This kind of exploration also proved profitable for Miles Fiberglass and Composites. Founded in 1963, the company now has 75 employees at two plants totaling 80,000 square feet. But it came from humble beginnings.
Lowell worked in his father’s cabinet-making shop through high school, before graduating in 1955 from Benson Technical High School with a certificate in tool and die making and landing a full-time job as a machinist. Soon after, he spotted an opportunity at a boat show in Portland, Ore., where only one GFRP boat was on display among all the wooden ones.
“I thought that fiberglass material would be great for the future of boats and many other products,” he says. “I asked my dad if he would allow me to tear down the old barn behind his cabinet shop and build a small building so I could go into the fiberglass business.”
Although his start was in boats, Miles gained additional experience after securing work with truck manufacturer Freightliner, eventually building complete frontends and other vehicle components. Through the years, the company has expanded into a variety of markets, from recreational vehicles and Sno-Cat® pontoons to the railcar industry and military market. One of the company’s most lucrative decisions was to create a Wind Service Technician Division.
By following the market needs, rather than committing to a single vision, the company has successfully weathered hard times. In 2019, the thriving third-generation company anticipates its sales will grow by 25 percent.
Create a Plan that Includes Funding
While flexibility is important, it is valuable for startups to outline a business vision and plan. Early on, it’s easy to get so wrapped up in keeping the business afloat that it may seem there’s never time to step back and think about direction. Still, it is important to have clarity around the business vision. “If you can imagine how the business might look in two or five years, then you will start to see the capabilities that you’ll need, how those capabilities are achieved and how you can afford it,” says Schofield. “That then drives startups to focus on the funding required at those stages.”
Capital is a big building block for success, and creating strong relationships with potential funding sources is vital for startups. There are many options for obtaining capital, but self-funding or building a relationship with a bank (rather than outside investors) helps startups to retain control in how the company grows. Miles advises entrepreneurs to remain as debt free as possible: “This allows you to weather many storms.”