I'm constantly amazed and surprised by the diversity of successful locally owned business in Durham. Allow me to add Prime Life Fibers to that ever-growing list.
Bob Deerin just celebrated 10 years running the company that owns the famous Buster Brown brand, offering socks for diabetics, and that also patented a fabric called Unique-dri used to make undergarments for people suffering from incontinence.
It's not terribly glamorous, but Bob points out that his products offer a measure of dignity to everyone from senior citizens to people suffering from multiple sclerosis.
His business, operated out of a modest Duke Street office with manufacturing sites overseas and distribution centers in Miami and Los Angeles, has weathered the recession nicely. Annual growth got close to 10 percent during the worst years of the downturn and is poised for even stronger growth, given the primarily Baby Boomer clientele.
"We make a good product that's needed in a growth environment," Bob says. "We just look for niche solution-based products that help daily living."
Bob has lived in Treyburn for 20 years, moving here while working for photo finishing giant Qualex in the 1990s.
He said reusable, washable incontinence products are more common in Europe, which he's been to often for business trops over the years. So he set out with a partner to design his own line, coming up with Wearever and Eversure products in the late 1990s. He took full ownership of Prime Life in 2002.
"It makes them feel normal, dignified," Bob says of his clients. "Given a choice of having to wear a disposable diaper or a pretty garment, or a functional guy's garment, it's a pretty easy choice."
Bob's son, Kevin, 30, runs the e-commerce portion of his business and his daugther, Kelsie, 24, works in DC. He lost his wife, Claire, three years ago.
He can essentially run his business from anywhere, but has no plans to leave Durham, which has "been a great place to live."