One West Michigan engineering and design firm has decided to step out of its comfort zone to market its own line of products.
While Coopersville-based DeWys Engineering LLC primarily focuses on designing components for heavy industrial applications such as robotic tooling and automation equipment, the company has decided to use its engineering prowess to hedge against the cyclical nature of its business, said founder and CEO Paul DeWys.
“It’s a way to take these ideas that we all have floating around in our heads and actually do something with them,” DeWys said. “We always have some downtime throughout the year, so let’s actually put it to good use.”
The company recently completed the design of its first product, StaBowMount, a mounting system that attaches a GoPro camera to the frame of a compound bow.
While the product development process for the StaBowMount was relatively easy given DeWys Engineering’s industry experience, the company faced new challenges in the unfamiliar territory of marketing its own product, DeWys said.
To sell the product, the team of four employees took a self-guided crash course in marketing, DeWys said. The company recently launched a Kickstarter campaign for the StaBowMount as part of its overall marketing strategy. DeWys raised just over $2,200 toward its $23,000 goal at the time this report went to press.
“Regardless of if this first Kickstarter is successful or not, we’ve learned a lot about marketing and everything that goes into product development,” DeWys said. “We’ve already got a bunch of ideas of how we are going to do the next one.”
Because of its relationships with other manufacturers in the area, the company is confident that it can produce and launch two new product designs per year. For the StaBowMount, DeWys Engineering worked with Coopersville-based Reeves Plastics LLC to develop its tooling and manufacturing process.
“We’ve got enough suppliers around here where we can really negotiate screaming production deals so we don’t have to go overseas,” DeWys said. “I want to try to keep our supply chain as Michigan-based as we can.”
FINDING ITS NICHE
DeWys Engineering has established itself as a nimble engineering firm among small-scale manufacturers. A combination of technology, quick turnarounds and youthful persistence has largely driven the company’s success to this point, DeWys said.
While the company works on a number of overflow projects that its larger clients’ design teams cannot handle, one of its greatest opportunities for growth is in contract design work for smaller organizations that cannot afford an on-staff design team, DeWys said.
Those factors led Conklin-based Van Hydraulics Inc. to become one of DeWys Engineering’s first customers, said Jim Wilde, manager at the company. As a small fabrication and repair shop for hydraulic components, Van Hydraulics couldn’t afford to maintain even a part-time design staff. As a result, it’s more cost effective to contract DeWys Engineering on a limited basis when it needs engineering work, he said.
“What he draws up makes us look like a big company that has design in-house, but without the cost,” Wilde said. “He’ll take ideas, implement them and go further.”
While the company operates with a lean budget familiar to startups, it doesn’t skimp on technology. It recently invested approximately $50,000 in three-dimensional laser scanning technology to digitize models of parts that may have previously been designed on prints. The company also invests in 3-D printing technology, its website and computers for its employees.
“I want to take the money that we’re making now and reinvest it so that we can do an even better job for our customers,” DeWys said.
The manufacturing industry is something that runs in the family, DeWys said. In 1977, his father, Mark DeWys, founded the Marne-based metal fabricator DeWys Manufacturing Inc., which was later sold after his death to other family members. While the two companies are not affiliated, Paul DeWys spent a significant amount of time learning the trade at his father’s shop, beginning his career by pushing a broom while still in high school.
That early experience in manufacturing has carried over into the engineering company’s design philosophy, DeWys said.
“We understand the shop floor and understand you can’t just draw a part and say, ‘Here you go.’ Someone actually has to make it,” DeWys said. “If you can make their lives easier, customers come back to you with more work.”
The first iteration of the company began in 2010 when DeWys began contracting out of his dorm room while studying manufacturing engineering at Ferris State University. At that time, DeWys worked with a single client, AutoDie LLC in Grand Rapids.
“I always wanted to do something entrepreneurial, so I moved back into my parent’s basement and set up shop on a card table (after graduation),” he said. “I figured I’d take the summer and see what happens.”
After a few years of persistent sales visits and calls, he has grown the company to four employees, whose average age is 24 years old. Although the company’s youthfulness — both in terms of the organization itself and its employees — has caused some clients to take pause, DeWys hasn’t seen his company’s youth holding it back.
“I’m proud of the fact that I can hire people from our generation and we can go out and compete with all of the other engineering firms out there,” DeWys said.
While the company’s growth has led to new challenges with managing staff and a payroll, DeWys sees those headwinds ebbing as the company matures.
“I see this like in the early days where it was a grind to make things work money-wise,” he said. “But over time, it got to be self-sustaining, and I can already see that the curve is headed in the right direction.”