Jennifer Johnson, president of Top Safety Products, leads a team of about 15 that builds first aid kits for companies in industries such as construction, energy and transportation. — Photos by Aaron Houston for Real Estate NJ
By Joshua Burd
Jennifer Johnson says she is out to build an adhesive bandage empire.
Tongue-in-cheek as it may be, there is no disputing her goal of growing the business that she has led for the past two years — Top Safety Products, a Branchburg-based firm that builds first aid kits for the construction industry and a host of others. And she and her team have much more to offer than just bandages — namely, some 10,000 pieces of inventory that can be mixed and matched to create more than 200 types of kits and counting.
“They come in a lot of different shapes and sizes,” said Johnson, the company’s president, who leads the team of 10 full-time and five part-time employees.
Operating from a nondescript, two-story flex industrial space off Route 22, Top Safety Products offers everything from a pocket first aid kit to a large, heavily stocked cabinet affectionately known as Big Bertha. The business has been serving its clients for three decades, but is now primed to expand with the help of new products and an increasingly diverse group of customers.
“We’ve tapped into a few different markets that we weren’t in before,” Johnson said, pointing to the pet industry, youth camps and pools and beaches, among others.
“We started looking at things that had regulations attached to them when it comes to first aid, because it’s easier to sell that to somebody that needs it, versus somebody who just (thinks that) ‘A first aid kit is nice to have, but I don’t really need it.’ ”
Johnson and her husband, Hollister Construction Services co-founder Chris Johnson, led a group of roughly a dozen investors that acquired the business in 2017. So it should come as no surprise that construction firms have long been a pillar of Top Safety Products’ clientele, which is amplified during a time of sustained growth and activity for the real estate sector.
To that end, the company’s biggest sellers include the types of kits that are required on all construction sites, as dictated by the Occupational Safety & Health Administration and the American National Standards Institute. Those guidelines, last updated in 2015, dictate the minimum number of supplies such as adhesive bandages, antibiotic treatments, cold packs and other items that a first aid kit must have in order to be compliant.
Top Safety’s other major clients include NJ Transit and utility companies such as Public Service Electric & Gas and Con Edison, Johnson said. It also serves industries such as aviation, agriculture and manufacturing, offering specialized kits for each sector as well as custom and private-label kits for individual businesses.
Expanding that clientele has been a key focus in recent years. For instance, Johnson said Top Safety is making a push into the pet industry by targeting veterinarian practices, animal day care businesses and major retailers that are increasingly catering to dog and cat owners.
Johnson is leading the charge with the help of a long-serving team at Top Safety Products, she said, noting that those employees were there to teach and support her when she took over as president in 2017. The former pharmaceutical sales representative had retired about three years earlier — as both of her parents and her husband were grappling with health issues, which they have since overcome — but stepped in to lead the company as part of the family’s investment.
“I tried to learn as much as I could before this transition took place,” Johnson said.
That process included learning how Top Safety Products sources its inventory, which comes from about 50 different vendors, along with how the company negotiates pricing. But Johnson also came to understand the opportunities that were available to women-owned businesses, prompting her to assume full control of her family’s majority ownership early last year.
Unlocking those benefits is both competitive and time-consuming, she said, but Top Safety Products is now making inroads with customers that have placed a premium on working with minority and female entrepreneurs.
“If we fit their corporate culture, it’s great,” Johnson said, noting that it often comes down to a company’s procurement practices. “If they have a certain amount they have to give to small businesses and then a certain amount they have to give to women-owned small businesses, that’s where we really find success with the bids.”
The company hopes to leverage that advantage as a seller of automated external defibrillators, or AEDs, after recently becoming an approved vendor for the Cardiac Science Corp. Top Safety Products has been packaging and selling CPR “ready kits” to the manufacturer for more than a decade, she said, so the AED machine represented a logical extension of that business.
Johnson sees that as a long-term growth area, as AEDs become increasingly common at construction sites, office buildings and other settings. She also knows it will require the company to educate its customers on the importance of the device.
“They’re getting there. They don’t equate first aid kits with an AED,” Johnson said, noting that many customers still view the machine as a medical device, rather than an important piece of workplace safety. “So we’re trying to make that connection a little bit better.”
Top Safety Products is also focused on giving back in the community, as it was even before Johnson’s arrival. Its team includes a group of students from the nonprofit Midland School, which is also based in Branchburg and serves children with disabilities, who have been working at the warehouse three days a week since January 2018.
“Midland was nice enough to come to us and ask if we would be interested in supporting their (Supported Employment Enclave) program,” Johnson said. “So we are the first successful Employment Enclave for Midland … and now they have a couple more that they’ve done based on what we do here.”
The school recently honored Top Safety Products as its 2019 Employer of the Year.
“It was very nice that they recognized us that way,” Johnson said.