Denver, Colorado

Co-founders Mike Caffey and Jeff Stout see a way to balance manufacturing for in-house brands as well as a growing number of local consumer and outdoor brands.

Photos Jonathan Castner

Caffey and Stout first met when they rented adjacent spaces; Caffey was making custom furniture and Stout was making racks for surfboards, snowboards, and other recreational gear.

They officially joined forces a few years later when they launched Method Manufacturing & Design, but it started when Caffey introduced Stout to CNC technology. “When Mike and I teamed up, we discovered we could cut racks on a CNC machine using birch plywood,” says Stout.

The duo bought the company’s primary CNC machine for $300 — it was being scrapped by its previous owner after a shop fire — and Caffey and Stout rebuilt it. It would have cost more than $100,000 new from the factory and that “wasn’t going to be in the budget,” says Caffey. “We built it from the ground up — welded it, wired it.”

“I think we spent about $10,000 on it,” he adds. “They were going to take it to the scrapyard.”

Since the new machine cuts about five faster than its predecessor, there was a lot of excess capacity. “We were only using that machine to cut racks and had a lot of downtime on it, so we figured, ‘Why not use that downtime to do contract work for other companies?'”

Caffey and Stout’s ingenuity has allowed Method to charge a lower rate than the competition. Whereas most CNC shops charge $150 to $200 an hour, Method’s rate is $100 an hour, with no minimum order.

Stout’s rack companies — Rado Racks and Pro Board Racks — remain primary clients. “Having our own product line allows us to accept clients that other people may not,” says Caffey. “A lot of CNC shops will turn down a tiny, little project — they don’t want to cut one sheet of products.”

“We’ll do a one-hour job,” adds Stout. “We’re a small enough company right now that we can squeeze people in.”

Method primarily works with birch, MDF, and plastic sheets, and also offers traditional woodworking and laser etching services. Stout says the shop’s fortes are “tight tolerances, small projects, reasonable prices, and quick turnaround,” noting that it’s not unusual to deliver in less than a week. The company can also assist with design and prototyping.

Customers include Black Hound Design Company, an Arvada-based furniture brand; Denver-based maker of drink holders for stand-up paddleboards, The UNspilt; and Frictitious Climbing, a climbing gear innovator in Fort Collins. Method has also built museum displays for History Colorado. “It’s all local,” says Stout.

The UNspilt job is a good example of a project in Method’s sweet spot. “It’s very complicated, with tight tolerances,” says Caffey. “I think a lot of CNC shops would turn that away, just because of the hassle, whereas we’re up for the challenge — we enjoy the challenge.”

Growth has averaged 20 percent a year, as sales of both brands of racks soared during the COVID-19 shutdowns. “It was the perfect product to survive the pandemic, because everyone was staying home and organizing their house,” says Stout. “We had a big jump last year.”

That allowed Method to hire three employees during the pandemic, primarily refugees from shuttered restaurants, and the shop now has capacity to spare. “We have room to grow, especially now that we have three more employees,” says Stout. “We’re at a comfortable capacity right now, but we’re doing half-day Fridays.”

It also doesn’t hurt that the founders built their own CNC machine from the ground up. “When machines go down, a lot of people don’t know how to fix them,” says Stout. “Mike, he knows every single bolt that’s on that machine, so he can fix anything.”

Challenges: “Wood prices have doubled,” says Stout, noting that the company avoided some increases by stockpiling plywood in a storage unit.

“Sourcing plywood has been a pretty big hassle,” echoes Caffey.

Opportunities: “Small consumer-goods manufacturing companies in Colorado are our bread and butter,” says Stout. “We love working with design companies.”

Needs: Stout says that they’d also like to find partners that are able to upcycle scrap, primarily small pieces of birch plywood. “We end up with a decent amount of waste,” he says. “We’re always looking for companies looking for scrap material, or if there’s a way to cut products out of scrap material.”