Today we'd like to introduce you to Steve Torbenson.
He and his team shared their story with us below: RZ Industries Founder and CEO says he's thankful he was born with a sinus problem that caused him to suffer constant sinus infections since childhood because it led him to design his 1st RZ dust filtration mask. Steve's doctor guaranteed his parents that surgery to repair his sinus issues would be an easy fix. At age 13, he underwent the surgery only to find it did not work. He continued to be an active kid, riding dirt bikes, 3 wheelers and playing on his family's hobby farm. He continued to get sinus infections from his sinuses being unable to filter and drain all the dust and contaminants. He was always sick. As a teen and adult, Steve started buying and renovating houses and doing construction renovations. By age 19, he found himself once again surrounded by dust and debris that his sinuses were not able to filter. He searched but couldn't find a comfortable mask that he could wear all day long during renovations and weekend dirt biking and 3-wheeling. The only masks on the market were paper masks with rubber bands that break and bulky rubber masks that either leaked dust, fogged glasses, or collected moisture and really didn’t work that well.
Eventually, Steve started a family and soon had 4 little riding buddies. They spent every weekend at their family cabin in WI riding and making trails. They learned to ride early like their dad and during one of their dirt bike rides, Steve pulled over to check in with them to see if they were all doing ok. Steve had them protected from head to toe with helmets, kidney belts, riding boots and goggles except 1 thing! As the 4 little boys smiled from ear to ear and gave their dad their signature thumbs up, Steve's heart sank! Their mouths were covered in dirt and dust from the trails! He realized all that dust and dirt was going directly into their little lungs! As he turned his head to continue riding, his love for his sons consumed his passion to protect them. He was sick and went home determined to order them all off-road dust masks. He found nothing on the market besides paper or rubber masks which seemed useless and uncomfortable.
He dove into researching and thinking there had to be something that already exists; but he found nothing. He recalled all the cool little inventions and ideas he had come up with in the past and decided he needed to make a difference! As he created prototypes and tried them on for the best possible seal and fit he reached 2 out to a medical mask manufacturer in Asia. The connection he made was a blessing and almost 14 years later he still works with the same people he initially talked to back then. They not only have worked together for nearly 14 years, but they have also become lifelong friends. He shared some of his ideas for creating his own mask and within a few weeks, he had samples to look at. After several modifications, the RZ M1 neoprene dust filtration mask was born. It had a 99.9% effective filter with an active carbon that would filter down to .1 micron which is 400x smaller than a human hair.
He was happy with the prototype and placed an order for 1,500 masks.
It was quite an eventful day when his first order was delivered to his home in Burnsville, MN. Steve kept his day job buying and renovating homes and set up an office /makeshift warehouse in his garage where he and his 4 boys ran the business for the next 3.5 yrs. They put in the work marketing their mask knowing they were the only dust filtration mask on the market for power sports. Within 3-9 months/he RZ M1 Mask was reviewed by 26+ magazines. They were getting noticed not just by power sports but by several industries that required mask use. Polaris reached out and co-branded with RZ and Can-Am was soon to follow. Within 9 months, they realized their masks were being used in over 50 different industries/uses. They turned their attention to the top expos in those industries, some being power sports, agriculture, fire & rescue, woodworking, and landscaping to name a few. Steve was still renovating and selling homes until one day he was melting ice off the edges of an apartment building roof, a rainstorm started in the middle of January! He was soaking wet and freezing but determined to finish de-icing the roofs. He leaned into his faith and asked God, what do you want me to do with RZ Mask? At that moment, he was inspired to leave his lifelong career of 24 years as a Real Estate Broker, Real Estate Investor & Contractor and pursue RZ full-time. Within days of his real-estate career coming to an end, family and friends learned about this major life decision and the shared some concerns.
While Steve had become a prominent real estate home renovation expert & investor in the Minneapolis & St. Paul area, he knew nothing about retail, operations, manufacturing, or B-C /B-B markets. He again leaned into his faith and began learning, asking questions and soon adopted a simple phrase "Giving up is not an option”. In fact, he wrote it on a small yellow post-it note and has carried it with him in his wallet for the past 12 years. 3 After their 1st few expos, they realized how useful this mask had become and were overwhelmed with all the curiosity and support they received from the 10,000+ attendees at the expos. Shortly after, RZ was chosen to be included in athletes' gift bag giveaways in the winter "X Games" in Aspen, Colorado. They were also chosen later that summer to be included in athlete gift bags for the summer "X Games" in Los Angeles.
