By Eric Peterson | Jul 25, 2022
Stansbury Park, Utah
Custom cable harnesses
Ewell grew up around electronics. His father, Kirk, owned Trident Manufacturing, a printed circuit board and cable manufacturer. "I worked there all through middle school and high school and college," says Ewell.
It follows that he started KCM Cable and Manufacturing as a side hustle in 2020 while working for Varex Imaging by day, then went full-time with the growing business in 2022.
"We build custom cable assemblies," says Ewell. "That can be any electronics company that has a design for a cable that goes into their product that you can't buy off the shelf. Bring it to us and we'll quote it, buy the materials, and manufacture it to your specifications."
The focus is squarely on prototyping and low-volume manufacturing up to about 500 units for a diverse customer base. "I've done work for robotics companies, aftermarket automotive companies, and I have a couple of customers who need cables for their medical devices," says Ewell. "There's no way we can compete with the bigger, multimillion-dollar cable manufacturers, but a lot of companies need the bandwidth to do lower volumes, so that's where we come in."
While planning for ISO 9001 certification, KCM works out of a roughly 500-square-foot shop. "Right now, we have the processes in place to follow it [ISO] and we follow WHMA standards," says Ewell.
Investment guru Dave Ramsey's advice has helped guide KCM as the company has grown. "They talk a lot about side hustles," says Ewell. "To get it full-time, just have things grow organically and when your sales hit what you make at your full-time job, then you push it over."
For KCM, that meant finding a solid first customer, then building on that foundation. "It's about 50 percent me knocking on doors and 50 percent referrals," says Ewell.
That human touch underpins the company. "I want to be there for the customer, and build good products, and enjoy my time while I'm doing it," he says. "I'm happy being a craftsman. I like being able to talk to the customer, working with their engineering group, and having a one-on-one conversation with their R&D team about their prototype cables. That's one thing I have found our customers have really enjoyed: just having somebody they can just call up and get answers from right away."
Challenges: "Building awareness for what we do," says Ewell. "Utah's getting bigger, but it's still a smaller market. . . . Getting our foot in the door and convincing people to give us a chance seems to be a bit challenging."
He highlights another hurdle: "As growth happens, managing growth and still maintaining a small-business culture, small-business atmosphere."
Ewell says that means "responsible" and "sustainable" growth without bringing in outside investment. "We're debt-free," he notes. "We do everything in cash. We don't have credit on anything."
Opportunities: About 75 percent of KCM's sales currently go to Utah-based customers, and Ewell sees room to grow both in and out of state. "I see opportunity to grow in Utah with new startups," he says. "Then I see opportunity to grow with customers out of state. I look for companies that don't have a cable manufacturer close to them."
He adds, "Going forward, our motto is 'Custom cabling is our craft.' I don't know if I want to get too big, because as you get bigger, the cost of machinery is higher and labor is really hard to find."
Needs: "Investing in machinery that has automation," says Ewell, and "more tooling." But he says KCM's space is also limited, so the acquisition of additional equipment and tooling would soon require a bigger facility. "We're creatively using the space we have now, but as we stock more parts and wire for new customers, that takes up a great amount of space."