Encore Entrepreneur in McPherson Building a Paragon of Excellence in Metal Manufacturing

Paragon Precision Metal team

After a 37-year career managing pharmaceutical manufacturing facilities, Bob Williford decided to retire in 2018 with the understanding that retirement does not mean being inactive but actively doing the things he wanted to do.

Bob’s son, Paul Williford, had 7 years of experience as a laser cutting applications and training engineer for a national metal fabrication equipment manufacturer. A job that took Paul across the country 47 weeks out of the year to train plant employees on laser cutting equipment. While Paul’s work was fulfilling, the heavy travel schedule was not ideal for him and his young family.

“When Paul would come home to McPherson on the weekends for his job, he and I would often talk about where he travelled, the work he did, and what the manufacturing facilities were working on,” said Williford. “During our conversations, the phrase ‘Well, we could do that’ kept popping into our conversations, in time it morphed into ‘we should do that’, and ultimately by February 2019 we agreed “we will do that!”

Bob and his son Paul decided to step out on their own and create Paragon Precision Metal, LLC a steel manufacturer in McPherson, Kansas to serve the agricultural, industrial, and electrical systems equipment sectors with fabricated steel and aluminum products. “We had no building, no products or equipment, but we did have my manufacturing experience and Paul’s significant technical understanding and contacts in the industry,” said Williford. “We chose the name Paragon because the word is derived from ‘paragone’ an Old Italian word that means ‘touchstone’ – a black stone that was used to judge the purity of gold or silver. It represents a standard of excellence by which other things are judged” said Williford.

While Paul continued with his job, Bob invested three months in the spring of 2019 to work on a business plan, surveying the needs and equipment in the area, available building locations in McPherson, and registering the business entity with the state. “During this time, I reached out to local consultants and developed a support team of individuals to help me solidify my business plan,” said Williford. One of Bob’s consultants suggested he connect with the Kansas SBDC at Wichita State University for technical assistance. After taking some of the free workshops the SBDC offered, he began working with SBDC Advisor, Frank Choriego. “Frank helped me finalize my business plan,” said Williford.

Williford also researched the manufacturers for the equipment they needed and decided to go with the same company that Paul was working for at the time. “Paul has intimate knowledge of the machinery and he also had deep-level contacts of technical engineers that could support any installation or operational troubleshooting,” Williford explained.

“Having trusted members of a support team can really make a difference,” said Williford. When Bob mentioned to his support team and friends from church that he was looking for an industrial building in town, one offered to show him a building that he was planning to lease soon. The building happened to be the same one that Bob had already identified as an ideal space!

Williford worked with Matt Morrow of Peoples Bank and Trust in McPherson and SCKEDD to put together a SBA 7(a) and 504 loan package to purchase equipment. Paul Williford resigned from his job on good terms in September 2019 and was hired by Bob to start setting up the equipment in the building in October. By January 2020, Paragon Precision Metals, LLC became operational and completed their first commercial production.

“We wanted to start lean to keep our costs down. After Paul came on board, we hired our first employee to operate our three major pieces of equipment, a laser cutter, press brake and turret punch,” said Williford. In November 2019, Williford hired a salesperson as his second hire to bring in business, and thereafter he hired a welding technician.

Responding to COVID-19 Crisis

“The COVID-19 lockdown slowed our orders to a trickle. Thanks to the SBA’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), we were able to keep all five of our employees on the payroll. We kept everyone busy by building our own plant infrastructure such as the racking, shelving, and material tables we needed instead of buying them,” said Williford. “We were also fortunate as an essential manufacturing business entity to stay operational during the shutdown, and the PPP financing helped make that possible.”  

SBA’s Debt Relief Program and The Economic Aid Act also significantly helped Paragon’s cash flow by deferring their SBA loan payments during the COVID-19 crisis. Peoples Bank and Trust also helped by arranging some loan deferment and interest-only payments.   

In the beginning, Paragon Precision Metals fabricated components and custom metal pieces for their customers. Gradually, Paragon’s customers gave the company more work orders which doubled their year-over-year revenues. The company now fabricates larger parts with a staff of 12 employees.

Williford said that he could not overstate the importance of the small-town environment in McPherson and the many times he benefitted from the trust and communications with his network of local relationships there. He doubts he could have started the company in a more anonymous big city.

When asked what advice he would give to someone looking to start a small business, Williford said “Do not underestimate the importance of cash flow, do not overcommit your capacity, and always include timing for the unknown issues. In a startup business, slow and steady is a great foundation for sustained growth. If I had to do it over again, I would have planned to have triple the amount of raw material inventory and working capital. Starting a business is more than just making money. You invest your time and effort into your employees, families, and the community,” Williford concluded.  

This article does not constitute or imply an endorsement by the SBA of any opinions, products, or services of any private individual or entity.