Founded by Henry Sturges, Sturges Manufacturing, Inc. began producing suspenders in Utica, NY in 1909. Today, Sturges is an ISO-9001 certified manufacturer of custom-designed engineered straps and webbing for the safety, firefighting, military and mountain climbing industries. Sturges is renowned for its outstanding performance in quality, value and customer service, and recognition from customers across the world is evident from the foyer full of awards and plaques.
Leading the company into the 21st century is President Rick Griffith. Over 38 years ago, Rick joined Sturges and in 2000, he transitioned from one of the owners to the majority owner. Within a year, Rick’s son Tyler came on board for new market development. The father and son leadership team has been good for both the family and the business.
“I think working with my son is the greatest thing going,” said Rick Griffith. “He has come in here and taken a whole different look at things with a completely different perspective.”
Sturges has been able to achieve an advantage over competitors by designing innovative solutions for its customers, with two patents on file and two more pending. The company just received a patent this month on a energy-absorbing webbing that is designed to reduce the shock for workers falling from heights, such as construction workers or window-washers.
In 2004, the company invested over $100,000 to build a testing lab inside one of its three buildings. Since the lab acts as an independent facility within the company, Sturges has applied for it to be certified as an ISO 17025 test lab. The ability to conduct internal quality control testing has made Sturges’s webbing and straps even more marketable. With a continued increase in foreign demand for its engineered products, particularly in Canada and Mexico, exporting activity has increased significantly over the past several years.
Selling to the federal government was once a strong source of revenue for Sturges; during World War II, the company sold over two million rifle slings to the military for U.S. soldiers. The number of government contracts received by Sturges had slowed over recent years, and in 2009 Tyler Griffith sought assistance to improve sales from the NYS Small Business Development Center (SBDC) Procurement Assistance Center located at SUNY Institute of Technology in Utica.
The SBDC Procurement Assistance Center’s Government Contracting Coordinator, Roxanne Mutchler, provided training in accessing technical data packages, qualified product and manufacturer lists and federal bidding opportunities.
Sturges hired Patrick Fiegl as a government sales representative the same year and attended the Rochester Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) matchmaker in 2010. With a renewed emphasis on procurement, government sales have once again increased. Sturges recently was awarded a contract from the U.S. Army Pine Bluff Arsenal to manufacture over 40,000 straps for mortar shells.
“We contacted the SBDC to learn what we needed to do to obtain government contracts and how to expand our presence,” said Tyler Griffith, vice president. “We continue to turn to the SBDC when we run into a roadblock.”
Joan Ford’s home is more than where her heart is---it’s also the location of her quilt design company, Hummingbird Highway, LLC. Ford’s business is one example of a growing small business sector: more than one out of 10 households in the U.S. has a full or part-time home-based business, according to a recent study by SBA’s Office of Advocacy.
An accounting degree from Syracuse University was the foundation for Joan Ford’s corporate career, with positions at GE, GE Capital, boutique executive recruiting firms, and not-for-profit agencies. Ford was able to explore creative outlets outside the office through scrapbooking and knitting Norwegian sweaters. Little did she know that learning to use a sewing machine to finish the sweaters she knitted would lead to her own business!
A beginning quilting class in February 2003 was an eye-opening experience for Ford. Instead of the drab, dreary fabrics she imagined, Ford was impressed with the vibrancy and variety of fabrics in the local Syracuse quilt shop that offered the class. Ford quickly grew into an accomplished quilter and the same shop where she took the class took notice, enlisting her to finish sample quilts for other classes.
“I was producing lots of quilts and I would go to work with the project that was waiting for me at home stuck in the back of my mind. It got to the point where I would start quilting in the morning before I went to work, just sewing a few pieces to add a little spark to my day. As I started teaching classes and designing basic quilts, I felt it was time to switch gears completely. I realized that it wasn’t fair to split my time when my energy and excitement for quilting were growing and the excitement for my job wasn’t. I had to find a way to make a career out of it,” explained Ford.
In 2006, Ford left her job to take her passion for quilting to the next level. After filing her DBA, Ford took her idea for turning fabric scraps left over from previous projects into quilts to a national quilting tradeshow. Ford successfully pitched her scrap quilting process to a quilt industry wholesale distributor. Working through a distributor helped her learn to navigate the quilting industry with a mutually beneficial quarterly shipment: for the next three years, Ford developed original quilt patterns which were paired with rulers, notions, and instructions that were exclusively packaged by the distributer and marketed to independent quilt shops nationwide. It was a profitable concept for each element of the supply chain.
