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December 21. 2012 12:10AM

Bulletproof products a hot commodity for Center Conway company

CENTER CONWAY - Bill Barbin spent years working with his partner, Joe Curran, to build bulletblocker.com. So when Barbin split with Curran in mid-November to start his own company selling bulletproof products, he got off to a running start with orders totaling about $1,000 a week.

He could not have known that one month later, in the wake of the murders in Newtown, Conn., he would be selling $10,000 worth of bulletproof products in less than a week through his new site, bulletproofvestshopusa.com.

"At one point in the past week, my website crashed because of the volume of traffic," he said.

Barbin is no stranger to Internet commerce. He and Curran were deputies in the Essex County, Mass., sheriff's department in 2007, when they came up with the idea of putting body armor into backpacks.

"We started a company, put together the trade name bulletblocker, built the website and began selling bulletproof backpacks, brief cases and clothing online," Barbin said.

Curran manufactured the products from his home in Billerica, Mass., while Barbin managed the website from Center Conway. "I ran the online store and customer management, and Joe produced the actual product," Barbin said. "As the company grew, we needed someone to tie it all together and oversee the marketing as well."

Elmar Uy was brought in as vice president of business operations in August. "I left shortly after we brought in Mr. Uy to run my own operation," Barbin said.

Since the Newtown murders, bulletblocker, with a mailing address out of Nutting Lake, Mass., has gotten a lot of media attention, with Uy shown displaying the bulletproof backpack. He said the company would sell 10 backpacks a week in a good week, but since the shooting has sold 50 to 60 a day, or more.

The bulletproof backpack was always the biggest attention-grabber when it came to media coverage, with features in the Boston Herald and on ABC, CNN, CNBC, Fox News and The New York Times even before the Newtown shootings. The backpacks have garnered more attention since then. Uy had to cut off a Union Leader interview on Thursday because the Wall Street Journal was on the line.

Yet Barbin decided not to offer backpacks when he set out on his own.

"We had a philosophical conflict and I stepped down. I didn't want to steal the idea of bulletproof backpacks, so I sell bulletproof vests, brief cases and the life-shield door guard," he said. "Many of the products are made by me, and some are imported from Israel. It's a mix."

Barbin said he was selling about $1,000 a week in merchandise from the day he started, mostly through Facebook promotions and Google searches. Since Dec. 14, however, he's had a hard time keeping up. He also provides some items on a wholesale basis to his former partner.

His most popular items have been the briefcases and jackets, because of their ability to provide what he called "discreet protection."

"People can hang a jacket on the inside of their door, or have a briefcase sitting down next to their desk," he said, "and if something happens, they have something they can turn to rather than just hide behind a wood door, hoping someone doesn't find them."

A volunteer firefighter and EMT in Conway, Barbin has seen firsthand the consequences of escalating violence in society that makes people turn to sites like his.

"That's why I got out of law enforcement in Massachusetts," he said. "It's unfortunate, but something Joe and I have dealt with for more than a decade."

Barbin said his connections in law enforcement enable him to get good pricing on bulletproof materials, and he tries to pass the savings along to his customers.

"I'm a regular person living here in New Hampshire trying to bring low-cost, quality protection to law-abiding citizens," he said. "I think that regular people should be able to buy the same type of protection that police and military can get their hands on."

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Dave Solomon may be reached at dsolomon@unionleader.com.



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