Carbon capture: Sarah Lehman and ENVE tilt the cycling component manufacturing epicenter east, from Asia to Ogden’s growing industry hub.
Seven years after its launch, ENVE has emerged as an international leader in carbon-fiber bike wheels and parts.
Cousins Brett and Taylor Satterthwaite started the company with Jason Schiers after selling their previous entrepreneurial endeavor, Edge Products, a manufacturer of high-performance aftermarket automobile electronics.
They melded their bicycling passion with technical know-how, with dynamic results: The company has essentially doubled in size every year of its existence. Starting with lightweight and durable carbon-fiber tubes for custom bike frames, ENVE quickly expanded into other composite parts, including forks, wheels, and handlebars.
Paul and Sarah Lehman invested in the company in 2009 and Sarah subsequently came aboard as CEO a year later, with a background that ran the gamut of business sizes. "I've had a chance to work at small startup companies all the way up to a Fortune 500 company in Pfizer," she says, noting that the experience has given her a great perspective to helm a rocket-ship company like ENVE.
But it all comes down to the products, and carbon fiber. "Carbon fiber is a fantastic material in terms of strength and durability," Sarah says. "It allows you to innovate where other materials might hold you back."
ENVE's secret sauce is integrated engineering and production, she adds, noting, "They're completely linked." The nature of carbon fiber allows ENVE "to eliminate a lot of finishing, but it requires the design and manufacturing to be tightly connected."
This gave the company's management pause in 2010 when offshoring was under consideration. "We thought we needed to move to Asia," Sarah remembers. "Scalability looked bleak."
The move was ultimately quashed. "We couldn't get comfortable in that choice," she says. "The second you outsource to another factory, you give up your trade secrets. We decided we were going to double down on ourselves."
That meant bringing in seasoned managers like VP of Manufacturing and Operations Joe Stanish, who spearheaded a push to lower scrap from about 50 percent to "single digits," notes Sarah."ENVE's biggest strength is the people working here."
ENVE is based in Ogden because the founders are "Ogden boys," says Sarah, but stayed in part due to an economic development strategy centered on outdoor recreation.
"It's a great city to do business in, and Utah's a great state to do business in," she says. "Ogden City is totally aligned with what we're trying to accomplish. The mayor [Mike Caldwell], for example, rides our product, and advocates for ENVE."
Challenges: "To manage our growth” tops the list, says Sarah. "Demand outstrips supply. We've pretty much doubled in size every year." To wit, the staff was about 75 employees strong in early 2013, half of the current number.
"We want to grow in a thoughtful way and maintain our brand identity," she adds. "We stay true to the product we want to develop -- we call it ENVE-worthy. That's been our guiding barometer."
Opportunities: Increasing exports. Currently the company's sales are about 70 percent domestic, Sarah says, but there are plenty of international opportunities. "We haven't even talked about South America," she offers. "Asia has a lot of opportunities. We're going to spread the awareness and grow."
New products and next-generation iterations of existing products are other potential areas of growth, but only when the catalog expansion fits the aforementioned description of "ENVE-worthy." Adds Sarah: "Our goal is to always use carbon in a functional sense, and not to make something from carbon just for the sake of it."
Needs: "Always good people," says Sarah. "We're not shy to relocate -- we've relocated people to Ogden to fill hourly positions."
She says ENVE has a full-time recruiter on the payroll and follows the Zappos model with "extensive interviews." There's a reason for that. "We're still a relatively small company, so each person plays a very critical role."