Zero regrets are something the owners of ZAGO Manufacturing, a global manufacturer of high-tech, custom sealing solutions and components, can attest to after more than 25 years of business. Husband and wife team, Harvey Rottenstrich and Gail Friedberg began the New Jersey-based company in 1993.
“We’ve never once had second thoughts about starting or moving forward with ZAGO,” shares Friedberg. “Over the years, we’ve received inquiries from private equity firms and other companies that wanted to merge with us. But we’ve held firm and said no. We have a really good thing going here and we’re proud of what we’ve built.”
The commitment to begin the manufacturing company first began with support from a small-business incubator program, NJIT Enterprise Development Center, which is part of the New Jersey Institute of Technology.
“For a few years, the program provided us with office space at a reduced rate for rent, secretarial services, as well as space for assembly and production,” explains Friedberg. “But, perhaps, the most important things it gave us were resources and critical business advice.”
At the time, Friedberg was a practicing corporate lawyer and was able to help with the development and legal requirements of opening a business. Rottenstrich is an electrical engineer who had experience working in the fastener industry, which was the initial inspiration for ZAGO Manufacturing.
“My husband had worked for a company that did something similar to what we offer but felt he could do it just as well, if not better. So, essentially, he brought the engineering experience and I brought the legal support, and, between us, we also had a lot of business knowledge,” she says. “Sure, there were challenges, but we were about as prepared as we could be to start the company.”
The name, ZAGO, was derived from each of the family member’s initials (the Friedberg-Rottenstrichs have three kids — one of whom currently works in the company’s factory).
“As exciting as it was at first, it was also a lot like jumping off of a cliff,” adds Friedberg. “Starting a business certainly isn’t simple. But you have to just take the leap and push forward because it is frightening. You invest a lot of time, effort, money, and hope for the best. So, there are definitely nerves tied in with that.”
The building of ZAGO was gradual and careful. After getting a foothold in the market, the next step was graduating from the incubator program.
“After five years, we outgrew the incubator and actually graduated with an official plaque.” Friedberg says they then briefly rented another workspace until finding their current location in Newark, which allowed enough space to grow.
“It basically started with just my husband and me, and a telephone, but we now have 22 employees, which is wonderful,” she says. “We’re proud of our team. And we’re very dedicated to growing through automation and robotics for the quality and precision of our products.”
To this end, ZAGO does more than just produce customized sealing fasteners and components. According to Rottenstrich, ZAGO sealing screws, bolts, and nuts are sustainable, corrosion-resistant, and inherently “green” solutions. Unlike traditional fasteners, ZAGO sealing fasteners are engineered with a rubber O-ring that when tightened, creates an air-tight, 360-degree seal. This hermetic seal effectively shields toxins from leaking in or out into the surroundings while protecting high-asset machinery and complex equipment.
“The product was originally a military one and that’s still a major market for us,” explains Rottenstrich. “If you think of marine or aerospace environments, it’s critical these components withstand harsh pressure, temperatures, and environmental conditions — sealing out water or moisture, air, fuel, and dust or debris.”
Today, ZAGO produces custom and standard sealing fasteners and switch boots for thousands of equipment manufacturers, including those in the automotive, energy generation and storage, robotics and drones, commercial lighting, electronics, enclosures, and medical device industries.
“Some of these products are extremely delicate or tiny and their purpose is unlike a conventional fastener, which is designed to hold components together. Rather, these parts prevent elements from penetrating equipment, which would lead to malfunction,” he says. This is extremely important in medical devices, such as ventilators, for example.
ZAGO has been deemed an essential manufacturer during the COVID-19 pandemic and is still operating. (Listen to an interview about the precautions the company has taken here.)
“We’ve always sold to the medical device industry but their needs have, understandably, grown at this time and we’re grateful to help out. For example, we were selling to Ventech, which is now partnering with GM to make ventilators,” says Friedberg.
ZAGO is also determined to support and maintain its staff at this challenging time.
“How we treat our team has always been significant to our company ethics,” she shares. “This is especially true right now and we’re doing everything possible to offer our staff full salaries, regardless of how many hours they put in because of split shifts or what have you. People’s needs don’t change because of the situation right now. If anything, they’re greater as they care for family and extended families.”
Although the current pandemic is unique, Friedberg says she and her husband have typically used difficult times in the past as opportunities to reflect.
“We’ve tried to use slower periods, such as during the recession, to review and improve our operations. Sometimes when you’re busy or constantly on the go, it’s tough to contemplate things or focus on possible changes or improvements,” she says. “So, slower times can also be important for future planning and growth.”
That’s one quality Friedberg says has been critical to their success: “We understand that there’s always room for improvement. For instance, we encourage our employees to come to us with suggestions for improvements and we actually reward that, monetarily. If someone comes up with a great idea, we make sure they benefit from it. The worst reason to do something is because we’ve always done it that way.”
Rottenstrich agrees. “I think for us, at least from my experience, a willingness to try new things and create…and, most importantly, to ensure there are good, supportive people around us has been the key to our success.”
“Teamwork is everything,” adds Rottenstrich. “And we’re so fortunate to have employees that we consider a part of our extended family.”
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