The timing was right when Mike Rickords and his son-in-law, Stephen Brittain, decided to turn their dream of owning their own machine shop into reality. Mike had decades of experience working for a large aerospace manufacturer, and Stephen had held various positions from CNC operator to large assembly program manager at a small firm. So in 2003, when Mike heard that he might be laid-off, they both got serious about the idea of using their combined experience to start their own business.
While they were putting together a business plan, they reached out to the Kansas Small Business Development Center (KSBDC) at Wichita State University. The KSBDC helped them create a more robust business plan to present to a bank for financing. “After 10 banks turned us down, Garden Plain State Bank approved a SBA guarantee 7(a) loan to finance one water-jet machine and some operating capital,” said Stephen. Then, on March 19, 2004, Absolute Dimensions, LLC opened its doors for business.
By 2008, the business was doubling its revenue every six months, and they needed another machine to keep up with demand. One week after they bought a new horizontal CNC machine, the strike at Boeing in Seattle hit the market hard. “Our financing and nerves got tight in those days. Luckily, we had some receivables and cash on hand to help us through those lean months” said Stephen. “Business was slow and we were concerned about our keeping our employees on the payroll, so we participated in the Kansas Shared Work program,” he added.
In 2009, Absolute Dimensions, LLC was able to obtain a SBA 506 Recovery Act zero-interest loan to help through the difficult time. They also kept in touch with the KSBDC for guidance on strategic planning, and even had all five of their office staff attend their workshops. The strategic planning process helped them diversify their product and service capabilities to include composite materials. They also added new customers outside the aerospace industry. Absolute Dimensions, LLC is now using their machining equipment to produce parts for a truck manufacturer, a company that makes signs, and they even make custom metallic inlays for tile.
By 2012, Absolute Dimensions, LLC, was growing to the point where they needed to consolidate their financing at a larger bank that had the capacity to service their needs. Today, the company’s 24 employees are trying to keep up with demand, and using every inch of available space in their facility.
When asked for their words of wisdom to other small business owners, Steven and his wife Miranda, who manages the office, said it is vital to manage the growth of your business. “You can grow too fast and put your business at risk”, said Stephen. “Save money when you have it because your cash flow can create constraints”, Miranda added. They both believe it’s important to reach out to organizations like the Kansas Small Business Development Center for expert advice on business planning. They gave a lot of credit to the KSBDC and the SBA for helping them navigate through the turbulent times.
The future looks bright for Absolute Dimensions, LLC. If things keep up, they may be looking for a new building and more automation to meet the growing demand.
Kelly Meyers always had a knack for building and fixing things. In 1998, he started working part-time for his father, owner of Hays Fire and Rescue Sales & Service, by helping him in the shop.
When he heard that his father was interested in selling the business in 2009, he and his wife DeAnn purchased the business to keep it in the family.
Hays Fire and Rescue Sales & Service, LLC., has been building fire apparatus and equipment for fire and rescue departments since 1974. “We build pumper trucks, aerials, brush trucks, and rescue squad vehicles for cities and towns throughout Kansas”, said Kelly.
Within a year of running the business, Kelly knew the business had outgrown its facility and he needed a bigger building to accommodate the manufacturing process. That's when Kelly contacted Ron Newman, at the Kansas Small Business Development Center (KSBDC) at Fort Hays State University, for guidance.
“The team at KSBDC provided good information and helped me refine my business plan so I could approach a bank for a loan to finance the land purchase and building construction,” said Kelly. During the planning process, Kelly found an available lot just outside of Hays that could accommodate the building. “Since we don’t have a lot of walk-in business, the location of the new property wasn’t the primary factor”, said Kelly.
The new facility was designed to make the manufacturing process more efficient. Kelly believes the new building allows his crew to manufacture the vehicles in half the time it took at the original facility. Each fire or rescue vehicle is built to the specifications of the buyer, so they seldom build two alike.
As the business has grown, Kelly is thinking of hiring more employees in the shop. They started with four shop employees and two salespeople, and now he may hire a few more. “My employees take a lot of pride in the work they do”, said Kelly. He considers his employees as the company’s number one asset.
Kelly and DeAnn Meyers appreciate the Hays community, and have supported their local high schools. Hays Fire and Rescue Sales & Service contributes materials to the shop classes. They have also had college students intern at the shop.
When asked if he had any advice for a business owner thinking of expanding their business, Kelly highly recommended they reach out to the KSBDC for assistance. Kelly said, “Ask a lot of questions and get ahead of the ball before making important decisions.”
Marie Kessler started her quilting business, Kessler Kreations, out of her home in 2004. "People would bring me their quilting projects, the top and back, and I would sew them together with the batting in between using my machine," said Marie. Marie’s home was in a rural area, so people would get lost trying to find her house. Kessler Kreations needed to be in a place that people could easily find. So, in 2005 she rented about 600 square feet of storefront space from a friend who owned a gift shop in Hillsboro. The fixed hours and location in town helped grow her customer base. She worked the business part time until 2007. The increase in the workload allowed her to quit her full time job and devote all her time to her growing business. In 2010, she needed more space and moved into a 1,500 square foot location. Within 10 months, she was outgrowing the space. The local fabric shop owner was retiring and selling her business. Marie wanted to acquire their fabric inventory and displays. “The closest fabric shops were 25 miles away in Newton and McPherson, so the decision was an easy one”, said Marie.
In 2011, she contacted Clint Seibel, Director of Hillsboro Development Corporation, who helped create a business plan and put her in contact with the Kansas Small Business Development Center (KSBDC) at Emporia State University and Butler Community College KSBDC. Clint Siebel was also aware of a larger building that was available in Hillsboro. He told Marie about an old furniture store that occupied three store fronts in the same building. The previous owner had cut through the interior walls to create 10,000 square feet of space, which provided enough room for Kessler Kreations to occupy 6,000 square feet, and rent out the rest.
The team at KSBDC helped Marie solidify her financial projections and create a new marketing plan. They even provided a QuickBooks advisor to help keep her records in order.
“I had no clue what paperwork the bank would need to approve a loan, and the people at the KSBDC and the South Central Kansas Economic Development District (SCKED) helped by walking me through the loan paperwork process,” said Marie. With their assistance, Marie’s dream of expanding to the new location came true when the loan was secured to purchase and remodel the property. On August 20, 2011, the doors opened for business!
Kessler Kreations rented the excess space in the shop to a full service flower shop and to various consignment vendors that offered a variety of products that were complementary to their quilts and supplies. “We have vendors who sell antiques, collectibles, jewelry, used books, and one who makes pot holders and aprons,” explained Marie.
As the quilting hobby has grown in popularity, so has Kessler Kreations. In July 2013, Marie purchased a new computerized quilting machine to help her keep-up with demand. The addition of the new machine increases Kessler’s output to two quilts per day. Doubling the output of her manual quilting machine. Her increased business has also allowed her to hire a new full-time and one part-time employee.
Marie’s advice to other start-up business owners is “to reach out and contact the KSBDC office in your area. They offer the advice and assistance to help you take your business to the next level!”