Salt Lake City
Industry: Contract Manufacturing
Products: Composites design, development, and production services; outdoor products
Co-founders Dave and Brooke Rupp's contract composites shop has launched a compelling outdoor brand in Drift Products.
Dave's background in composites engineering and Brooke's background in finance led the couple to go their own way and start Coaxed.
"Our first big consulting job was making a carbon fiber bow," says Brooke. "After that, we really started working on Drift. We've done a number of other contracting jobs for other people."
Launched via Kickstarter, the first Drift Boards shipped in 2018. Permanent climbing skins allow anyone to break trail through powder in the backcountry, but are specifically well-suited to the backcountry snowboarder.
"It has the slope of a snowshoe, but it grips like a touring ski," says Dave. "It's more efficient. It's super lightweight. For snowboarders, the alternative is a splitboard . . . but then you have a lack of performance going downhill when you assemble it back into snowboard mode. There's a real draw to be able to ride a solid board."
Dave came up with the idea for the carbon fiber backcountry boards with co-inventor Nick Hansen. "They've been playing in the snow since they were small fries," says Brooke. "They'd been looking for a solution for a long time."
"We initially looked to manufacture [Drift Boards] in Asia," says Brooke," but it just wasn't quite the quality we were looking for. That made us shy ways from just making everything overseas. We're not closed off to it at all, but we have a really high standard."
Manufacturing in-house in Salt Lake helps smooth out both quality issues as well as cash flow. The company sometimes turns out more than 30 decks a day as sales doubled from year one to year two. Drift is launching carbon fiber pedals for mountain bikes in 2020. "We actually have a new technology to do injection-molded carbon fiber for pedals," says Brooke. "We are always innovating how we are manufacturing."
Coaxed continues to work in not just the outdoor space, but in medical manufacturing and prototyping for electronic devices. One job involved developing injection molds for Snowie shaved ice machines when they moved away from thermoforming.
"We made the machine that shaves the ice," says Dave. "It's not that we're plastic injection molders, it's that we understand the design of plastic injection molding."
He adds, "The jobs we take are more on the design side. We're starting to get to the point where we can help people take products from start to finish into the market."
"Most of what comes to us are people who are local in Utah," says Brooke. "We're really well set up to be an R&D lab and rapid prototyping facility."
That includes a CNC mill and cutting table alongs with carbon fiber presses in its space at Rex Industries' facility in northwest Salt Lake City. "They have a lot of bending capabilities, plasma tables, other heavy equipment that allows us to prototype quite well," says Dave.
Challenges: "We need to be able to keep up with our growth," says Brooke. "That will take volume and scale."
Seasonal demand spikes complicate things. "Drift was a side project that continues to grow," says Dave. "In the winter, it consumes us."
Opportunities: Brooke highlights a "synergistic" strategy. "Coaxed and Drift really feed off each other," she explains. "We learn a lot about where to get good materials and where to work with people through developing our own products, so when someone comes in and says, 'Hey, I want to make this,' we know a lot of the places to go to get materials for good prices and the people to work with."
Dave says he sees future catalysts in automotive and other industries as composites prices come down. "The car industry is on the cusp of making [composite parts] manufacturable enough to leverage it a bit," says Dave. "As a carbon fiber specialist, we get a lot of people who are ready to jump in with both feet, and then they see the price tag and it scares them like crazy, and they just run."
Brooke sees carbon fiber as a great material for wheelchairs. "A lot of medical devices would make a lot of sense," she adds. "The sky's the limit."
Needs: Capital. "We're getting to the point where we need to find an investor and grow," says Dave, looking towards the 2020-21 season.
Brooke says the company needs "a great partner" with the right passion and experience, and the investment would go to talent and building inventory for Drift. "We intentionally have been careful with our cash flow, running as low an inventory as possible."