The Faces of Entrepreneurship: Frontier Tooling
Issue:Winter 2015 : Articles
Meeting challenges head on is the approach that owners Marty Rice, Dave Harshbarger and Charlie Brewer have taken — consistently and successfully — for the 19 years they’ve operated Frontier Tooling and Design Corporation of Huntington, W.Va.
The three colleagues formed their manufacturing company because of their experience and expertise as plastic extrusion tooling makers developed over 20 years working for a local plastics engineering firm. Their specialized tooling products, which areoften used to produce plastic parts that serve the residential-home use and automotive markets, are bought by a range of companies in the United States and abroad.
“At the start, Dave and Charlie and I encouraged each other,” Rice said. “We stood together, made the necessary commitment and necessary investments and took the risk that has paid off.”
Rice describes how they set up shop, which was essentially their computers, in their homes. From there they designed their products before bringing their design tooling files – saved on computer discs – to the Robert C. Byrd Institute along with the necessary stainless steel metal sheet-plates, and started leasing use of a wire EDM (electro-discharge machining) center to cut out the product. Along with the other high-tech milling machines and equipment at RCBI they put together their products and shipped them to an ever-growing base of satisfied customers.
“RCBI offered a platform for us to launch our business,” Rice said. “RCBI gave us the initial place/incubator to ply our trade before we made the huge investment in expensive machinery so we could, from right here in Huntington, W.Va., develop a national and international customer base that we were confident we could service and maintain.”
Rice and his business partners now own and operate a 10,000-square-foot facility equipped with precision machine tools including four CNC EDMs and four CNC Milling Centers plus ancillary machinery such as drill presses and band-saws. Rice is proud to point out that in addition to the company’s large facility equipped with computercontrolled production equipment, the operation has 12 full-time employees. He says it’s good to be able to create good jobs and support the local economy.
“With being able to add those jobs,” Rice says, “it challenges us as owners to maintain customer orders and keep the business coming in and going out – to keep our customers’ orders met. Because of the challenges through the normal ups and downs of the business climate you need to survive in the slower times and maintain the work load as well as the quality during the boom so your payroll is constant and manageable.”
Experience is essential, according to Rice. “I would encourage anyone who wants to be an entrepreneur and start a business, pursue something that you know well,” he said.
“You don’t simply start a restaurant because you like to cook. Have a solid, thorough background in the area.”
And, he cautions, it’s not the things that you think of that might cause problems. “There’s going to be a thousand things — nuances and nuisances — that come at you that you didn’t think of that create difficulties. It’s the ones that you didn’t know about or have on your radar that can cause the most problems.”
Rice said the three owners are happy they started their business. “There’s a certain amount of freedom as an entrepreneur who directs your own outcome and future - but it also presents challenges and opportunities,” Rice said. “It’s lucrative and rewarding.”