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Jim Wurth took his MD 500 helicopter deep into the Arizona desert one day in 1997 and set down for the night on a stretch of land 60 miles from the nearest habitation. He and a friend were exploring a set of ruins that would take all day to reach by car, he said. But by helicopter they were easy to reach.
“We got up in the morning, and there was frost all over everything,” said Wurth, a retired commercial pilot who flew 24 years for Eastern Airlines. “The battery was so cold-soaked, it wouldn’t start the engine.”
They waited into the afternoon while the sun heated the battery and finally got the aircraft to start. But Wurth decided this would never happen again.
“A cell phone didn’t work, so you’re pretty much in trouble if you can’t get going in a situation like that,” he said. “You going to walk out 60 miles? I don’t think so.”
He spent two months developing what would eventually become known as the first Start Pac, a lightweight portable starting unit he could carry with him for emergencies.
“It was just to have a reliable unit that I could carry aboard the helicopter when we flew out into areas like I did before,” he said.
But where Wurth saw the Start Pac as a homemade fix intended mainly for personal use, his wife Judith saw a business opportunity.
“I knew that he had something, and I knew it was the best-engineered product you could get,” said Judith, who was also retired at the time after a successful career as an entrepreneur, real estate developer and property manager. “When I saw the Start Pac, I told him. I said, ‘You know, we’re going to be selling these all over the world someday,’ and he said, ‘I think you’re crazy.’ But I’ve always been a dreamer. Always. And I’ve always taken risks, good and bad. So I didn’t even think twice. I felt like we had a first-class product.”
They sold 11 Start Pacs before the end of 1997, and business improved dramatically afterward. Today, the Start Pac product line includes 61 models and sells several thousand units a year, said company president Eve Storm.
“The combination of both of their strengths really had a palpable synergy that was able to make Start Pac what it is today,” said Storm, who is also Judith’s daughter and Jim’s stepdaughter. “They used to say this is a hobby gone wrong, because they were retired. They didn’t need to work, and they just kind of did it and it just kind of went nuts and went crazy. And then at the same time it’s also kind of like the American dream, where you have two people that literally start with nothing and create something that now sells globally. We’re shipping products all over the world every single day.”
The Start Pac line includes several portable starting units and non-portable ground power units (GPUs) that can be used in place of an engine battery to start both rotary- and fixed-wing aircraft.
It also features aircraft battery chargers and power supplies for avionic functions, as well as starting units for railroad locomotive engines. Start Pac’s railroad products stem from a request in 2007 from the BNSF Railway to design a starting unit for its diesel locomotive engines. Within 30 days, Jim had designed a Start Pac for BNSF, and today nearly all Class One railroads in the United States have Start Pac units, he said. Canadian railroads and short line railroads in the United States are also said to use Start Pacs.
“Our goal is to reach or exceed what we’ve done in the aviation industry in the railroad industry, and it is possible,” said Judith.
Start Pac has nine employees operating out of a 15,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Las Vegas; a small but dedicated crew that has built a reputation for exceptional products and outstanding customer service.
“We’re all emotionally invested in the company,” said Storm. “We’re all invested in the product line, we’re all invested in the customer base. So every sale, whether it’s a $600 sale or a $200,000 contract, we treat every customer, every sale, with the same amount of commitment, passion, [and] customer service. We want everybody to feel like they matter, like their business is important to us, that we value them.”
The company’s goal is to have customers for life, not for a single transaction. So its employees go to great lengths to cultivate relationships based on trust and respect, even going as far as to give out their cell numbers so they can be reached on weekends.
“We’re here for the customer every day, seven days a week, regardless,” said Storm. “And I think that’s been a big factor, is that they know that we care as much about them as they care about their own operation.”
Jim and Judith built Start Pac with two very different skill sets that complement each other like peanut butter and jam. His curious, innovative, mechanically-inclined personality fused with her entrepreneurial nature, which was fueled in part with the belief that hard work and tenacity would produce success.
“If you think you’re going to get rich quick or you think you’re going to be successful quick in anything, then you’re fooling yourself,” said Judith. “It does not happen that way. Maybe a Hollywood person can be discovered at a photo stand or something, but in reality it takes a lot. When you start at zero, which we did, it takes a lot of work and time. But if you do that and you have the right product and the right attitude, you’re going to be successful no matter what you do.”
As the 20th anniversary of Jim’s frigid night in the Arizona desert passes, the company is aiming for more growth. The goal is to expand its reach in the railroad industry while also exploring the unmanned aerial vehicle market, and others.
But the focus is on serving people, not on selling products.
“We’re here to support them and help them have what they need to be safe, what they need to maintain their aircraft, to help them take care of their investments,” said Storm. “We’re not about selling, we’re about serving, and I think that customers really appreciate that, at the end of the day.”