By Eric Peterson / CompanyWeek | Oct 27, 2016
Industry: Electronics & Aerospace
After launching in the 1960s as a Swiss electronics distributor named Primotec, P-tec traces its roots as a domestic manufacturer as a buying office for the company Santa Barbara, California, in the 1980s.
Schaer's parents, Roger and Barbara, immigrated to the U.S. to launch the business, and pivoted to manufacturing after light-emitting diode (LED) production moved largely to Asia circa 1990, with the notable exception of P-tec's focal points: circuit board indicators and panel mount indicators. "We found out early on it was economical to do assembly work over here and remain competitive with China," says Schaer.
P-tec now supplies a wide range of industries with its LEDs, including measurement, networking, and automotive manufacturers. Most customers are on the East and West coasts and the Midwest, plus "a small chunk in Europe," says Schaer.
"We moved in 1994 to Alamosa and built a new manufacturing facility," says Schaer. "My dad missed skiing. My parents grew up in Switzerland." P-tec's location between Wolf Creek Ski Area and Monarch Mountain proved an ideal spot for the company and the family.
Schaer says he takes "a high degree of pride that we are making these things in the States when there's a big push to move production to Mexico and China. We're proud to be in Colorado -- it's one of our selling points."
P-tec has also fostered some strategic partnerships to bolster its product mix. "We have partnered with factories in China, which help us to expand into commodity light-emitting diodes and display," says Schaer.
As a manufacturer, Schaer spotlights the company's "customer-driven innovation" as a differentiator. "One huge point of emphasis for us is our ability to fulfill any custom requests," says Schaer.
Another differentiator: the ability to leverage R&D with partner factories in China. "We rely on our partner factories to do R&D for us," says Schaer. "They use it as an entry point to get into a new market." He cites "innovation in driving the size down in diode components" as an example.
Schaer, who took over as CEO from his father in 2013, runs P-tec from a sales and administrative office in Denver. The company has always been a family affair. "I've been involved since I was a teen, when it was a summer job," he says. "My mother played a vital role as well."
It's all added up to a good foundation in a changing industry. "Our growth had been consistent," says Schaer. "We're optimistic 2017 will be our biggest year to date."
Challenges: "First and foremost, it would be competition," says Schaer. "There are some big players in this space. There's kind of a race-to-the-bottom mentality."
He points to "capital constraints" as another big challenge for P-tec. As a small business, the company has difficulties in compliance-heavy industries -- like defense -- that require lots of capital.
Opportunities: "We have two main opportunities moving forward," says Schaer. The first is the Internet of Things and the need for LEDs or displays on connected devices, and the second is LEDs in consumer products, such as tape lighting.
"The LED lighting market has matured dramatically in the last few years," says Schaer. "One of our biggest sellers is an ultra-thin recessed downlight." Sold direct from the P-tec website, the product has proven popular with contractors, architects, and other construction professionals as well as do-it-yourselfers.
Needs: Local customers and partners. "One of our needs is a larger footprint in the Rocky Mountain region," says Schaer. "We're open to anything."
Another: "Expanding our sales apparatus both in terms of technology and personnel," he adds.