By Eric Peterson | Feb 10, 2015
CEO and owner Ryan Lorenz is taking a high-tech approach to jewelry manufacturing. His company also works with a wide range of customers to bring contract projects to market.
A veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, Lorenz retired from the Army in 2004 and decompressed at his parents' peach farm in Palisade on the Western Slope. "To come out of two wars and be in a peach orchard was the best therapy," says Lorenz.
He started buying and selling on eBay and "got into a consistent market of body jewelry." Lorenz soon focused on plugs -- the round accessories worn in one's earlobes -- and started making them from wood in 2004. Sales doubled year after year, and Omerica moved to Denver's RiNo Arts District in 2007 -- "before the big RiNo buzz," he says. "We love that area. It's definitely a part of Omerica."
In 2007, the company moved from an exclusively direct model into wholesale channels and then expanded into more traditional jewelry -- think jeweled wooden pendants, bracelets, and rings -- as of 2012.
Omerica also opened a private label division, Union, at about the same time. The company has made everything from parts for knives to saxophones to wooden medallions for Colorado Ski Country USA in the time since. Lorenz says Omerica's private-label business grew by 156 percent in 2014 and its wholesale business saw a 50 percent spike.
Diversification was necessary, he adds, because the ear plug market has gotten increasingly crowded in the last decade and direct sales have been flat. "At one point in time, we were of three companies online," says Lorenz. "Now there's probably 300."
Omerica has stayed on the front of the curve by innovating. Early on, it moved from hand tools to CNC milling machines and a more automated system. In 2013, the company implemented technology that delivers CAD files from orders placed on the website directly to its production staff. "The orders are seamlessly integrated into our shop floor," says Lorenz. "Everyone has their iPad."
"It's been a huge asset for us," he adds, estimating a 40 percent productivity boost resulted from the system while decreasing errors and boosting customer service.
For a company focused on custom, it's been critical. "In terms of options and styles, we couldn't inventory all of that," says Lorenz. "Without the software, we wouldn't have a business." The previous Omerica methodology was paper-based. "The efficiency wasn't there."
Omerica also utilizes 3D printing for moldmaking and social media to crowdsource style ideas. "You can ride trends on social media instantly," says Lorenz, and get products out before memes like "Double Rainbow and Grumpy Cat are old news."
On a given Monday, the company will come up with ideas for new plugs, showcase preliminary designs to more than 50,000 Facebook followers on Tuesday, have a vote, hone the design, and take orders by the end of the week. Lorenz says the process was inspired by the Threadless model for T-shirts, adding, "Nobody knows our products better than our clients."
In 2014, Lorenz took a step back and delegated, and he's very happy with the results. "It's a lot less of me and a lot more of the team," he explains. "The less I do, the more we grow."
Lorenz says his military experience in logistics -- he was there for the first day of both Afghanistan and Iraq -- translates well to manufacturing. "Logistics is business," says Lorenz. "It's a bunch of moving parts to arrange and you're trying to arrange them in the best way possible."
Challenges: Liquidity, or lack thereof -- most of the revenue has flowed directly into capital equipment. But Omerica has no crippling debt, says Lorenz, and there's light at the end of the tunnel. "In 2016, we own all of that equipment. We'll be able to dip into cash for marketing and other things."
Opportunities: Higher-end plugs. "This year, we're launching a luxury line of plugs that integrate gold, metal, rubies, and other things," says Lorenz.
Another opportunity: a software-as-a-service (SaaS) platform to other small manufacturers. "I've been working on it for eight years," says Lorenz. "All of the makers are interested in it."
Needs: More contract customers. Lorenz says Omerica is looking to expand its capacity in 2015. "We think we'll have our first double shift this year."