By Eric Peterson | Sep 05, 2017
Looms, spinning wheels, and weaving accessories
Industry: Industrial & Equipment; Consumer & Lifestyle
Products: Looms, spinning wheels, and weaving accessories
After an auspicious start in Colorado -- he lost his job on the CU grounds crew for mowing a peace sign in front of the student union -- Schacht set his sights on the burgeoning weaving market.
He made his first spindles with his brother, Daniel, in the late 1960s and marketed them to weaving teachers, then moved into looms and spinning wheels. The fledgling business took off when the brothers started a weaving school. Every student had to buy a Schacht loom.
Married since 1981, Schacht and Patrick both have deep roots in the weaving world. Patrick edited a weaving magazine before joining the company, but she started weaving herself as an exchange student in Iceland in the early 1970s. "Barry walked into a ready-made market," she says. "People wanted to make stuff. Everything they made, they could sell. There's a parallel to today."
As the market is more than 90 percent women, handweaving waned in the 1980s. "In the late '70s and '80s, women went back to work and that totally changed the market," says Patrick, calling the recent comeback "a reaction to the digital age."
"People wanted to make something real with their hands," she explains, "and they wanted community -- this gives them community."
Schacht says that the market peaked circa 1979, and the ensuing decline led to the closure of numerous competitors.
Smaller companies all over the world have gained traction in the market. "Very few companies have more than 10 employees,” says Schacht. "The whole market has changed." The biggest catalyst? The Internet. "In such a tiny industry, every player is a competitor," he adds.
But Schacht Spindle's long history of working with retailers and educators across the U.S. and beyond gives the company an edge.
"You need to teach and support your customers," says Schacht. "The retail shop is a place to foster community, real community. The weaving business has a great advantage: teaching. We've been promoting that forever." For this reason, the company requires dealers to have a teaching venue of some kind.
The strategy has paid off for nearly 50 years. "We continue to grow," says Schacht, citing annual growth in the 2 to 5 percent range.
The company takes domestic sourcing very seriously. "The supply chain is vital," says Schacht. "In the last couple of years, we've been able to locate more domestic suppliers, of parts" -- everything from leather to screws. "We've had to go overseas for 2 to 3 percent of purchases."
That's especially impressive when you consider that the company sources about 1,000 different parts, and makes another 1,200 largely wooden parts in-house at its 35,000-square-foot facility in northeast Boulder.
Schacht Spindle's manufacturing operation has grown increasingly efficient. "We've added CNC machines," says Schacht. "We now have four and we're exploring more of those to utilize 5-Axis CNC." Such an investment would cut the time needed to make certain parts from 30 minutes to about three.
CNC "has really influenced our product design," says Patrick. "That capability has made us a stronger company."
As an example, Schacht highlights the "novel design" of the new-in-2016 Flatiron Spinning Wheel. "Even our competitors are impressed with it," he says. "Two pieces of plywood replaced 10 components."
Debuting in summer 2017, Schacht's Lilli Loom is one of the user-friendliest looms on the market, and designed for weaving on the go.
"I'm really excited about that product," says Patrick. "I think it's going to do well."
Patrick highlights another innovative Schacht Spindle product: a better fringe twister. Standard fringe twisters "jam and you can't replace the hooks," she says, and Schacht's improves on both. "When we bring out a new product, we make it more sophisticated."
The company has a second business under its umbrella in Mirrycle. Schacht Spindle's bicycle accessories manufacturing arm "all started because I needed a mirror," says Schacht, an avid bicyclist. "So I made one. Millions of mirrors later, we're still making them."
Once again, there's a big commitment to local manufacturing. "We manufacture all of the bicycle mirrors ourselves in Colorado," says Schacht, citing a network of partners in injection molding, custom screw manufacturing, and other specialties.
Mirrycle, which also imports a wide range of bicyle bells and other accessories for wholesale distribution, represents about a third of Schacht Spindle's total sales.
As the company has weathered a changing market for nearly half a century, Schacht sees a bright future. "We spent the last five years developing a pretty good team," he says, crediting his son-in-law and the company's COO, Michael Yaeger. "The business in the next five years will be transitioning within the family."
Challenges: "The fracturing of the market," says Patrick. "How do you reach people? You're not necessarily reaching them through traditional advertising?" She says social media is an increasingly important marketing engine, as the traditional catalog model continues to decline.
Opportunities: Export growth. Schacht hopes to increase exports from 9 percent in 2016 to 15 percent. "Six months ago, we made an arrangement with the Export-Import Bank," says Schacht. The program insures Schacht Spindle's export sales. "You can give those customers overseas longer payment terms," he says. "That's just beginning to take hold."
"It's a great program," he says. "Unfortunately, the Export-Import Bank is being threatened by the current administration. I think they may want to put the money into giant businesses."
An onsite teaching venue is another opportunity, says Patrick. "It would be an opportunity to be a little more vertical of a company," she notes.
Schacht envisions a school in a silo or Quonset hut, and says, "It would provide a unique atmosphere.
Needs: Maintaining a workforce can be difficult in Colorado's hot economy. Many of the company's employees are long-timers, but Schacht also says he's had great luck with new hires in recent years. "Young people want to make stuff," he says. "They want to be woodworkers."
After installing a state-of-the art dust collection system, Schacht Spindle has a few other needs for capital investment. "Our machinery, we're pretty comfortable with it, but some of it is getting a little older," he adds.
But most everything else is going according to plan. "Right now, our employee garden is in full bloom," says Schacht. "Our corn is taller than the tallest corn in Nebraska. Our chickens are happy."