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S3: Mile High Expansion in Denver Manufacturing Workshop – Episode #81
24th July 2017 • The Bonfires of Social Enterprise with Romy of Gingras Global | Social Enterprise | Entrepreneurship in Detroit • Romy Kochan | Gingras Global | Social Enterprise | Detroit Entrepreneurs
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Mile High Workshop

What’s going on in Denver social enterprise manufacturing these days?!

Romy catches up with Andy Magel of the Mile High Workshop manufacturer in Denver, Colorado.

Great song the end!

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Hi there! This is Romy and welcome back to another episode of the Bonfires of Social Enterprise. I want to give a shout-out to our friends in Haiti, France, and Canada. Please reach out to us on the website. We would love to hear what is happening in your communities, and, maybe even tell your story on our show.
So, on this episode, we catch back up with Andy Magel in Denver, Colorado and the Mile High Workshop. Many of you may remember that Denver is known as the Mile High city as it is one mile above sea level. There is a vibrant community of social enterprise in Denver, and Andy is leading the way with his amazing maker space and job creation. Stay tuned at the end for a song from a Detroit artist.
Let’s, first, see what Luke has for our Fun Fuel...

Fun Fuel
(no transcript)

Thanks, Luke, wooden domes – you just don’t think things like that are possible without steel and like materials. Let’s jump into the update with Andy on his Mile High Workshop in Colorado.

Main Interview
Andy : Glad to be back. I was looking; it's been over a year since we last talked and man a lot has happened. We've moved. We've expanded. We've grown and so yeah happy to kind of pick up, and if you have anything, in particular, you want to know let me know, and I'll just come give you a quick rundown but when we last talked we were in about 8,000 square feet, and we've recently moved to a new building that we're occupying about 12,000 square feet of. A much more industrial space with back doors and these types of things, higher ceilings for vertical storage, and it's a much better space for us, and that's been a good move that's allowed us to kind of take on some new projects and grow with some projects. The last time we talked I think we were doing woodworking and sewing and I can't remember if down with the grid quick started up our packaging and fulfillment side of things yet?

Romy: No, it was more like etching. I think there was a little bit of glass etching starting or just you were dabbling with it I think sort of that.

Andy : Yeah, I was still doing that laser etching and cutting still kind of a nice accessory to a lot of the other stuff that we're doing. But we were doing the fastest growing thing that we started even since we've talked last was packaging and fulfillment, and so we do all the fulfillment and shipping for a company called the Coors. They're a subscription tampon business actually based in San Francisco. A really great company and really doing a lot of growth and so we do all their packing and shipping, and we also do the same type of services with them with some local businesses here, a glass company and a pillow company.

And that's been a really good area for us to provide job opportunities and training and we're really excited about what's coming with that, and we got some stuff come down the pipe too. We're actually just about to launch a new partnership Coors Tech which is the ceramics side of kind of the Coors family in Colorado. Obviously, a big family name and Coors Beer is probably pretty well known across the country.

But they have a manufacturing side of the business. Technically it's a separate business, but a ceramics and they are placing equipment in our shop that we will be trained to operate and manufacture for them. And then we'll use that training as an opportunity to prepare people for jobs at Coors Tech, and so they'll graduate our training model into kind of above entry level positions at Coors Tech, and that's something that we're very excited about.

Romy: Hey, Andy as you moved into this topic... I think so many entrepreneurs want to know how did you land on starting to move into this packing and fulfillment and how are you getting your customers for this? Is this somewhat a happy accident or was it intentional? We have so many questions that come in about expanding. Would you mind talking to us about that a little bit?

Andy : No, that's good. I think everyone probably has a different approach there. For us, I think happy accident is a really excellent way to describe it. It's all been very organic for us and pretty relationship based. And so in the last two, two and a half years we've worked at well over 100 customers and those have almost entirely all been kind of inbound referral and just kind of natural partnerships that have come along. And we're just getting to the point where we are big enough to where we're going to become intentional about going on finding those relationships. But our growth has come just from "Hey, here is a friend. They're starting this thing. They're looking for a partner. Do you guys want to try it?" And we've just said yes a lot, and it certainly hasn't all worked. I can tell you that. But what was worked has stuck, and it's been a really good fit for us.

