Co-founders Sarah and James Fonnesbeck see an opportunity to grow their contract manufacturer with investments in cutting-edge equipment and a second shift.
Expedition One had struggled to find a contract partner that could handle the entire manufacturing process from beginning to end, so the company brought production in-house and catalyzed the business.
After four years, the Fonnesbecks spun off Laser Farm from Expedition One to capitalize on opportunities from outside clients. The operation — now staked with a laser cutter, CNC tube bender, press brake, and robotic welding and grinding equipment — grew into a standalone company in four years to market the manufacturing capacity.
“We brought in the equipment and started doing our own work in-house, but then over time — since we were doing so much work for other companies — we separated it off,” says James.
Laser Farm has since become the go-to manufacturer for Expedition One while serving a diverse roster of outside clients. “We have five or six companies that come back a lot,” says James, noting that the company has fabricated brackets and other hardware, monuments for the Hill Aerospace Museum at Hill Air Force Base, and promotional products for Fusion Imaging.
One client, a manufacturer of window blinds, has been reshoring its supply chain as much as possible. “He’s trying to get out of ordering parts from China and having them shipped over here,” says James.
The model is working: Expedition One has tripled its sales since its move into manufacturing, and Laser Farm has generated upwards of $1 million in additional revenue in recent years. Laser Farm’s head count has likewise grown by a factor of three since its establishment as a separate business, from about five to 16 employees.
Laser Farm Manufacturing experienced “a lull” in the first half of 2022 after a big year in 2021, he adds. “Last year, we were gangbusters. We were so busy.”
Challenges: “Labor is tricky,” says James. “Getting people in when we need them, getting qualified fabricators has been difficult. It just takes a long time to get the labor force. That’s been a struggle point for Laser Farm.”
The rising price of raw materials presents other challenges.
Opportunities: Laser Farm’s new, state-of the-art Crippa tube bender gives the company an opportunity on the Wasatch Front. “We’re hoping that opens us up to a new segment,” says James. “Ten years ago when I was looking for people to bend tubes — and as far as I can tell, it hasn’t changed — there were two small companies and they were using really old machines.”
The Crippa “is extremely precise,” he continues. “It’s extremely fast, so we’re hoping that opens up opportunities with people around here who might be looking for that kind of service.” Target customers include manufacturers of chairlifts and UTV roll cages.
The Fonnesbecks see powder coating as another potential vehicle for growth. “It’s the one thing that we want to bring in-house more than anything, but it’s a little tricky,” says James.
Needs: The company needs about eight more employees. “We’re trying to get ourselves a night shift started,” says James.
Laser Farm Manufacturing also needs a larger space. The company currently shares a 22,000-square-foot facility with Expedition One, but James is targeting 40,000 square feet with more infrastructure, particularly if it expands into powder coating.