By Eric Peterson | Jan 17, 2022
The Quik-Latch originated at Camp's hot-rod restoration shop in Dallas. A customer wanted a better way to open his hood without the threat of scratching it with the latch's cable.
"I was driving home that night, and the idea came to mind, and I turned around and went back to the shop," says Camp. "I started running aluminum and stainless on my manual lathe, and just figured it out."
A month later, Camp applied for a patent on his push-button alternative (it was ultimately awarded in 2015) and started Quik-Latch Products.
It's a better latch, touts Camp. "No tool is required to operate it," he says. "You just basically push the button. You push the panel on it and it just automatically latches, and then to unlock it, all you do is push a button."
He adds, "They're super-strong, too. My little ones hold 250 pounds."
The first production run quickly sold out, leading to a smaller version in 2010. Automotive distributors began selling Quik-Latches and the product gained traction for applications on not only hoods, but things like glove boxes, access panels, and carburetor housing.
Manufacturing was handled by job shops until 2014, when Camp acquired the company's first CNC machine. "We just got our first big order -- from Google, 1,000 pieces," says Camp. "The shop said it'd be 12 weeks and it ended up being 24 weeks. It got ugly."
Quik-Latch now embraces in-house manufacturing on a half-dozen CNC machines. Camp, who went full-time with the business in 2014, says annual sales have grown from $5,000 in 2010 to about $1.5 million in 2021."My costs went dramatically down, too," says Camp. "When I first first started making my own thing, I went from over $9 in costs down to a little over $3 in costs."
Production now leverages automation in the form of a robotic arm from Universal Robots to feed parts and material to the CNC operators. "It paid for itself in the first six months," says Camp.
The operation machines, assembles, and coats the latches in-house, outsources only a bit of anodizing. "I buy ball bearings, I buy springs, I buy regular nuts and washers, and then after that, I buy regular raw material and we build it ourselves," says Camp. "We even build our own pins. It's always easier if we have it all right here."
Quik-Latches retail for about $25 to $400 per unit, depending on size and features. "We're shipping about 5,000 latches a month out," he says.
The company's growth is largely attributable to the adoption of Quik-Latch by a wide range of industries beyond the automotive aftermarket. The company also sells to manufacturers like Ford and Lamborghini. Aerospace and defense users include Cirrus Aircraft, RECARO Aircraft Seating, and Airdyne.
"My commercial business is about 40 percent of my annual revenue now," says Camp. "That was always my dream. I want some cookie-cutter, blanket purchase orders every month. For Ford and Lamborghini and some of these other companies, we know exactly what we need to build every month. It's actually pretty nice -- it's easy to production-plan and business-plan."
Applications are all over the map, figuratively and literally. "We actually just made one for a company out of Canada called TiltGrind -- it's a bone-grinding machine for after cremation," says Camp. "There's a company over in Denmark that Does commercial trash cans that buys from us. We've got a company in England that builds gas-powered surfboards. Now, this year, we've started getting inquiries from aviation and military."
Quik-Latch's sales jumped by 37 percent in 2020. "It just went crazy," says Camp, forecasting 20 percent growth in 2021.
Challenges: "Finding employees is tough," says Camp. For this reason, Quik-Latch has moved to "cross-training" workers to handle different processes and equipment. "We've got four guys running six machines," says Camp.
And Quik-Latch is by no means immune to a snarled supply chain: "I used to keep a month, a month and a half of material on the shelf. Now I'm having to go out and get four to five months of material. So you've got to forecast a lot further out. I've got material I just ordered I won't get until May of next year."
Opportunities: More commercial work. Camp points to aerospace as one driver, noting that SpaceX approved the Quik-Latch for internal use in its spacecraft. That means the company needs to complete an AS9100 certification on top of its existing ISO 9001. He also sees a promising market in trailer and RV manufacturers.
"One thing I've learned is it takes one company to start using it, but once that company starts using it, then everybody else wants one," says Camp.
Needs: Quik-Latch is expanding its 2,100-square-foot shop in Greenville by about 1,000 square feet. Camp says the company has plenty of room for further expansions on its five-acre property.
With the expansion, Quik-Latch needs more CNC machines and more experienced machinists. "Our next machine is probably going to be a higher-efficiency Swiss machine," says Camp. "I would like to get at least two more people."
Another need: "A typical week for me is about 100 hours, and I'm almost 60 years old," says Camp. "I need to slow down in the next couple years."