Business

Business is booming for Wichita company that makes portable blast-resistant buildings

Jokes about explosions mixed easily with slides about technical performance during the presentation, which took place inside of a large steel box.

These are heady times for A Box 4 U, a south Wichita business that makes portable blast-resistant buildings. The company has seen rapid growth in the past five years and foresees plenty more.

This week, company officials gave a presentation to a delegation from Bahrain, an oil and banking center in the Persian Gulf. The delegation was there to drum up business investment in the country.

The company sees huge potential in the Middle East, said Jeff Lange, owner of A Box 4 U.

The company converts standard steel cargo shipping containers and adds extensive steel reinforcing to make them able to withstand powerful blasts.

He sells them as portable offices in a variety of sizes, from a guard booth to 12 feet by 40 feet. They can even be bolted together and stacked.

The units are manufactured under contract by K Doll Koatings of Conway Springs.

The company's growth comes from seeing a niche and jumping in aggressively.

A Box 4 U has seen its sales jump from $1 million in 2005, when its main product was regular portable construction offices, to more than $10 million in 2008, after the company made the buildings blast resistant.

It expects sales of $17 million to $20 million this year as the economy picks up, Lange said.

He foresees strong demand from petrochemical plants and refineries for control rooms and offices near the plants. Blast-resistant office buildings are now recommended by the American Petroleum Institute.

And he's hoping for interest in military and security uses, he said.

Members of the Bahraini delegation said they were impressed.

"It has real potential for the region," said Trevor Stokes, executive director for business development of the Bahrain Economic Development Board.

Lange formed the company in 1998 to make portable construction offices, but there were already others in the market and growth was slow.

He had a portable construction office at ConocoPhillips refineries in 2005, when an explosion killed 15 at the BP refinery in Texas City, Texas.

ConocoPhillips, recognizing the threat, hooked him up with a blast engineer to design an office capable of surviving such a blast.

Lange said he spent millions building and engineering prototypes and testing them using explosives. A slow-motion video of the explosion is part of the sales pitch.

The result, he said, is that he makes one of the very few certified blast-resistant portable buildings.

Lange said he started the company with the intention of finding new niches for the product. When the opportunity presented itself, he was mentally ready to jump.

"People often see opportunity, but aren't willing to take the risks," Lange said. "Seeing the opportunity and then taking the risk, that's what business is all about."

Lange has sold real estate under Jeff Lange Real Estate since 1981, and owns several mobile home parks and a number of rental units.

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