It was 11 years ago Jeff Zack, co-owner of Fōmcore started his first business so he would have something to do in retirement. Little did this Sergeant at the Michigan Department of Corrections know at the time he was just getting started!
With a plaque in his Fōmcore office that says, I’m not retired…I am just getting started, Jeff reflects on his entrepreneurial spirit and how it all developed for him.
“My business experience goes back to 2009 when I started a small business called Z Supply,” recalls Zack. “We supplied manufactured insulated pipe for the outdoor wood boiler industry, along with a supply house that also served the boiler industry. At the time I started that company I was actually a Sergeant at the Michigan Department of Corrections. I started Z Supply simply for something to do when I planned to retire in 2011. I never expected it to do more than make up for the $30,000 or so I would lose at retirement.”
"I'm not retired. I'm just getting started!"
Fōmcore is Born
Zack did retire from the Michigan Department of Corrections in 2011. In 2015, Jeremy Leffring, the owner of Xorbee, in Muskegon, Mich, became a partner with Z Supply. Xorbee manufactured foam covered bean bags. These entreprenuers combined their expertise in 2017 to create their newest company Fōmcore. They are co-equal owners of the company.
“Jeremy had a great amount of experience in foam fabrication,” said Zack. “He grew up in the foam fabricating business and also had knowledge of a cut and sew operation. I had the experience of starting a small business and seeing it grow along with the necessary relationships needed like banking. This gave us the foundation to start Fōmcore.”
Zack and Leffring started planning Fōmcore in 2016 and opened in 2017. Revenues were decent making 2017 a proof of concept year as the market was receptive to the product they were manufacturing. The following years proved to be even more successful.
“What is unique about our product is that rather than having a wooden structure that is covered by foam, our structure is foam,” Zack explained. “The entire product is foam with the exception of a wood base for feet or castors. We found that our product had extremely good acceptance within the industry and so it grew like wildfire!”
Zack attributes Fōmcore’s rapid and successful growth to a product that was well received in the market, along with great salespeople, and a great support team.
“We don’t want anyone to dread coming into work. We do a lot of things to make this kind of a workplace and when people see this – they are attracted to it."
“The most amazing thing about this business is the quality of people we have attracted. We have been able to bring in super quality people from other much-larger, outstanding companies,” said Zack. “Ron Wallish, our chief financial officer, for example, is just amazing, and he is the one who secured the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan for us through ChoiceOne Bank.”
Fōmcore Calls on Their Local Bank for PPP Loan
Zack explains they applied for the PPP loan so they could contine to support their staff. “For us, it’s all about being a blessing to our staff. One of the most important ways we can be a blessing is to be in and remain in business. And so the PPP is significantly helpful to us to be here for the long term. That is the biggest benefit.”
Having a community bank where decisions are made locally is extremely important to the co-owners of Fōmcore. So when it came time to request a PPP loan, ChoiceOne Bank Vice President,Commercial Loan Officer, Jason Parker was there to help.
“ChoiceOne is our local community bank,” said Zack. “I have names at ChoiceOne. I can call Jason and I can call Brad (ChoiceOne Bank Senior Vice President Chief Lending Officer). Brad goes to my church. They know my name and they know our company intimately. We are not just a number to ChoiceOne, we are people. They know our culture. They know all about us.”
When Zack first started Z Supply, he worked with Steve Wheeler as his contract CFO at the time. Wheeler recommended the company needed a business bank. However, when they selected a bank, they quickly found all the decisions had to be made in Ohio. That’s when Zack realized he wanted a local bank. “We started to look for a local bank that would be supportive of our business and do business locally. That is when I reached out to ChoiceOne Bank and a couple others. ChoiceOne Bank was the bank that was most responsive. And they continue to respond to our needs today, especially with our big equipment loans.”
Zack reminisces about his favorite memory of ChoiceOne Bank and when they gave him his first line of credit at Z Supply. “Jason Parker and his boss at that time Lou Knooihuizen (retired), came for a visit and they made the decision to extend us the credit line while in their car out in front of our offices. That’s pretty local. Of course they had to go through a loan committee – but the decision was made locally.”
"We are not just a number to ChoiceOne,.."
In 2017, Zack and Leffring sold Xorbee and the brand to a company in Germany. And in 2019, Zack sold Z Supply, the foundation for the growth and success of Fōmcore, to a company in Pennslyvania.
“I retired once from the Michigan Department of Corrections. Now I say I’m not retired. I am just getting started. We have tried to create a workplace where every worker feels fulfilled in their jobs,” Zack concludes. “We don’t want anyone to dread coming into work. We do a lot of things to make this kind of a workplace and when people see this – they are attracted to it. It’s about creating a winsome workplace…and let that do the recruiting for you.”
To read more about Jeff Zack and his first entrepreneurial venture and his experience with ChoiceOne Bank see https://blog.choiceone.com/grand-rapids-living-retiree-turns-entrepreneur.