Published: 2011-11-11 10:24:04
Author: JAMES E. CASTO
In the early 1980s, Dr. H. Darrel Darby had an idea. Today, the company he founded to manufacture and market his idea is an international success story. The firm has its headquarters and warehouse in Huntington and worldwide operations in China, Germany and, soon, India.
The senior Darby's son, H. Darrel Darby II, the president and CEO of DARCO International, has led the company's growth. Speaking Oct. 28 as part of the Huntington Regional Chamber of Commerce's "Coffee and Conversation" series, the younger Darby traced the history of a company that started with a sketch his father drew on an airline napkin.
"Our company originally was built on one product," Darby said. That product was a new type of post-operative shoe designed by his late father, a nationally known podiatrist who practiced in Huntington for more than 30 years. As explained by his son, the senior Darby grew dissatisfied with the rigid-soled post-op shoes then available and so began experimenting with a radically new design.
"In my junior year of college at the Citadel, I got a call from my father asking me if I wanted to go to Taiwan with him," Darby said. "Immediately I said ‘yes' and of course asked him why. He said he had this idea for a new shoe that would use running shoe technology, and since most running shoes then were made in Taiwan, he was going there in search of somebody to manufacture the shoe.
"On the plane I asked him if he had any design drawings, and he picked up his plastic cup, took the little napkin from under it and started drawing. ‘I think it should look something like this,' he said. So that's the way we started out, with a drawing on a napkin."
Despite a series of frustrating delays in Taiwan, the two did locate a manufacturer that agreed to prototype the shoe.
"I went back to school, pretty much forgot about it all, graduated and accepted a job with a good company. I was getting ready to move south to start my new job when my father said, ‘Hey, remember that shoe? There's a container load of them at sea heading this way, and I need you to start selling them.' And that's how it all started out."
From that humble start, the company has dramatically expanded its product line and grown to become a leading provider of post op, trauma and wound-care solutions for foot and ankle use.
In 1992, DARCO opened a distribution center in Diessen, Germany. About the same time, it moved its ISO-certified manufacturing operation from Taiwan to mainland China. Today, it operates a distribution center in Shanghai that serves the Asian market and plans to open another distribution center, this one in Dharwa, India, early in the first quarter of 2012.
"India is the diabetes capital of the world," Darby said, noting that the disease often creates critical foot problems for its victims, making India an important potential market for the company's products.
In Huntington, the company occupies an office/warehouse complex located on Memorial Boulevard. Its strikingly modern design earned a Merit Award for Edward Tucker Architects of Huntington from the West Virginia Chapter of the American Institute of Architects.