Privately owned by Audax Group (Boston)
Andy Work and Denver-based comCables battle billion-dollar competitors for market share, an arms-race that may turn on sales, service and lead-time
Greg Greenwood founded comCables in 1999. After he sold the company in fall 2012, he's focused on travel and philanthropy, but the company has gone back to his guiding principles.
"When he sold the company, it really propelled us to tear the Band-Aid off and focus on manufacturing," says comCables VP and GM Andy Work. Distribution was folded into a sister company, Tri-Ed, with 60 locations nationwide, and comCable's staffers switched companies.
"That's the original vision: a brand that could stand toe-to-toe with the big four or five," says Work. He's referring to billion-dollar-plus companies like Tyco and CommScope that dominate the structured cabling market.
Work says comCables is able to compete with multinational firms by building cables and other networking equipment to the established standards. There's no smoke and mirrors and no overselling.
A former construction contractor, Work knows this from firsthand experience. "It's like the Hair Club for Men -- I used to be a customer," he jokes. Greenwood stubbornly pursued his business, but Work was dubious. "I didn't even want to meet Greg at first. He really sold me on it. It became my secret weapon. It worked great, but it cost half the price."
It comes back to building to the market's established -- and rigorously tested -- standards. "A jack from company A should work with a cable from company B and a patch from company C," says Work.
Many of comCable's massive competitors market cabling products as "above standard," but Work says that's a bit of a fallacy. "When you make a product to standard, it can't really be above standard," he explains. "They can't make a tester that measures above standard because above standard has not been defined. If you have a Ferrari going 60 miles per hour down the road and I have a Honda going 60 miles per hour down the road, which one is faster?"
Because of this push, the market has turned into a bit of an arms race among the big players, says Work. "They one-up each other with a ton of marketing." Some competitors bring NASCAR racecars to trade shows for potential customers to test-drive.
Not comCables. "We measure everything to the standard," says Work. "If there's a standard, we follow it. The only difference then is the brand and the price."
And Work says comCables typically wins that argument. "We typically find we're 20 to 25 percent less than our competitors. That's pretty substantial/"
Manufacturing is outsourced to a numerous contract facilities. "We have product made in 10 different states, as well as Taiwan and China," says Work, noting that a "small percentage" of product is manufactured in Colorado, primarily racks and shelving.
"I'm a red-blooded American patriot kind of guy," he adds. "I would love to have everything made in the states." The problem, says Work, is printed circuit boards (PCBs). "It's very hard to do that in the U.S. at any scale" -- which is why the company turns to partners primarily in Taiwan for products with PCBs. "Working with people in Taiwan is almost like working with people in the U.S.," he says.
Nonetheless, comCables has re-shored some of its manufacturing to the U.S. Explains Work:
"There's a resurgence in U.S. manufacturing because of some of the challenges, like lead times."
Category 6a cabling hit the market in 2008, and comCables bided its time to enter the market. Now that it has, "It's taking off like wildfire," says Work. "We've never been bleeding-edge -- we like to strike when the iron is hot. We might have even been a little late to it."
Revenue was about $12.5 million in 2012, and the company is "doing really well" in 2013.
Challenges: Counterfeit cabling products that are substandard. "There is a ton of counterfeit, substandard, and unsafe product coming in," says Work. "It goes from golf clubs to your wife's purse to communications cabling."
To stem the tide, comCables is active with the Communications Cable and Connectivity Association (www.cccassoc.org). "What we're trying to do is educate the marketplace on substandard and counterfeit brands," Work explains.
Opportunities: Growth. "Before 2012, we had zero distributors in the U.S.," says Work. "We were handling it ourselves." Now the company has 60 distributors, largely Tri-Ed locations, but there are many more. "We could be in as many as 200."
Needs: A skilled sales force. "We have the best team, but we will eventually need more employees and more manufacturer's reps to call on contractors and architects," says Work.