Steve continued to invest his own private income into building the company he knows was inspired by God. He didn't take a paycheck for 7 years and continued investing sales back into the business. After about 4 years, he upgraded to a small office in Chaska. MN. He exhibited at many more expos across several industries. He listened to his customer's feedback and went back to the drawing board creating the M2 Mesh vs. Neoprene Dust Filtration Mask with a neck strap and eventually the M2.5 with dual head straps along with other creative products that related to the respiratory and safety industry. As a young boy, Steve watched his dad create and invent several innovative products. He got his "you can do it, go for it" attitude from his dad as he heard that phrase over and over growing up. His parents were his biggest fans!
He knew he had to continue being innovative to grow.
It was on a flight home from Miami to Minneapolis, after an international landscape expo, that he was inspired by God once again. He saw the vision for a 3-strap design Mask that could be worn 3 different ways and with several filter options. He took out his beverage napkin and drew it at 36,000 ft. in the air. He knew the main reason people returned an RZ Mask was to switch between a 2 strap and neck strap or vice versa. This new 3-strap design would solve that problem and give people several options for a comfortable fitting mask for all activities across all hobbies and industries. When he returned home, he made plans to bring these drawings of his new RZ M3 3-Strap design mesh mask to his manufacturers and the world's best and most versatile air filtration mask was born. Shortly after receiving his 1st prototypes of the M3, he realized he would need to file international patents to protect this design since there was nothing like it in the marketplace. Today the M3 Mask is Internationally Patented and holds several unique Patents. Shortly after applying for international patents, he attended one of the largest safety expos in Dallas, TX. He revealed this new RZ M3 mask. The top respiratory companies in the world were in awe and very complimentary. The new RZ M3 4 was capable of features never achieved before. During the next couple of years, RZ worked on strengthening its relationships with other big distributors and retail stores such as Ace, Lowes, Uline, Tractor Supply, Rockler, and hundreds of other independent retailers.
Out of the blue one day, Steve received a phone call from Troy Marshall of Troy Marshall Ministries, a pastor from CA, who shared with Steve the many health risks of air pollution in Mongolia. During their conversation, Troy told Steve that 3 of 5 babies were born with severe birth defects because of the air pollution. Troy asked if Steve would be willing to help provide 6,000 masks for pregnant women and children. Steve didn't have a mask to fit small children, so he went to work designing a small and extra small masks. He met the shipping deadline and got the 6,000 masks into Mongolia before the cold months of burning tires and coal approached. The following year, Steve and Troy delivered 9,000 more masks to Mongolia. Troy shared with Steve that by the Grace of God, all 3,000 pregnant women had healthy babies. This brought tears to Steve's eyes. He knew what he was doing more than making and selling masks. They planned to send more the next year but then the pandemic hit, and shipping was halted. In January 2023, after trying for 2 years Steve sent 10,000 more masks to Mongolia. Since the first RZ masks went to Mongolia, Troy has shared with Steve that 17 churches have been planted and Troy gives all the credit to the RZ masks being able to move through Mongolia. During the early stages of the pandemic,
RZ’s mask sales soared as their filtration was one of the best available. The RZ mask has discharge valves which became not allowed during the pandemic so Steve quickly created caps that replaced the valves so his comfortable masks could be worn during the pandemic. People loved to wear them because they were so comfortable and didn't fog glasses.
In 2020 and 2021, Inc 5000, named RZ Industries one of the fastest growing private companies in America. In 2017, RZ was able to move into a bigger office/warehouse in Burnsville, MN. During these years, (pre-covid) Steve and his 4 sons forged relationships with the people whose lives were changed because of a simple mask.
He listened to his customers and developed an "Inspirational mask" with encouraging sayings on them for his customers who had to wear masks daily for various health reasons. These customers shared stories of how people read their inspirational messages on their masks and smiled or complimented them vs giving them strange looks or avoiding them. (There are so many wonderful stories). 5 During all of Steve's travels for personal and to expos for RZ, he realized he was having recurring sinus issues once again but this time they were from the hotels he was staying in. He found the source of his problem was coming from the PTAC heating and cooling units in the rooms. Determined to get to the source, he removed the PTAC and was astonished to discover a filthy filter inside, full of hair, mold, dust, and odors to name a few. He went back home to his R & D room and cut a piece of filter with active carbon in it. He attached double-stick tape to the perimeter and rolled it up to take it to his next hotel. At their next expo in Boise, Idaho, he opened the door to his room and was blasted with cleaning products covering stale, musty air. He felt sick but realized it was a good way to test his new prototype. He taped it to the PTAC unit and went to his son's room for 10 minutes. His son said, "Dad, there's no way you can stay in that room tonight." Steve and his son both opened the door to Steve's room and were astonished that there were no odors present.
The RZ AIRflow was born that day!
He proceeded to design and file international patents on 3 different versions of the RZ AIRflow. The RZ AIRflow launched in early 2023. It is being sold in an attractive carrying case so consumers can bring it with them on their travels. Distributors are bringing it to hotels, apartment buildings, senior living facilities, hospitals, and schools. The RZ AIRflow easily assembles and attaches to PTAC units for fresh purified air. Its HEPA and Active Carbon filters purify the air 99. 97% down to .3 microns eliminating allergens, viruses, and odors from the room air.
