How Diane Waghorne Grew Her Multimillion-Dollar Safety Business in Dallas
Diane Waghorne was watching the news along with the rest of the world on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. Amid the tragedy unfolding before her eyes she kept thinking, how was it possible all these people trapped in the burning buildings didn’t have a way to get down safely? The thought didn’t go away in the following days, weeks or months. Waghorne’s mind was made up. She wanted to do something. She wanted to save lives.
Her research led her to a product that helps people descend in dangerous situations. Eventually, Waghorne bought the patent and brought the manufacturing to North Texas. The business she started from her kitchen table earned $5.5 million in revenue last year with customers in 22 countries. “It makes no sense a stay-at-home mom with fingernails is doing what I’m doing,” said Waghorne, president of Carrollton-based Tech Safety Lines, Inc.
Tech Safety Lines makes what are called rescue kits for people who work at great heights, like wind turbine engineers. Other customers include companies working on construction sites, bucket trucks and crane operators.How does her product work? Say an engineer is working on wind turbine hundreds of feet in the air when their worst nightmare comes true — the turbine catches on fire. With Tech Safety Lines’ products, the engineer attaches to the turbine and descends safely to the ground. The rescue kits are necessary because often times, wind turbines are in remote areas. By the time the fire department reaches the turbine, it might be too late or the rescuers might not have the proper equipment to reach those stranded.
Unfortunately, it sometimes isn’t until something horrible happens when potential customers will reach out to the company. “I hate it that it’s a death when our phone starts ringing. That just breaks my heart,” Waghorne said. “We do all these trade shows, they see us, they know us. But yet it’s that little rescue component, ‘Oh I’ll go do some more research,’ and it gets set on the back burner.”
About 70 percent of the company’s sales are in the U.S., Waghorne said. Along with the actual cost of the rescue kit, which runs about $1,000 per kit, Tech Safety Lines generates revenue by training all those who carry the kit. Tech Safety Lines conducts training on-site in Carrollton, or it sends instructors to wherever the customer is based. The company has 14 employees.
To discuss her business more, Waghorne sat down with the Dallas Business Journal.
What’s the biggest challenge of growing your business?
Everybody wants to buy from their own country. I want to buy U.S., France wants to buy France. So, that’s kind of a challenge. And then whoever your present administration may be may help you, may not help you. There might be some challenges. You worry about, ‘Well, what’s going to happen with tariffs?’ Things that are out of your control.
How do you market yourself?
We do a lot of trade shows, and a lot is word of mouth.
How competitive is your industry?
I do have competitors. I only lost one time that I went after someone really big.
What did you do before Tech Safety Lines?
When I first got married, I was in sales. I was in the business world. Then I had my children. I had a nanny and I came home one day and my son called the nanny ‘mommy’ so I said ‘I’m done’ and decided to be a stay-at-home mom. But when 9/11 happened, my son was in college, my daughter had just gotten her driver’s license. She had just turned 16. And I was wondering what my next chapter in life would look like. And I prayed, and my joke is God has a great sense of humor. He took a stay-at-home mom and put her in the rescue business.
Evan Hoopfer, Staff Writer
Dallas Business Journal