WOODSTOCK – Five years after being named one of the fastest-growing companies in the nation, LandAirSea Systems Inc. is working on new technology it hopes will revolutionize the GPS tracking industry.
The Woodstock-based GPS tracking device maker is looking to recapture the explosive sales growth that put it on Inc. magazine's list of the 500 fastest-growing private companies in 2008. That year, LandAirSea was ranked No. 341 after its revenue increased more than 850 percent over three years, going from $440,000 in 2004 to $4.2 million in 2007.
Since then, sales have plateaued in an increasingly competitive and rapidly evolving marketplace.
LandAirSea's annual revenue remains about $4.2 million, said Andrew de la Chapelle, the company's vice president of sales who was brought in earlier this year to boost that figure.
"For any company to grow that fast, it takes a lot of work," he said. "Maintaining it is the second part of the equation."
LandAirSea makes passive and active vehicle tracking devices and software for fleet management, law enforcement and personal GPS tracking. In addition to law enforcement agencies, its customers include businesses, such as transportation companies, and consumers, such as private investigators and parents who want to keep on eye on their teen drivers.
The company, founded in 1994 by Robert Wagner, Steven Moehling and Lin Xu, started out making GPS equipment for small planes. In 1996, it launched Flight-Trac for tracking the time, position, speed and altitude of aircraft.
Making sense of the information it logged required a computer, so the market for the company's early products was limited. In 1993, the year before the company was founded, 23 percent of U.S. households had a computer.
"Unfortunately, not everyone had a computer back then," de la Chapelle said. "For every person that ordered Flight-Trac, we were giving them a computer. It wasn't economical."
Besides, far more people owned cars than planes.
Realizing this, LandAirSea President and CEO Robert Wagner came up with a similar device for vehicles, the GPS Tracking Key. And in 1999, LandAirSea launched the first vehicle tracking unit to transmit data in real time, a product used primarily by law enforcement agencies and private investigators.
The market for the GPS Tracking Key and the company's active tracking products grew quickly. Fifty-one percent of U.S. households had computers in 2000 and 41.5 percent had home Internet use. By 2011, 75.6 percent of U.S. households had a computer and 71.7 percent had home Internet use, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
When sales of the GPS Tracking Key started to really take off in the mid-2000s, "it was pretty exciting because before that the company was struggling," Wagner said.
"Our technology surpassed anything else that was out there, so we just started selling volumes and volumes," he said. "It was nice to get out of debt."
The GPS Tracking Key, which costs $139, can be plugged into a computer's USB port to display location data records as a written activity report, displayed over a digital street map, or displayed over a satellite image using Google Earth.
"It's still our best-selling product," de la Chapelle said. "We've sold about a quarter-million units."
The GPS Tracking Key has been featured in automotive magazines and on TV shows such as "Burn Notice" and "Breaking Bad." It's even sold by the reality TV program "Cheaters" in the Cheaters Spy Shop.
But not all of the attention has been positive. In 2003, a Wisconsin man was charged with stalking his ex-girlfriend using one of LandAirSea's products. The case made national news and was covered by the Chicago Tribune and NBC's "Today Show."
"You always have people who will use it in unethical ways," de la Chapelle said. "Unfortunately for us, there's nothing we can do to stop it. We really don't know whose hands it's getting into. It's hard. We hear about it afterward."
Despite privacy concerns from some, GPS tracking is becoming more mainstream, both in the workplace and at home.
"For years, people were hesitant, they were waiting, but now we're seeing a lot more people buy into the technology," de la Chapelle said. "It's becoming more acceptable from a business standpoint and from a consumer standpoint."
Both of de la Chapelle's children, Britton, 16, and Elizabeth, 18, have LandAirSea tracking devices in their cars, he said.
"They don't like it," he said. "But from a parent's standpoint, it's awesome to know where your kids are, especially when they are 16 or 17 and have a newly minted driver's license."
Although de la Chapelle's children don't like having the devices on their cars, the tracking units have proved to be helpful on a few occasions when lost.
Following the success of the GPS Tracking Key, LandAirSea came out with the Tracking Key Pro and SilverCloud.
SilverCloud is a subscription-based service that offers real-time GPS tracking that can be viewed online. It was used during the 2012 Summer Olympics to track athletes and guests as they traveled through London on buses, de la Chapelle said.
SilverCloud Sync goes one step further to allow real-time tracking of location and vehicle diagnostics, offering alerts for rapid acceleration, harsh braking, low fuel, idling and tampering.
LandAirSea's latest offering for the SilverCloud service is ShareSpot, which allows users to share their location on Facebook or on a company's website. It could be used, for instance, to track a pizza delivery order from restaurant to home, de la Chapelle said. ShareSpot is designed for public fleet transportation services, such as airport shuttles, taxis, limousines or school buses because it gives businesses and municipalities the ability to share the GPS location of their service vehicles, the company said.
The company's products continue to advance as technology advances and becomes more affordable.
"The passive market will continue to be out there because a lot of people don't want to pay a monthly fee," de la Chapelle said. "And the live tracking market will continue to be strong as long as there are assets to monitor."
And LandAirSea is working on new technologies that will "reinvent the whole GPS tracking industry," de la Chapelle said. He declined to provide further details about the projects while they are in development.
LandAirSea Systems Inc.
What: A GPS tracking device and software maker with 16 employees and annual sales of $4.2 million
Where: 2040 Dillard Court, Woodstock
Information: www.landairsea.com; 847-462-8100