When Rick O’Connor started a foam prop manufacturing business to build some structures for his paintball park, he had no idea how many opportunities would spring up.
Early this year, O’Connor’s company, VFX Foam, began producing lightweight, foam products for paintball parks, but soon they were getting orders for a variety of other things, including props for escape rooms, amusement parks, trade shows and movie sets, as well as 3-D signs. The company has also worked on costumes, particularly for Cosplay enthusiasts.
VFX Foam is in a 6,500-square-foot warehouse at 6213 Portal Way, but is already in expansion mode, building a similarly sized warehouse nearby. The company has 15 employees and may hire a couple more once the nearby building is ready in early 2017, said Rob Leary, vice president of business development.
We didn’t honestly think it would grow this fast.
Rick O’Connor, owner of VFX Foam
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“We didn’t honestly think it would grow this fast,” said O’Connor, who also owns Go Big Paintball Park and Blu Sky, a web application development company. “But it’s the most unique business you can ever do.”
At VFX Foam, artists come up with drawings for the designs, while another group of workers handles the equipment, including 3-D printers and laser equipment to shape and cut the foam. The results can be fun and interesting for the workers: One project was a 23-foot Poseidon statue to be used for an upcoming trade show. The figure was big enough to leave quite an impression on trade show visitors, but the foam made it light enough to be less cumbersome, O’Connor said.
The company is looking to grow local and national sales, handling small and large projects.
“Nothing exists like this in Ferndale, so it is an untapped market for us,” O’Connor said.
The foam itself has a texture similar to the coating used for the bed of a pickup, Leary said, providing durability and making it easier to paint. That makes it attractive for places such as water parks and play areas, where children like to climb, he said. The company recently made an 8-foot-long mosquito for an ad campaign about the Zika virus.
“As we got into this, we didn’t realize how many different things this (foam) could be used for,” Leary said.
Another goal heading into next year for O’Connor is to find ways to introduce the business to students, particularly those interested in being artists. He’s planning on working with the community on after-school tours and internships.
“I want them to get a chance to see what it’s like to be an artist in this environment,” O’Connor said. “When you draw something here, you have to understand everything when it comes to this process. If you haven’t thought it through, it won’t work in the end.”