Romy: Part of it I just know even from our own company here. It's like part of it is how do you price yourself for expansion? I think I was wondering if you could talk to us a little bit about that. And I am the numero uno guilty party of this. I will price services or products just over across a certain profit margin, but I don't have my eye on expansion, and so I can default to "Oh, I just want to give him a good deal." How are you handling that kind of stuff specific to expansion?

Andy : Now, that's very true. I think there is a level of confidence that comes as you exist and do a good job. Because we've been guilty of the same thing for sure. The first time you take on a job, you're just happy that somebody said yes and that you've been given this opportunity to earn that and to prove yourself. And when you establish a little bit of a track record, and you do a good job then I think your confidence grows, and your willingness to say like, "Okay, now we don't just want to survive and have the opportunity to do something but we want to grow, and we want to create more opportunity."

Yeah, I mean pricing is a critical part of that, and it feels like a little bit of a moving target in terms of kind of what that pricing is and how that looks, and it definitely adds and flows what kind of the project because they're also unique. But I think we have established ourselves to the point now where we know we can execute. We know we can do a good job. We're going to be a good partner for somebody and that allows us to have the confidence to price things in a way that will allow us to continue growing and to fuel that growth.

Romy: It's such a good word. Building up your confidence by delivering good services.

Andy : Yeah, because if anyone charges a premium on day one and you can't deliver. That's just not going to be a good recipe.

Romy: Right [inaudible 00:06:47] false.

Andy : Right right.

Romy: It sounds like you're still offering services to perhaps a startup entrepreneur but all the way up to now to a potential client like Coors. That's extraordinary and so great. Are you still going to offer some of those services to that startup entrepreneur?

Andy : Yeah, we really like having a nice mix. Because everyone has different priorities and things that they need. Our core mission as job training program and so people come in, and they may or may not have skills in the area that they are going to be working in. So we need kind of a wide range of products so that somebody on day one can contribute to a project. And then as they grow the projects that they're working on can kind of grow and skills required as well. And so we love having kind of that mix because it gives us flexibility and that we're a little bit more diversified in that way that as a small entrepreneur kind of and they start something if it doesn't work, it goes away. They're not our only customer. We've got somebody like Coors or someone onboard who we can lean on for stability of the program, so we really like having a little bit of both. It creates a nice mix and a good thing on our production side of things.

Romy: There is always the intrigue of the energy of the entrepreneurs too that brings you to this level.

Andy : Yeah, and kind of the cross collaboration that can happen there. There is a lot of fun kind of side projects that have come out of people's interactions and just support that comes in. Our customers will meet each other in the shop and who knows kind of what can come from that relationship in off itself which is always really fun.

Romy: Are you noticing a certain type of employees excelling in your program or is it all over the board? What I'm really asking is, is there a certain demographic or something that people with various employment or something that's working in Colorado that you're noticing really excels in this environment?

Andy : The broad answer is like anybody who really wants to take advantage of the opportunity is going to excel. And we look at our numbers and the data behind everything. Pretty much anybody who sticks with us and works through the program is going to leave to a good job and they mostly likely going to be keeping that job after they've left and so if somebody wants to they're going to do well. One of the things that we really like about our model is that since we do have different areas, packing, and shipping, woodwork, and sewing. If somebody comes in and the areas they've been [inaudible 00:09:47] into really isn't a great fit. We've got the opportunity to shift them around. Somebody comes in and is working with saws in the wood shop, and it turns out there just and not really a saws person. They can make the shift to packing and shipping and more kind of a general ware ...

Andy : Make the shift to packing and shipping and working with general warehouse type work and that might be a really good fit. And so really, we've got enough flexibility in the type of work that we're doing to where we can typically find something that's going to be a good fit for somebody.

Romy: Yeah, that's tremendous. I love this idea too of the continuum of skill building onto the employer like you described at Coors Tech. That's pretty cool. I think there's always this element of providing hope to those who feel like they haven't had a path even if they might not know how that's going to walk out. Just knowing that there's potential paths into more development I think just sometimes knowing that that's available changes a person's mindset and heart.

Andy : Oh yeah. It's so cool to see somebody come into the sew for example, never touched a sewing machine, then realize that they're actually pretty good at it and it's a viable career path. We have several cut and sew shops in the Denver area and there's not a lot of training that's happening to prepare potential [inaudible 00:11:12] shops and stuff. Its been able to establish some good relationships there and help support people as they transition into those types of jobs and when somebody learns that they're good at something that's a viable career path I mean there is a lot of hope that comes with that for sure.