This filter has already had amazing reviews about how well if freshens and purifies the air.
Steve partnered with the American Lung Association in Dec of 2022 and the COPD foundation in Jan of 2023. Together they plan to share these two amazing and innovative products with the world.
To date, Steve has received letters from allergy sufferers and people who suffered from migraines from hotel cleaning products who are now able to travel again for work and personal events thanks to RZ AIRflow.
• Here is another fun story about an RZ customer. Steve's son Josh answered a call one day to be greeted by Jerry Bruckheimer, the producer of Top Gun. He was filming the new movie Maverick and needed dusk masks for his film crew. Jerry saw the RZ mask in Bloomberg Financial while in Poland and called to place an order. 6
• While Driving the RZ Mask RV (fully wrapped for RZ Mask) from Minnesota to California for an expo, Steve's son Jordan was driving through Nevada when he franticly called Steve back in Burnsville. He told his dad they were being pulled over by an unmarked black Suburban and didn't know what to do? About 20 minutes later Jordan called to say it was the Secret Service and they pulled them over to ask more about RZ Masks. Jordan gave them a few samples to share with the Department.
• The list of sales is truly endless, Sheriffs, Border Patrol, Jewelry makers, Anthropologists in Greece, Ice climbers in Germany, Embassies, Prisons, Secret Service, State Departments, and movie producers. The masks have so many different incredible uses to provide the best protection available.
• These are just a few of the countless adventures and uses Steve has experienced since the beginning of RZ Industries in 2010. He's sponsored a Russian motocross racer, a professional downhill skier in Chili, several female motocross racers, race car drivers, Baja 1000 racers, ATV, and snowmobile racers, and many more. He has donated masks to many non-profits in North, Central, and South America such as Samaritan's Purse, local EMS, firefighters, and churches. During the pandemic, RZ donated over 10,000 masks. Steve is currently working to launch his newest RZ PRO MASK. Currently, he resides in Siren, WI with his wife, Holly. Even their union is a result of Steve donating a box of masks to her and her family during the pandemic after an incredible chain of events and a year and a half later, they were married. Together they have 6 amazing children.
Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you've learned along the way? Looking back would you say it's been easy or smooth in retrospect? I spent 24 years in the Real Estate industry buying and selling homes in the Twin Cities so I had zero manufacturing, retail, marketing, operations, and warehousing experience. I had to learn on the fly. We started going to Expo's and the momentum started. After going through several website builds, marketing companies, and employees while building the company I realized to succeed you 7 need to be very cautious and verify what people promise you. Perseverance has paid off. I have a small post-it note in my wallet from 2012 that I wrote "Giving up is not an Option," There have been 100's if not 1,000's of big and small challenges and with determination and faith it has been an amazing journey! Alright, so let's switch gears a bit and talk business. What should we know?
I created the first RZ Mask in 2010. We specialize in innovative air filtration products and just launched the new RZ AIRflow in early 2023. We are getting ready to launch the Internationally patent pending RZ M3- 3-strap mask and the RZ PRO Mask, but I am most proud of our customers (RZ Family). We have had the Mayo Clinic transplant department and Stanford University transplant department recommend our RZ Mask to transplant patients and their families to stay safe. We have helped provide over 25,000 RZ Masks to Mongolia for children and pregnant women helping to eliminate birth defects from a country that had 3of 5 children born with severe birth defects. I would want to share with the readers -
I started RZ Industries/RZ Mask for one reason, to help others.
I willingly left an extremely successful career, the only career I knew in Real Estate, and invested in RZ for 7 years before receiving a modest paycheck. I want to leave a legacy and my four boys still work with me every day so it's a wonderful family business. Is there any advice you'd like to share with our readers who might just be starting out? I had a very successful Real Estate Career of 24 years and I had bought and sold nearly 500 properties and owned apartment buildings. When I created the RZ Mask and introduced it to my family and friends and told them I was going to leave the Real Estate industry to start a new business selling dust masks, everyone, except for my sister and my mom, had huge concerns and weren't very supportive of my decision. I would tell someone if they feel it in their heart and all their research proves that their new idea or service fills an important void then they should pursue it with passion. As my Dad told me 100’s of times growing up as a young boy, “You Can Do It, Go For It!!” Starting something new that really doesn't exist has its challenges. We had so many industries we could sell our RZ Masks to and we went to all the expos including agriculture, fire-fighting, landscaping, power sports, poultry, concrete, and so many others. I would highly recommend focusing on one path at a time and being the best in each path before adding new paths. We thought we could be the best in all industries at once and that was the biggest surprise. We just didn't have the time or team members. Sometimes smaller is better.