Thursday , March 06, 2014 - 12:45 PM
CENTERVILLE — Since International Armoring Corp. opened its doors, it has retrofitted vehicles for foreign dignitaries, billionaires and even on three occasions, the Pope.
Each time, CEO and Founder Mark Burton said, the company looked to create the lightest and best protected vehicle, while maintaining the vehicle’s original appearance and performance.
“When most people think of an armored vehicle, they think of heavy steel,” Burton said, “but when we started here in Utah, we wanted to do it differently.”
International Armoring is celebrating its 20th anniversary in the Top of Utah.
The company is currently located at 80 N. 1400 West, Centerville, but began in May 1993 in a 5,000-square-foot facility near Lindquist Field in Ogden.
“It really was an accidental happening,” Burton said, thinking back how the company started.
Before getting into the armored car business, Burton worked as an accountant for a ballistics company.
A few years later, he followed his wife to Utah and hired six part-time workers, all laid-off employees of the old Volvo-White plant, to work on three vehicles at night.
“My original idea was to put it in Salt Lake, but with that workforce in Ogden, I decided to put it there,” Burton said.
Soon the orders just started coming in, especially as kidnapping for profit became more prevalent.
“There was a pent-up need in the private sector, especially Mexico,” Burton said.
His client list grew to include celebrities, sports figures, international businessmen, foreign dignitaries and heads of state. During the time of Pope John Paul II, the company armored three vehicles for the Vatican.
In his shop, a visitor will find many SUVs, including Range Rovers, Mercedes G-Wagons and Toyota Land Cruisers, stripped to the frame in order to install protective items such as Kevlar and bullet-resistant glass.
To meet that international demand, International Armoring opened locations around the world. At one time, Burton said, he had 14 locations including Latin America.
Today, there are five foreign facilities, including spots in South Africa, Hong Kong, the Philippines and the United Kingdom.
Since its inception, the company has armored more than 8,000 vehicles and shipped to more than 60 countries.
For its efforts, in 2012, the International Business Awards named the company the International Manufacturer of the Year, along with numerous Best of State awards and U.S. government sub-contractor of the year.
It also appears regularly on the Discovery and History channels, on shows such as “How It’s Made” and “Secrets of the Secret Service.” It even had video cameras in its Centerville facility last week.
However, companies such as International Armoring would not exist if there was not a serious need.
Many clients have a genuine fear of attack, by assassination, kidnapping or carjacking — a reality most Americans never have to face.
“We have it so good here, we really do,” Burton said.
For those who do undergo such threats, the armored vehicle provides a component to a larger security protocol.
“They perceive a threat and they get a peace of mind by having that vehicle,” Burton said. “We filled a niche that is a viable niche; we’ve saved a lot of people’s lives.”
Burton said the vehicles have proven themselves in the field. So far, he said his vehicles have withstood at least 300 attacks and saved at least 500 lives.
And of course International Armoring is not the only company that does such work.
Sergio Gonzalez, marketing and sales director of Villauto Centro Automotriz Mercedes Benz in San Pedro Garza García, a wealthy suburb of Monterey, Mexico, said many cars now come armored directly from the factory in Germany. Even the Pope now gets his armored Popemobile directly from Mercedes.
For customers who want extra security, such as those who expect to take fire from an AK-47, Gonzalez said he refers them to an armoring company in town.
Gonzalez said these services are not requested by the average citizen, only the very wealthy or, he speculated, perhaps someone who is up to no good.
Burton said his business is doing well enough with legitimate clients that he does not worry about villains ordering cars from him.
And even if they did fall into the hands of ne’er-do-wells, maybe second-hand, the vehicles are only meant to provide safety.
“I will say this, these cars are designed to be defensive in nature. There are no machine guns. It’s not like the movies,” Burton said. “They’re not tanks, they are vehicles that offer a chance to react to a situation.”
In the end, Burton is selling peace of mind, be it one wrapped in Kevlar.
Sign up for e-mail news updates.