Romy: And in Colorado, I know you're in the Denver area, is skilled trade a gap like it is in some of the other states? In Michigan where we do most of our work it's a huge gap. But is it similar in Denver?

Andy : Yeah.

Romy: Yeah.

Andy : Yeah, absolutely. I think it's really a nationwide thing. You're just seeing this shortage of people who know how to do skilled work with their hands and so if somebody can come in and if we have the opportunity to teach them how to do that, there's no shortage of opportunities. Denver specifically, construction is huge right now. The city is just blowing up and so if you can do quality woodworking you can kind of pick what version of it you want to do. There's just so much opportunity in all that right now. So there is a gap and we're really to be able to kind of play a role in providing some of the training for that.

Romy: Oh my gosh, that's huge. It's huge. It's neat where you just said woodworking, would that include of all kinds of things up to I guess carpentry?

Andy : Yeah. I mean when it comes down to it it's all about those basic skills of knowing how to use a tape measure and operate a saw safely and put things together and when you learn those basic skills you can take those anywhere. So we make a wide variety of things in the wood shop that require a diverse skills to be developed and so that when somebody's graduating the goal is that they can kind of look at what's most interesting to them in that field and have at least a base understanding of how to pursue that.

Romy: Andy, how are you handling the management of so many people? Well let's back up. How many I guess average folks do you have on the floor at the time or employees do you have average on a day?

Andy : Yeah. I mean if everybody shows up we're pushing somewhere around 20 people right now. And that's not necessarily just folks in the training program. That's kind of the whole thing. So we've got a team of social workers and shop directors and these kinds of things, so there's probably 10 to 12 people on the program side of things right now. But as an organization we've been growing for sure.

Romy: How do you ... are you following a model on how to build up sort of oversight and management? I think this is an interesting intersection for social entrepreneurs when you do have ... whether you're for profit or nonprofit, where you have some programmatic elements of it where like you said, you might have some social workers or the life skills going at the same time as real work that needs to happen to turn your business model around.

Andy : Oh yeah.

Romy: I think there's a lot of people trying to figure out, and most of us are doing it by making mistakes actually of how do you find the right types of oversight when you've got that dual nature going on. How are you learning about that in hiring oversight?

Andy : Some of that is definitely coming through just experience and trial and error, but I think to the degree, the most that we can we're trying to really lean on other people's experience and so we've got people kind of in the Denver community who are lending their insights and expertise maybe from the business world. So kind of mentoring from the business side of things. But then we've also had this really incredible opportunity, I don't remember if this had happened when we last talked, but we're a member of the social innovation fund portfolio through REDF which is an organization based in San Francisco, and that has really opened up a lot of doors for us to access knowledge from other organizations who've been around a lot longer than we have, so we've been able to learn from them as well.

So we're kind of trying to kick the brains collectively of the for profit and the social enterprise and kind of nonprofit sector and learn from the folks who've gone ahead of us, and that's been extremely helpful and it's really helped us cheat the growth curve a little bit by kind of pulling some stuff in that's maybe a little bit beyond our years which has been very, very valuable.

Romy: Yeah, it's so good. So are you still finding now as people are coming to you by referral or word of mouth, what do you finding right now is the attraction point? Is it more the job training program or the type of work you're doing? Is it possible to take a pulse on what's happening at this minute?

Andy : Yeah. It's hard to say. It's hard to pull it all apart, I think because the truth is we are very much all of those and we don't exist, those things don't exist in vacuums and so always curious to hear from our customers. I think a lot of them are driven by the simple fact that they need a job done and they need to find somebody to help them do it and our mission can sometimes be that carry on prop that kind of helps them say like, "I'm going to follow up with these guys and then reach out to them." But it is typically I think just kind of a market need that we exist to fill. If somebody has a product and it needs to be sewn then they need somebody to do that, and we're happy to be the ones that do that and if they can tell a little bit more interesting story as a business because of our relationship then we're really happy for that too.

Romy: That's powerful. I feel like that's a truth that I keep landing on is you still got to fill a need, do it really well. There's always that mission story around it that I think just elevates the attraction of your...