Like many home-based entrepreneurs, Ford developed a patchwork of roles in her company. Keeping a hand in each area of the business, even the least favorite, allows her to minimize costs and keep clients satisfied. Ford’s financial background helps with writing proposals and negotiating contracts, whereas her passion for quilt patterns and projects keeps her motivated to work well beyond the traditional 9 to 5 schedule. The support from her family and friends has also been critical for Hummingbird Highway to take flight, including the transition from two salaries to one and renovation of the basement into a state-of-the-art quilt studio.
The road to success has had its challenges. Ford’s distributor commitment ended, leaving her without steady income. The recession started impacting independent quilt shops, her main customer base. With trial and error, Ford worked on the daunting process of trade marking her quilt pattern program name, ScrapTherapy, through the U.S. Patent and Trademarks Office. A similar trademark application had been filed overseas, creating a lengthy legal obstacle for Ford. She met each challenge with perseverance, by creating new products and ultimately getting the trademark.
Today, Ford earns her living as an author, accomplished quilt designer and national instructor. Published in March 2011, Ford’s first book ScrapTherapy, Cut the Scraps! explains her trademark process for turning fabric scraps into beautiful quilt projects. The book is another tool to help Ford market her ScrapTherapy program s to independent quilt shops and larger outlets. When not designing at home or lecturing on the road, you can often find Ford participating in regular roundtables for women entrepreneurs at the WISE Women’s Business Center in Syracuse.
“For me, it’s good to be able to get out of the home office environment and talk with others who are in similar situations and see how they are getting along. Going to WISE Center meetings helps me interact with other creative entrepreneurs and explore other options of how to do things,” Ford said.
Over a dozen years ago, Wendy Washeleski gave her coworker’s niece a horse riding lesson at her home. What started out as a hobby is now the 300-acre Fall Brook Stable, a successful small business in Taberg, New York. Washeleski left her position as a psychological assistant and started her business in 1996 with two horses and a small outdoor arena. Today, Fall Brook Stable has 19 horses, four full-time and up to 10 seasonal employees, and offers a one-stop shop for horse enthusiasts from Camden, Rome, Utica, Boonville and Westmoreland.
Washeleski’s business location in her hometown hasn’t reined in her desire to travel; she explained, “It feels good to be in Taberg. The horse industry allows me to travel all over the country for training and shows, but at the end of the day, I have my business and my family all in one spot and that’s all that really matters.”
As she gained loyal clients, Washeleski continued to reinvest in the business with the purchase of an indoor riding arena in 2000. The indoor arena is the complete opposite of the traditional dark barn-the inverted u-shaped building has a translucent roof that allows daylight to flood the arena. Gradually, Washeleski added first and second floor additions to the arena: lockers for clients, an observation room for parents, a full bathroom and more. Growing her business over time was integral to Washeleski’s plan to be completely self-financed: “I wanted to own my business, not have my business own me,” she commented.
Washeleski has expanded Fall Brook Stable’s services beyond traditional riding lessons to include three-day training camps, group trail rides, 40 hour certification clinics for instructors, pony birthday parties, and most recently, a retail tack shop. “Instead of sending my riders to a tack shop for an item they need for an upcoming show, I now offer them exactly what they need right here. The shop is an added benefit for my clientele and my bottom line,” Washeleski said.
In 2008, Washeleski felt she had reached a plateau in running her business and needed a challenge. While searching online, she came across the Women’s Business Center of New York State website and learned about an upcoming free entrepreneurial training course.
“I remember thinking, ‘This is too good to be true,’” recounted Washeleski. “A 10-week course on how to run a business and it’s free?” The Entrepreneurs Skills Training course featured weekly classes on business planning, marketing, media relations, financial planning, legal and insurance issues and more. Washeleski graduated from the course on January 21, 2009 with 16 other Women’s Business Center clients and came away with much more than she anticipated.
“This was my first formal business class ever and it was a phenomenal experience. It heightened my awareness of all aspects of my business. I learned something every week that I can use now or in the future. I especially enjoyed meeting other entrepreneurs and hearing their different input on how to deal with issues.”
For Washeleski, the training course provided practical means to meet the continual challenge of anticipating and meeting her customers’ needs. Fall Brook Stable and its surrounding property is covered in natural beauty, including rolling hills of forest, creeks, and tumbling waterfalls, and during the winter, plenty of snow. The tough winter conditions of Upstate New York inspire Washeleski to dream of opening a second facility in a warmer climate while maintaining the Taberg location. As Washeleski likes to say, “The sky is the limit when you own your own business.”