor camp, at a hotel in Alaska’s Denali National Park, touring a vineyard in Uruguay or in a small, rural town in Virginia. But wherever he is, you can bet he’ll be talking about one thing: water. More specifically, clean water.
Rebori founded Bio-Microbics, a leading manufacturer of environmentally friendly wastewater and stormwater treatment systems, in 1996. Since then, the company has installed more than 42,000 treatment systems in homes, commercial properties, small communities, river workboats, oceangoing vessels and oil platforms. Installations are in about 60 countries and account for more than 70 percent of the company’s sales, through national and international distributors.
“We market many of our products in decentralized, ‘off the grid’ locations, which means we spend a considerable amount of time in developing countries,” said Rebori, who travels about six months out of the year. “But approximately 90 percent of what we sell is manufactured right here in Kansas. The raw materials we use are mostly from local vendors and suppliers in the heartland.”
Bio-Microbics has 36 employees, many of whom also travel nationally and internationally. They are responsible for the company’s manufacturing, research and development, customer service, marketing and product testing at two locations: a 47,000-square-foot plant in Shawnee and an 18,500-square-foot facility located near St. Louis. Bio-Microbics also has a product testing lab in De Soto, Kan.
A FAST Start
Though Rebori has been in Kansas since 1982, he was born in the Bronx and raised in New Jersey. In spite of a self-proclaimed “underwhelming” academic performance in high school and college, he graduated from Rider University in Lawrenceville, N.J., with a degree in business. During summers, he worked at nearby Allied Steel’s fabricating shop, eventually becoming a class-A fitter/welder. He learned the manufacturing environment from the floor up and discovered he had an eye for analyzing and streamlining manufacturing processes.
After graduation, Rebori found his way to Shawnee, where his father was a principal with Smith and Loveless, a Lenexa-based manufacturer of municipal water and wastewater products. He hired on with the company “doing what no one else wanted to do.”
Rebori left in 1996 to start Bio-Microbics with only one product to market: a wastewater treatment system called SingleHome Fast, now known as MicroFAST. He was the company’s sole employee at the time, and is still the majority owner.
Rebori’s eye for streamlining manufacturing processes came into play as he cut the production time of the FAST product line from 19 hours to 35 minutes with a customized manufacturing operation he helped develop. The product line, still a major product for Bio-Microbics, focuses on commercial (HighStrengthFAST) and residential (MicroFAST and RetroFAST) properties, but also includes a marine wastewater treatment system called MarineFAST. The marine system can handle sewage treatment needs on vessels ranging from 500 to 160,000 gallons a day. Customers range from small tugboats to the U.S. Navy and every size in between.
In addition to the MicroFAST and MarineFAST systems, Bio-Microbics markets BioStorm, a stormwater treatment system, and BioBarrier, a sewage treatment system with a proprietary membrane technology that ultra-filtrates nearly every contaminant found in wastewater. The process results in reusable water for surface irrigation, toilet backflow or direct discharge into the environment. The BioBarrier is the only system on the market certified for water reuse by the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF), an independent testing organization accredited by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and the European certification for small systems.
Bio-Microbics started concentrating heavily on the international market in 2000, though the company has exported products since 1996. Its first export was a residential unit installed in Lebanon, and the company’s first European sale came soon after with an installation in Latvia. Since then, Bio-Microbics has become known globally for offering simple-to-operate wastewater and stormwater treatment systems in developing countries, as is evidenced by the seven languages available on the company website.
“It’s much easier to install one of our systems than to research and undertake the entire waste or water treatment project, especially in a developing county,” Rebori said. “We call it ‘plug and play.’”
Jennifer Cisneros, the company’s manager of communications, oversees the marketing and communications activities and is also one of the road warriors representing Bio-Microbics at the 50 or so trade shows the company participates in each year.
“Over half the shows are international or internationally focused and attract potential distributors and customers from around the world,” said Cisneros.
She adds that English is the predominant language in business, but when the group does encounter a language barrier, the company has interpreters on staff who speak languages such as Chinese, Arabic, Spanish and more. To further bridge the communication gap, they also show videos and animations of the company’s products that feature more visuals and fewer words.
International travel isn’t all glamour. The group recently returned from a five-day trade show in Moscow, where they stayed at a hotel renovated for the 1980 Olympics but hasn’t been updated since. Rebori said that was a palace compared to some places he has stayed when visiting distributors.
“I’ve seen things most people don’t see,” said Rebori, who rode on a camel last year while visiting a distributor in Mongolia. “If there’s any doubt we’re in a global marketplace, follow me around.”
The wall at the entrance of Bio-Microbics tells the company’s success story. There are multiple, framed, innovative technology awards and third-party testing certifications—more than any other company in the industry.
In June, Rebori traveled to Washington, D.C., to receive the company’s most prestigious award yet: the President’s “E” Award for exports. Bio-Microbics received the award for outstanding achievement increasing U.S. exports abroad. The award was presented to Rebori by U.S. Commerce Secretary John Bryson and featured on the JumboTron at Times Square in New York City. It is one of the highest recognitions any U.S. entity can receive for exporting.
“Exports are Part of Our DNA”
Rebori said he shares the recognition with all his employees, because the award represents their dedication to quality and customer service.
“Exports are part of our DNA,” said Rebori. “Since 2000, we have worked diligently to market creatively and help businesses in these developing countries succeed using our products.”
Bio-Microbics also received the “Kansas Exporter of the Year” award in 2011 from Gov. Sam Brownback, who toured the Shawnee facility in September. Additionally, the company received the Technology Innovation Award in 2010 and 2011 from Frost & Sullivan, a well-known, independent business and consulting organization. The designation recognizes Bio-Microbics as “best in class” for decentralized wastewater treatment for commercial outlets.
Rebori traveled to Mexico this summer to view another innovative “first” that
Bio-Microbics is part of: the world’s largest green wall installation at the Los Cabos San Lucas Convention Center, site of the recent G-20 Summit. The wall not only cools the entire building, but also is irrigated with recycled water from a Bio-Microbics MyFast wastewater treatment system.
What makes a small company such as Bio-Microbics achieve big things? Rebori said he and his employees are always looking “over the horizon” and testing new products and procedures. Among the products in the testing lab is one using alternative energy sources (wind and solar) to power wastewater treatment systems. But his recipe for success is about more than developing innovative, economical products.
“We have great products at a fair price,” said Rebori. “But it’s the people and the policies that keep customers coming back. Without that, you may get one sale, but you won’t get the next one.”
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 97 percent of the world’s water is salt water with another 2 percent being frozen in glaciers. It is the remaining 1 percent of fresh water that supports all life. Bio-Microbics continues to develop better ways to manage that water one customer—and one country—at a time.
“We treat every inquiry the same,” Rebori said. “It’s the right thing to do regardless of what business you’re in. You never know when the next big sale will result from a very small sale or a seemingly insignificant inquiry.”