By Eric Peterson | Dec 07, 2014
Operations Manager Kyle Bennett and Sales Manager Mike Snyder are driving growth in diverse markets at the sheet-metal fabricator.
Bruce Miller started Scope Manufacturing in Boulder in the late 1970s and sold the company in 1988. After Scope shut down a few years later, Miller got back into the fabrication of sheet metal with Epocs -- Scope spelled backwards.
Now retired to Panama, Miller has entrusted Epocs to Bennett and Snyder who have kept the company on a steady growth curve for the last decade. The company hasn't changed much over the years, but the industry has."It's always been a precision sheet-metal manufacturing company," says Bennett. "We serve a variety of industries."
Epocs started with a focus on aerospace, and has since moved into kiosks, aftermarket automotive, military/government, and high-tech/telecom. "We have a very nice split across five industries," says Bennett.
"That was intentionally done," interjects Snyder. "When the high-tech industry hit the roller coaster, diversity was necessary to survive."
As the tech boom hit a frenzy on the Front Range in the late 1990s, Bennett adds, "It was hard not to become piggish on that."
But restraint proved the better part of valor. Epocs kept casting a wider net than most of the competition and survived the dot-bomb of the early 2000s. Rather than gorging on tech, Bennett says the strategy was to keep the business "small and responsive." It follows that Epocs' two-week lead time beats the industry norm by two to four weeks, and imports by six weeks or more.
Not to say that Epocs has turned its back on cutting-edge tech entirely. The company provides parts for the 3D printers from Aleph Objects in Loveland. "There's a little bit of irony in that they could replace us," Bennett laughs.
Epocs' quick turn on prototypes gets "our foot in the door” with clients, adds Bennett. "We in turn hope that turns into production," he says.
The strategy has paid off in the form of steady 5 percent annual growth as many competitors have gone bust. Epocs subsequently re-invests in capital equipment every six months, says Snyder, noting that the company acquired its fifth CNC milling center and first CNc lathe since mid-2014. "It allows us to keep our workforce at the same size and increase productivity."
Bennett says increased automation is critical. "The labor workforce is limited to say the least right now," he notes. "We can buy machines -- it's difficult to find people to run them"
Echoes Snyder: "We've lost a lot of shops and we've lost a lot of talent."
And with the reshoring trend picking up steam, rebuilding the workforce is critical to sustained growth. It's especially important for Epocs, because quality is a prime differentiator for domestic sheet-metal fabricators. "You cannot beat an American manufacturer as far as as cosmetics concerned," touts Snyder.
Challenges: Talent pipeline. "We feel avenues to become tradespeople have become very limited and most people see four-year colleges as the way to move forward," laments Bennett, noting that only about 10 percent of applicants to Epocs are qualified. They focus on retention by "paying at the top of the scale for the region and the trade."
In Colorado, the community colleges have bolstered their sheet-metal programs, and that's a good start, he adds. "We need to encourage these programs and tell kids there are alternatives to a four-year school."
Opportunities: "We're always surprised where the next opportunity is," says Snyder, citing solar and electric cars as future paths to growth.
One of the latest to emerge is heating systems for compressed natural gas vehicles. "That's innovative, it's green, and it's something we have in abundance," says Bennett.
Needs: Domestic materials. "All of our material is coming from other countries," says Bennett. "The quality has suffered. If there were more domestic options, supply and demand would definitely align."