You know those people who say one day they’ll quit their corporate job, maybe travel the world on a pilgrimage and then come back to run their own small business?
Go talk to Doug Taylor. He did that.
These days, you’ll often find him on the shop floor, watching his company’s craftsmen turn out high-quality carpentry and millwork products. Maybe you’ll catch him helping to unload a truck on a delivery of moldings and columns to a residential builder.
In the summer of 2014, his company, Taylor-Made Wood Solutions, took over two Ralston manufacturing businesses, Plywood, Inc. and Mycotec, from the longtime owner who started them years ago out of a garage and built them up to become fixtures in the Omaha area.
Both firms today occupy a large warehouse just south of the suburb’s historic downtown.
“We work with a variety of builders working on homes in the $200,000 to $300,000 range to builders all the way up to homes in a multimillion-dollar neighborhood,” said Taylor.
There’s a demand in many of the Omaha area’s hottest developments for Plywood Inc.’s finished carpentry inventory of doors, locks, stair parts and other products, while Mycotec sells wholesalers its mill work products cut with its hundreds of custom-made knives from raw lumber to large lumber stores and cabinetry shops in Nebraska and western Iowa and Kansas.
Turning to the SBA for business plan and financing help
Taylor used business plan templates from the SBA web site before turning to the Bank of Nebraska to finance the business purchase. He worked with bank president Mike Choinere and business banker Josh Garth with flexibility with its operating expenses through an SBA Express line of credit under the Veterans Advantage program. That program offers qualified military veterans and their spouses a reduction of up-front fees usually charged by the SBA, saving Taylor thousands of dollars.
“Without that line of credit,” Taylor confessed, “I would have had a much more difficult time during the initial six months.”
Plywood, Inc. recently picked up its largest commercial opportunity in history with Rainbow House, a charitable home near Children’s Hospital and Medical Center where worried families can find a place to stay in comfort. The SBA-guaranteed line of credit allowed the company to buy inventory to grow into a new business channel.
As a first-time small business owner, though, taking over the company to Taylor felt “like a startup.”
A journey around the world leads to entrepreneurship
It took a while for Taylor to catch the entrepreneur bug. He spent a couple of years as a young man in the Marine Corps as a systems engineer “thrown into all sorts of situations,” bouncing back and forth between information technology and finance at U.S. Central Command in Florida.
Off the record, he admits “I’ve never been qualified in my mind for any job I’ve taken.”
Why? It’s because the Corps taught him “not to hesitate at the unknown and always surround yourself with smart and expert people.”
After the Marine Corps and a handful of years in the Washington, D.C., area, Taylor eventually worked his way up through some of Omaha’s most recognizable corporate names, settling in as the president of the technology business division at a global agriculture and transportation company.
But at the pinnacle of his career, one day he walked into the CEO’s office and said it was time to do something else with his life.
Leaving the button-down corporate world behind, Taylor embarked on a seven-month around-the-world journey, driving a car from El Salvador to Panama, sailing to Columbia and then driving again across that country Columbia and down the western coast of South America to Peru, then across the Pacific to New Zealand, Australia, up to Nepal, across to France and then hopped a train to backpack across Spain on the Camino de Santiago, a pilgrimage that started in the Pyrenees he claimed changed his life.
“You learn to be open to what the world offers to you,” he learned.
Family brought Taylor back to Omaha, where he looked for an investment opportunity. After looking over almost two dozen other businesses for sale, a local CPA firm connected him with the previous owner of Plywood, Inc. and Mycotec. The two spent countless hours at the latter’s home going over the business and the financial numbers as part of the sale process. They got along so well that because of snags with paperwork and figuring the financing for the deal, they closed the deal in December 2013 with just a handshake and a promise.
Focusing on improving the team and the business
During his corporate career, Taylor understood the value of surrounding himself with the best and the brightest, and says that if you take care of the people who work for the business, they'll take care of the customers, “and then the rest takes care of itself.
“He had a great support team already in place,” Taylor said of the previous owner, “so even without his day-to-day guidance around, they pushed the business forward and made a significant impact.”
Taylor still picks up the phone to bounce ideas off his predecessor in the owner’s chair, who continues to hold the credibility built up over more than three decades in the industry.
Even so, Taylor confessed some longtime customers left. But by drawing on that SBA line of credit, he could spend some of those operating expenses “darkening doorways” to bring them back.
Then he turned to his team. While the expertise on the shop floor ranged from 10 to 27 years, and each was an expert in their part of the product build cycle that left the company at risk of depending too much on single key employees. There’s cross training now from the skilled crafts to financing and accounting functions; at the same time, Taylor asked his employees for input on making their jobs safer, easier and faster. As they put those process improvements in place within a few months production doubled.
“When we take clients through the shop floor, they're in disbelief at the cleanliness of the place,” he added.
The boss also isn’t above supporting the machinery works by doing the hard work of catching, bundling and sorting finished products.
More: “I see our delivery people as ambassadors to develop relationships between our company and our customers,” said Taylor. Once on a delivery trip, Taylor explained, he’d unloaded a good part of a truck packed with products as his employee was around the corner networking and nurturing the company’s customer relationship.
“When he returned to the truck he apologized for taking time away from unloading the product,” Taylor smiled. “I replied he was investing in our customer relationship and that was invaluable.
Taylor explained the company pays 75 percent toward employee health care costs, “and we initiated a shop floor bonus for operational metrics such as safety and quality ultimately tied into the financial health of the company,” he added. On the shop floor, there are padded mats to ease the strain of eight hours of work standing on sore feet, knees and backs. There’s even a pinball machine in the break room where top scorers in shop tournaments snag movie tickets and gift cards.
The team has grown by five employees since purchasing the business, and they’re on pace for annual growth “north of 10 percent,” Taylor claimed, in an industry that is growing at a rate of 4.2 percent.
They’ll soon begin advertising in home and design magazines, and will place product sample displays in large lumber stores in the area to catch the eye of potential customer by creating brand awareness. Future plans call for a name change from Plywood, Inc. to Taylor-Made Home Solutions in January to reflect the evolution of that company’s offerings in the marketplace. Both that company and Mycotec are looking to expand to other states in the region.
Taylor explained: “We know we’ll have the capacity to double our size over the next five years, and the SBA could be a great source for additional funding for our acquisition and growth.”