By Brad Smith | Jun 03, 2019
Custom cables, wire harness assembly, bulk batteries, and battery packs
Industry: Contract Manufacturing
Products: Custom cables, wire harness assembly, bulk batteries, and battery packs
Rapport was founded by Lehman's mother, Sherry, on Mother's Day in 1979. Sherry's background as a manufacturer's representative led her to pick the Rapport name because it recognizes the importance of client relationships. Family relationships also became important for the new company.
Kent's father, Dale, was in the electronics distribution business at the time Rapport was founded. Dale let Sherry know Hewlett-Packard needed help in the Denver area with semiconductor programming, a subject that intrigued her. To get the work, she had to create a special electrostatic discharge (ESD) room because the job involved downloading information to a floppy disk and burning the data on a semiconductor. A gift from Sherry's grandmother helped her buy programming equipment.
Rapport's business grew and Sherry hired the first non-family employee in 1982, then sons Kent and Kevin started helping with odd jobs. Kevin currently is the business development account manager, while Kent became president and CEO.
"After a while, my dad saw the need for custom cables," Kent remembers. That coincided with changes in technology in the late 1980s and early 1990s to led to a decreased need for semiconductor programming. "In 1993, he sold out [of the distribution business] and got Rapport into cables."
Dale had worked in the electronics industry for decades and had developed a deep knowledge of cable and wiring harness assemblies. A wire harness usually includes multiple insulated single wires, some with connectors, in a complex configuration. A cable harness uses two or more wires bundled together in an external sheath, also in complex layout.
The Lehman family moved into a new home about that time and Rapport's operations moved with them. Besides the four Lehmans, the company offered jobs to extended family members, neighborhood kids and friends. Within a few years, Rapport had grown enough that it had 13 employees and the Lehmans decided to move the operation into commercial space.
Kent says Rapport's first warehouse in Lakewood was in a single-level, eight-unit strip mall and the operation quickly grew out of a single unit into 2.5 units, and then added an external storage unit. Finally, when that lease ended in 2003, Rapport moved into its current 15,500-square-foot two-story building in Golden.
To make the move into the new building as smooth as possible, Kent ran all the cables for the network and phones to the telecom box in the new building so it would be operational from day one. Dale set up the electric busbars for the equipment and work stations as well as the pipes and connections from the air compressor to all the equipment that needed air pressure.
"Our two-story building provides Rapport with a lot of flexibility," Kent says. "We can utilize space according to our needs." Right now the company uses 8,500 square feet for commercial manufacturing, another 3,500 square feet for office space and some of the remaining 3,500 square feet on the second level for manufacturing when customer demand requires.
"Our space is adequate now," he says. "We're still okay with one shift but sometimes the storage gets tight. Part of the plan is looking where we go with a bigger building or if we just need more storage around here we could rent."
Rapport is privately held so Kent won't divulge financial information or customers, but he did say the company saw record sales in 2018, up about 9 percent from the previous year. He expects the same kind of growth in 2019.
Kent also is considering acquisitions, something that has paid dividends in the past. The company bought AIM Technologies in 2005 and, in 2012, expanded into the bulk battery and battery pack business with the acquisition of Denver-based Car-Go Battery. Bulk battery sales and battery packs make up about 40 percent of the company's sales now, with wired harnesses the majority.
Car-Go had been a customer of Rapport, which supplied cable harnesses to them. "We had talked to them about the future and the conversation led to what they wanted to do," Kent says.
Kent declined to identify current customers, but did say a leading customer is in the medical field and another builds gate enclosures that need wiring. One former customer he identified is the United Launch Alliance, the Lockheed Martin-Boeing joint venture that needed new cabling when it moved into its new facility in the Denver suburb of Centennial.
Rapport has received ISO 9001:2015 quality management certification, and Kent says the company may also seek ISO certification for medical manufacturing. He also is proud of the company's automated tooling capabilities, which has seen a lot of investment over the years.
Challenges: "Probably one of the challenges is space," Kent says. "We're pretty full now. We have one shift now and could do two. Labor also is a challenge, finding the right skill set and not getting too many people in the normal peaks and valleys."
Opportunities: "Right now we're doing a lot expanding with our current customer base," says Kent. "Since we do battery packs and wire harnesses there is a crossover. We can expand with our current customers. Some of the latest laws, like the tax law, helped us to reinvest in the company."
He says Rapport might also expand into different industries. The current focus is industrial and medical but he is looking at expanding into aerospace.
Needs: Rapport is making improvements to beef up its ISO certifications, including the ISO 13485 medical device certification. Other possible future certifications might be ITAR (International Traffic in Arms Regulations) and the EAR (Export Administration Regulations) export control regulations.