By Eric Peterson / CompanyWeek | Oct 10, 2016
Painting and coating
Employees: about 180
Industry: Industrial & Contract
Products: Painting and coating
After painting his first car at the age of 14, Theisen founded Pearl Auto Body in 2000 and subsequently opened five Front Range locations with his business partner, Call.
Pearl started taking on custom motorcycle paint jobs for Thunder Mountain Harley-Davidson in Loveland in 2003, and some of the company's handiwork ended up at the annual Harley extravaganza in Sturgis, South Dakota, in 2004.
"Thunder Mountain had a display of about 100 bikes at Sturgis," remembers Theisen. "A Harley rep came through and said, 'Who's painting these for you?' We had a conference call the next week.'"
A contract was quickly finalized and the business, then a division of Pearl, quickly took off. Gunslinger emerged as the company's big growth driver, and Call and Theisen ultimately sold Pearl off in 2012 in order to focus on their business with Harley.
"It seemed like a good option for us, because Gunslinger was growing aggressively," says Call. "Manufacturing's a pretty good business. We're a custom paint business, but we're also a manufacturer."
Now located in 70,000 square feet spread across three facilities, Gunslinger runs 12 paint booths for three shifts a day, five days a week, and applies urethane paint to hundreds of parts every day on an exclusive contract as "one of a few suppliers to Harley," says Call.
Gunslinger paints parts for stock and custom catalog models. In 2017, the company is painting parts for two yet-to-be-disclosed Harleys. "We run 18 to 20 months ahead," says Call. "We're probably six months into development of next year's products."
Finished parts are shipped to Harley factories in York, Pennsylvania, and elsewhere, and custom catalog orders are shipped to dealerships worldwide.
Painting pinstripes and flames by hand is a big differentiator. "Our competitors have become highly automated," says Call. "Because we're hand-applied, we can put a lot more content into a paint job." Mixed-media jobs incorporate a wide range of materials to create ever more detailed designs. Call says some sanding and other process can be automated, but not every process is suitable.
Gunslinger has seen a steady growth curve since its first work with Harley, and the founders see room for more. "We've essentially grown every year," says Call. "We might be down a tick this year, but it will be pretty comparable to 2015."
Challenges: "The same challenge the nation's facing," says Call. "There's a lot of uncertainty about the election, so that typically affects sales."
There are also workforce challenges, but Gunslinger has "found ways to combat labor issues," says Call. He highlights an in-house training program and a reward-based incentive system the company launched in 2015. "The biggest thing we do about retention is rewarding the positives," explains Call. "We're rewarding half of our company's staff now."
Opportunities: "The opportunity is to grow with Harley," says Call. "We're exclusive to them. . . . Our big opportunity is to create the wow factor with high-content graphics they can't apply themselves."
Needs: While the company opened a 24,000-square foot expansion in June 2016, floor space remains tight. Says Call: "To be honest, we're still about 20,000 square feet short of what we need."