Grand Junction, Colorado
Industry: Contract Manufacturing
Products: Metal fabrication and welding
Owner Chris Muhr manufactures for outdoor brands, oil and gas companies, and just about everyone else on the Western Slope.
Muhr's father and uncle started the company as Aluminum Specialties and grew it with the oil and gas industry on the Western Slope. "We were doing well through the oil shale boom, which crashed in 1982," says Muhr.
Afterwards, the company split in two: One business focused on government contracting, and the other was All Metals Welding & Fabrication.
With the spinoff, All Metals' new strategy was to not focus on any one industry in case of another bust. "We remain really diversified," says Muhr, an avid mountain biker. He let his passion for the outdoors guide the business into new markets -- namely the local outdoor industry: All Metals makes parts for Leitner-Poma's ski lifts, Bonsai Design's ziplines, Seek Outside's backpacks, and Vintage Overland's teardrop trailers.
"I'm a geologist and I graduated a year after the oil shale crash," says Muhr, who bought the company from his father in 1996. "I never throw all in with the energy companies. I treat it as icing on the cake."
He adds, "Oil and gas in a really good year is probably 30 percent of our business. In a bad year, it can be as low as 5 percent."
Muhr says the business had an opportunity to focus solely on natural gas when fracking hit the Western Slope in the 2000s. "I didn't, even though other companies were making an obscene amount of money," he remembers. "They went out of business and we're still cruising ahead."
Work for outdoor brands now exceeds All Metals' projects for energy companies: It's about 40 percent and "way more consistent" than energy projects, says Muhr. "In a bad economy, people still take their toys out."
That mirrors the local economic development strategy. "We're really pushing outdoor recreation," says Muhr, who is vice president of the Colorado Plateau Mountain Biking Association and a member of the Outdoor Recreation Coalition in Mesa County.
Founded in 2015, the latter organization "really put the focus on the Grand Valley as an outdoor recreation place, not an oil and gas place," he says. "We're now bringing in more and more companies like Timberleaf Trailers."
While it is largely material-agnostic, the company works primarily with aluminum and stainless steel in its two company-owned building that total 6,000 square feet. "We just have a reputation where we can do one-off projects and repairs nobody else can do," says Muhr. Custom projects have ranged from countertops and railings to enclosures for generators and fuel tanks.
All Metals' inventory of equipment includes brakes, shears, and a waterjet; the company continues to invest. "We bought a big, 12-foot CNC press brake a couple years ago," says Muhr. "That's helped with our productivity."
The company also offers contract waterjet services to a variety of local customers, cutting everything from foam components for Jabil Lewis Engineering's 3D printers to metal signage for the Town of Telluride.
"We touch a lot of different industries," says Muhr. "It's kind of fun."
He strives for sustainability over growth. "Our bottom line doesn't change much from year to year," he notes.
That's by design. In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, All Metals didn't have lay off any employees or cut hours or wages, in spite of "red ink running out underneath our door," says Muhr. "It's been a nice steady incline since then until now."
He credits his employees. "I have a great crew," says Muhr. "I have a lot of smart guys, smarter than the 2,000 Ph.Ds I worked with at Oak Ridge National Laboratory."
Challenges: "Our pricing is changing because of the tariffs," says Muhr, noting that domestic suppliers hiked prices by 25 to 40 percent to match imports. "The quotes are going up every 24 hours," he adds. "When they slap tariffs on imports, everybody raised prices. Nobody wins in a tariff war."
Opportunities: More business in outdoor recreation. "It's going to be a much bigger piece of the pie," says Muhr.
Adventure tourism is on the rise in the Grand Valley, and the area's higher profile is lifting the broader economy. "It's a real recruiting tool," says Muhr. "They decide to play here then they decide to move here."
All Metals has also seen an uptick in orders for enclosures for instrument panels used in the oil and gas industry. "We're busy," says Muhr. "We're a little behind. It's a good problem to have."
Needs: "I could use maybe two more people right now, but they would have to be highly trained welders," says Muhr. "We've got a slug of work."
He's also intrigued by 3D metal printing. "I would love to see what that would do for us."
Muhr, 60, is looking for an exit in about three years. He says he wants "to ensure this company continues to be a community asset," citing support for local nonprofits. "I want to see that continue."
Otherwise, life is pretty good at All Metals. "We're pretty comfortable right where we're at," says Muhr. "We're not growing rapidly and we're not shrinking. We've got a really good niche."