Katie Hedrick, CEO of Colorado Tech Shop, started in late 2015 with her husband Iain to create a contract manufacturing company and believes that had they tried to do this anywhere else than Longmont, it wouldn’t have worked.
According to Hedrick, the community of manufacturing businesses is a tight-knit and supportive group. They helped a nascent business that was formed due to a series of events that landed Katie and Iain as surprised owners of a business in a new area of expertise that neither were familiar with. She said, “If we had ended up anywhere else but Longmont, I doubt we would have survived.”
Hedrick was amazed at how much help, as a community, they got when first starting the business. “This wouldn’t have happened in Boulder, this wouldn’t have happened in Denver.”
She said one reason they’ve succeeded was the Longmont Economic Development Partnership (LEDP). They were instrumental in connecting them with the right people and resources, starting with a low five-figure grant, helping them navigate tax advantages that come with being in the Longmont Enterprise Zone, an area that their company is currently located within, and introduced them to ways to get the needed small business loans they required to ramp up and expand to meet demand.
She also touched on how she received a lot of help from her ‘competition’ and felt more as if they were collaborators. When the company first started, she called the other contract manufacturers in Longmont and said they were a new tiny business and that they could send them the business the bigger players didn’t want.
According to Hedrick, they did. A couple of companies in particular really did. Her view is Longmont has a very well developed manufacturing ecosystem that lets the ‘little fish’ in that survive off the scraps the big players don’t want or are too busy to take on. The general attitude was ‘there’s enough to go around’ among all the players, according to Hedrick. She prefers the word ‘collaborators’ to ‘competitors’ and really considers it a community. She went on to talk about how other companies have even helped mentor them in the business.
As a specific example, she shared a story about how they lost a machine operator, leaving them short-handed. She was able to call up another company in the local manufacturing ecosystem and, the same day, they sent over their lead guy to help program everything, get her folks trained up and didn’t ask for anything in return. This even expanded into loaning equipment and selling things needed at very fair prices.
Colorado Tech Shop (CTS) has grown over the last three years and pay it forward by helping other small companies in the manufacturing space to get started. She’s gotten so much help from other companies, it motivates her to do the same for others.
The business CTS focuses on, contract manufacturing has been impacted quite a bit by the current re-shoring of work from other countries. It’s become more difficult and more expensive to do business in countries like China, which has worked to the advantage of businesses like Hendrick’s. Some local companies are booked up for over half a year. This has a trickle-down effect among all the various companies in the area.
The collection of local companies all have ‘niches’ from the big guys who only do thousands of units down to only a few prototypes with everything in between.
CTS is what Hedrick calls a full cycle contract manufacturing company, from someone with drawings who needs design work, prototyping, assembly, harnesses, supply chain management, full box build, and even shipping and warranty.
For example, fully 25-30% of their business now is design work. They can do as much or as little as they want, mostly as small to medium ‘runs’, from a few prototype boards up to 1,000 of an item per month depending on how complicated it might be. They do electronic as well as mechanical assembly. They focus on being very flexible for their client base.
They also can act as kind of staffing agency with offsite workers. CTS also focuses on long term relationships, not just one-off jobs where they’ll never see a customer again.
The company is seeing substantial growth in sales, doubling every year from a few hundred thousand dollars in the first year to upwards of a projected $3 million for 2019.
In order to help foster those customer relationships, CTS has taken a section of their space and turned it into a co-working space with half a dozen desks, a conference room, office space for a small group and general work space for drop-in’s.
The idea of building a full-blown co-working space inside of your company to help facilitate a bond with your customers, or potential customers, is a new concept for Longmont and promises to provide a very robust and long lasting relationship between product creators and Colorado Tech Shop.
The opportunities for CTS customers to work closely with both CTS employees as well as other CTS customers will also, very likely, provide very interesting new opportunities that may not have been considered had everyone not been co-working together in a fun, bright and interesting space.
The co-working space will include both wireless and hardwired internet access, common area use, conference room use, free parking, a business mailing address including a private mailbox, mail and package reception as well as shipping, use of printers and office supplies, Nespresso coffee and tea, weekly and monthly events like pizza Friday, yoga classes and chair massages, bike storage and a convenient location in South Longmont.
Prices for a dedicated desk will be $475 per month with a discount for 3-9 month leases. A private office is also available for up to 4 people.
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