Rust Bullet sharpens its aim on automotive markets
Rust Bullet LLC, a family-owned 11-employee company, competes head-on with hundreds of competitors, including well-known brands such as Rust-Oleum.
The Reno-based company works to combine the customer-service strengths of its hometown with a patented paint that’s positioned as a cost-saving coating for maintenance crews forced to paint, then paint again in challenging environments.
But the multitude of possible uses for Rust Bullet — everything from a consumer’s trailer hitch to the gigantic steel towers of an offshore drilling rig — have proven to be a challenge for the company’s management.
The small company doesn’t have the resources to chase every possible business, no matter how promising.
Instead, owners David and Laurie Ciglar and Chief Executive Officer Mike Moore are focusing their effort this year on the automotive market. After all, Moore says, AAA has found that more cars are destroyed by rust than collisions.
Rust Bullet coatings are sold through Summit Racing — a fairly rare retail arrangement for Rust Bullet — as well through a network of independent distributors and RustBullet.com.
The Web site, Moore says, is a key element in the company’s sales strategy. Customers submit stories about their use of Rust Bullet, often accompanying their submission with before-and-after photos of their projects. The company’s products also draw good reviews from automotive-restoration bloggers.
“We sell a paint that allows you to fix a corrosion problem once, not once a year,” says Moore. “We are very clear about the value proposition.”
The Rust Bullet formula can be applied directly over rusted metal without need for scraping and priming, and research has found it stops rust from developing anew under the painted surface.
Another key to the company’s growth, Moore says, is the customer-service operation that is based in Reno.
“People call with the craziest questions,” he says. “Can you paint the inside of a microwave?” (The answer, if you’re wondering, is no.)
While those customer-service representatives have developed lots of background about potential uses of Rust Bullet products, Moore says their attention to customer needs is rooted in the business culture of northern Nevada.
“This town is built on the service industry,” he says.
From its production facility in Reno and contracted production in Indonesia, Rust Bullet has shipped 55-gallon drums of its product for big projects such as repainting of tugboats, freighters and bridges. It’s been used on U.S. Navy aircraft carriers, a restored steam locomotive in New Mexico, and industrial facilities around the world. The product also is marketed in sizes as small as a quarter-pint.
Initially created to protect Air Force jets from abrasion during flight, Rust Bullet was brought to market a decade ago by the Ciglars and co-founders Bob Murphy and Gene LeFave.
The rate effective Jan. 1, 2020, is 1.65 percent of wages paid to employees. That is two-tenths of a percent lower than the current rate, giving a significant break to businesses that pay the tax.