By Eric Peterson | Mar 21, 2022
Hunting blinds, hog traps, and hunting accessories
Originally branded Express Products Inc., Dillon Manufacturing got its name from its current leader when he was just a year old.
"It started out as a truck accessory business," says Vaughn. "The company we were buying fiberglass parts from for the trucks [Stan Co.] was going out of business, so we acquired that company in 1999."
Then rebranded as Dillon Manufacturing by his mother, the company was still focused on the aftermarket automotive market in the early 2000s.
"It morphed into things beyond that, such as trailer parts -- aerodynamic parts on enclosed trailers," says Vaughn. "We were doing a lot of cell phone tower antenna covers at the time as well, and that was a lot of production parts. We were constantly running production on that stuff . . . but just like everything else, it went to China and it went to Mexico."
In response, Dillon Manufacturing pivoted to manufacturing fiberglass deer blinds, and the rest is history. "It just exploded," says Vaughn, noting that blinds now account for about 80 percent of the company's revenue. Dillon Manufacturing has delivered nearly 20,000 blinds to date and typically ships more than 1,000 any given year.
"It's been a blessing for sure," says Vaughn. "I don't know where we'd be today if we hadn't gotten into that."
The operation also makes blind towers, deer feeders, and hog traps. "All of that is in-house as well," says Vaughn. "I've got a full metal fab shop and I'm doing everything in-house right now myself. I've looked at outsourcing it, but with the price point and insurance issues, it just worked better in my favor to keep that all under one roof. With supply chain issues, I can control it."
The operation uses an open-mold system to make its fiberglass products largely by hand, and that's a rarity when it comes to deer blinds. "The blinds are built in halves, and they're bonded together," says Vaughn. "That's a big thing that sets us apart: They're fully composite, there's no wood, and they're all one piece. There's no seam in it, so it's not bolted or riveted or glued together. It is 100 percent made in one piece. That is a huge selling point, because if there's a seam or something, it will eventually leak or come apart."
The most popular model, the Classic 4X6 Deer Blind, accounts for the majority of sales. "The big thing is doing gun-bow combos where you can shoot a rifle or a bow out of the blind. When you get to a little bit bigger size of a blind -- say a 6' by 6' -- it works a little bit better for that application."
Dillon Manufacturing was based in about 55,000 square feet in three separate buildings before a fire burned down the company's office and production facility in late 2019. "We're down to about 15,000 square feet right now, and somehow we had a record year last year as far as sales and production," says Vaughn. "I don't know how we're doing it, but we're doing it. We've really gotten efficient with what we have."
Moving away from big dealers and focusing on smaller stores also made a big difference. "We've done some large accounts, but we've found we're doing the same numbers now with our mom-and-pop stores because they're a lot easier to deal with," says Vaughn. "They've got skin in the game. When they order these things, they want to get rid of them. They want to get them sold and make their money. With the bigger stores, it was great because of the brand exposure -- and I think that's helped us get to where we are today -- but in the long run, their 60-day or 90-day terms always turned into 90- or 120-day terms. We're a decent-sized company, but we can't run on credit like that."
Dillon Manufacturing offers contract manufacturing of fiberglass components for clients in the medical and automotive industries. "We get calls to repair custom parts," says Vaughn. "We build a lot of race car bodies for a guy who does custom drag cars. We still do those trailer parts, we still do the running boards, fiberglass parts for the cars. We've worked into some medical parts, so it's a little bit of everything."
Contract jobs help smooth out the seasonality of hunting blinds. "From July through about December, we really just get slammed with that because everybody's got hinting on their brain," says Vaughn. "The other things carry us through the rest of the year. It really works out well, because those things pick up in the off-season of the hunting and vice versa."
Dillon Manufacturing's sales have increased since the onset of the pandemic. "Over the past couple of years, the hunting industry has really exploded," says Vaughn. "With COVID, we saw an uptick in sales because you couldn't go out to a restaurant -- you couldn't go do anything. I think it renewed an interest in the outdoor industry and people's passion for the outdoors."
He adds, "I don't see it slowing down. I see it being another record year this year."
Now 24, Vaughn is excited to grow the company he has led since he was in college. "When I graduated high school, I went to college at Texas Tech," he says "I spent my four years there and I was still running the day-to-day sales. I was on the phone all the time. I wasn't the average college student who went out and partied every day."
Challenges: "Materials, supply chain issues," says Vaughn. "That's been our biggest thing." He says extruded aluminum for window frames, once delivered in four to six weeks, have a 15- to 20-week lead time as of early 2022, and composite supplies have been stretched thin.
Opportunities: Vaughn sees an opportunity for more contract manufacturing with a pair of new CNC machines the company acquired in early 2022. "That will definitely add some precision into our manufacturing process and add some speed and efficiency as well," he says. "I think that is going to open some doors to allow for custom cutting of fiberglass products."
Needs: More manufacturing space. "After the fire, it was a big learning curve to go to a quarter of the space," says Vaughn. "We are trying to get some more space, so hopefully we can expand on what we've already got."
The idea is to build two separate 5,000-square-foot buildings for office and production space, then grow from there. "Once we get those taken care of, if necessary we will expand to at least one, maybe two more buildings of that size," says Vaughn.