By Eric Peterson | Sep 11, 2022
Cable harnesses and sheet metal fabrication
Bob Simons started Specialized Manufacturing in his basement.
"He was working for a company that was similar to what we do now, which is cable harnessing," says Wilson, Bob's son. "He realized he could do it better and have more control over quality if he did it himself."
"Their bread and butter -- and, to this day, our bread and butter -- is cable harness manufacturing."
After going out on his own in 1996, Bob found a steady market in aerospace working with his wife and co-owner, Dayna, and steadily bootstrapped the company to growth. "We were in the basement for several years, and we moved to a little bigger building, then another bigger building, then we're here where we're at now. We're in a 30,000-square-foot building with 70 employees."
Specialized Manufacturing expanded into sheet metal fabrication circa 2015 to complement its cable business. Wilson now oversees the cable business, and his brother, Robbie, is the VP of the metal fabrication division.
The company previously outsourced metal fabrication of enclosures to contract shops. "The problem that we ran into was that those sheet metal fabricators we went to had dirty shops and their quality couldn't conform to the aerospace industry -- that's where we thrive -- and their lead times were outrageous," says Wilson. "So seven or eight years ago, [Bob] decided to bring in all of the machinery and make that investment in the company to start doing it ourselves. We did that to support our cable side."
With about a dozen of the 70 employees working in metal fabrication, Specialized Manufacturing now not only makes enclosures for its cable harness customers, it also takes on contract work from outside customers.
Aerospace represents about 70 percent of sales, with the remainder split between agriculture, security, and other industries.
The company counts SpaceX as a client, and has provided cable harnesses for the F-35 and other military aircraft.
"Commercial aerospace in the last two or three years has really taken off for us, but military has been steadily growing," says Wilson.
Since 2017, Specialized Manufacturing revenue has grown by an annual average nearly 20 percent. "Every year since day one, we have increased our sales numbers," says Wilson. "The biggest growth has been in the last five years."
Wilson credits his father, who is the company's president and co-owner with Dayna but has stepped back from day-to-day operations: "Bob is one of those kinds of guys, if there's a problem, he'll find a fix to it."
The company had 15 employees in a 10,000-square-foot facility before Wilson and Robbie started helping Bob run the business in 2014.
"For 20 years, my dad was doing all of the front office stuff by himself," notes Wilson. "He was the engine that helped us with that growth. We were just able to lighten the load on his shoulders so he could work his magic."
Challenges: "Our big challenge is finding employees who will truly buy into what we're trying to do here," says Wilson. "We're not just trying to find people who will clock in, clock out, and leave. We want people who are coming here -- whether they are 18, 31, or 49 or 50 -- realizing that this is a place to build a career. The work that they do and the quality of the work that they do will not only benefit the company as a whole, but also feed into their retirement and allow us to pay them more and give them certain perks they've never had at any other company."
He adds, "Family businesses can be tricky, but if they're run by the right person with professionalism, they can work out and be strong and grow. My dad has set it up so employees can come here and thrive."
Specialized's supply chain has been impacted by "volatility in the market," he adds. "There are quite a few raw materials, especially on the metal side -- sheets of aluminum or sheet aluminum -- where when we're quoting, we can only hold the price for two days. We've never had to do that before."
Opportunities: Wilson highlights continued growth in aerospace. "That's our goal: to find more work that goes up into the sky," he says. "It's the best work for a contract manufacturer. The drawings are the best. A customer will send us a drawing and that's what we build. . . . Joe Slow down the road might want to build 100 of something that's scratch on a napkin, and that's difficult."
Southern California is a target-rich environment, he adds. "Every time I go down to Southern California, it seems like I can find a new customer who's willing to let me in and willing to let me quote. I've found tons of success in Southern California. It's just the mecca of the aerospace industry."
Wilson says the company might also expand capabilities into powder coating and other finishing. "The only thing we don't do is finishing. We've talked about it several times, and that's probably where we'll go next."
Needs: "If I had the candidates, I would easily hire 30 more employees today," says Wilson.
Another facility expansion is likely needed before 2025: "We've had four different locations, and each time, we've gotten too big for them. We are getting to the point where 30,000 square feet is not enough for us. . . . We definitely plan on expanding in the next two or three years."
One potential route involves separating the office headquarters and cable production into a new facility of a similar size and leaving the metal fabrication in the existing space. "It would definitely be a company-owned facility and we would definitely build," says Wilson. "We have some prospects here in Draper we would consider moving the cable division to."