Interview With Richard Peters, President of NuAire, Inc.

Q: How was your company founded?

A: Max D. Peters started the company back in 1971. He was an avionics engineer at Honeywell and he worked on satellites, aircraft, and other projects involving HEPA [high efficiency particle air] filtration. He always wanted to own his own business and do his own thing. My dad told my mother, Myrtle, about his business idea. She said that he can’t mortgage the house but he could start the company. He talked to a few friends and neighbors. One of the neighbor’s friends happened to be a professor at the University of Minnesota, Dr. Emmet Barkley, who ultimately became the Director of Safety at NIH.

At this time the NIH was buying biosafety cabinets; however, when they originally did their testing they found that about 80% of them failed for personnel and product protection.

So the government decided to do a purchase specification for a new biosafety cabinet. And so my father came up with a design for the specification and we were awarded that very first contract. That really spun us into business.

This all started originally in his garage. When we entered into the NIH contract we moved into a small 2500-square-foot space in Crystal, MN, and from there we moved to New Hope, MN, and eventually to our present 250,000-square-foot operation in Plymouth, MN.

Top left: William Peters, right: Max Peters. Bottom left: Richard Peters, middle: Jim Peters, right: Jerry Peters, all of NuAire.

I remember that our largest contract other than NIH was with the University of Wisconsin. We actually had to go to the bank to get a loan to buy the metal and buy some of the products that go into the safety cabinets in order to fulfill that agreement.

NuAire had a lot of help from many friends and neighbors, some of whom invested in the company. We also had some really outstanding employees who hung in with us even though it was tough to make payroll.

Q: How did you get involved with the company?

A: At this time I was in the army so I had no idea what was going on. When I came back I actually ended up working in retail first and then I started working for NuAire part-time. I handled some of the marketing and sales, my mother did all of the accounting, and my dad was really the engineer and the salesperson who used to put in 16–18 hours a day in order to get this all up and operational.

Q: So was your entire family involved with the business?

A: My dad and my brother, Jim Peters, started the company with my mom. The name NuAire came to him one night while he slept. I came on board in 1977 and my responsibilities were marketing, sales, and I took over the accounting from my mother. My older brother Jerry came on board in the early ’80s. He was an electrical engineer by trade and he took over a lot of the engineering and collaborated with my dad. Eventually in 1985 or 1986 my youngest brother Bill came on board.

So at this time Max D. Peters and all four of his sons were involved with the company at the same time. I was the only non-engineer of the group; therefore, I eventually became President when my dad moved up to Chairman.

Today, the third generation has started working at NuAire. It is truly a family-operated business.

Q: What do you think contributed to your company’s success?

A: Through the 1970s and 1980’s, NIH funded and still funds today a lot of different research to find cures for cancer. This started the entire upgrade of the entire laboratory system. Today, our marketing and distribution channels are based on relationship selling, understanding the customer needs, and tailoring a solution to meet those needs.

We also have been very fortunate to have a very good group of people from Minnesota. Out of the 300 people in our company today, more than half of them have been with us over 18 years on average. It is a very well-seasoned group that has helped us to get to where we are today.

Today, the internet is the driving force. In January we had 25% more traffic to our website than the January one year prior. We have found that our customers are much more educated about our products and expect more by the time they contact us. We have to provide better value than our competition.

Q: Are there any interesting applications of your products?

A: Our main product lines are Biological Safety Cabinets and CO2 Incubators. Many of our products originated with the help of our customers: Animal Cage Changing and Procedure Cabinets, Pharmacy Compounding Isolators, Ultralow Temperature Freezers, and Polypropylene Fume Hoods, to name a few. We still provide many of our customers with custom-design laboratory products.

When the moon rocks came back from the Apollo Mission they thought that they might be contaminated. They gave us a call and we air shipped down two biological safety cabinets so they could protect themselves.

Another interesting project was when we had the anthrax threat in Washington, DC. We shipped cabinets down to Texas so they could open all of the President’s mail safely.

NuAire has sold over 100,000 products located in over 125 countries and has equipment located on all seven continents.

Q: What are some of the future directions for your company?

A: We are continuously improving our products. This year we will be introducing a new, improved line of Biological Safety Cabinets, a complete line of Laboratory Centrifuges, and a new water-jacketed CO2 Incubator.

Expanding our customer relationship management team using internet services will make it easy for customer interaction with NuAire. Our top priority has always been our customers. NuAire works hard to make it easy for our customers to do business with us.

We are focused on promoting lab safety throughout the world, expanding our product lines and offerings and always looking for strategic partners that we can grow our business with.

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NuAire will sponsor the International Federation of Biosafety Associations (IFBA). For more information, please visit http://www.nuaire.com/company/ifba-collaboration.php.

Maria Stone, B.S., is a high-tech industry reporter from the San Francisco Bay Area; e-mail: mstone@comparenetworks.com .

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