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On a wire

  • By Mark Gordon
  • | 10:00 a.m. January 16, 2015
  • | 2 Free Articles Remaining!
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Growth came relatively fast for Dave Chism in the 15 years he ran the Sarasota unit of Wire-Pro, a national wire and cable assembly firm.

The division he oversaw for the Philadelphia area-based firm, with clients mostly in the military and defense field, grew from about 30 employees in 1998 to 160 by 2004. Sales increased significantly on his watch.

The biggest business lesson Chism learned at Wire-Pro, through all the growth, was one that sounds obvious for any company, but isn't always the case: Be nimble and open to shifting quickly to meet customer needs. That ideal is especially counterintuitive in manufacturing, where some industry leaders in the region do one or two things well and stick to that, from valves to cups to windows.

But Chism long believed there was a need for a high quality contract-manufacturing firm that could create, build and assemble a host of products in a variety of industries. “It's hard to find good manufacturing facilities that aren't dedicated to their own product,” says Chism. “If someone comes up with their own good invention, it's hard to get the right company.”

Chism is confident his firm, Manatee County-based Chism Manufacturing Services, is the right company — and 2015 is the year he will prove it. This year, says Chism, the firm will expand from its core of wire and cable assembly to an eclectic list of products. The list includes manufacturing air-filled lumbar support bladders that go inside airplane seats to a one-man, solar-powered golf cart to a home-based water purification machine.

“Even though we are about wires,” Chism says, “if there's an opportunity for growth I will try anything.”

Chism's bold approach has the firm staring at some lofty projections. Chism says a reasonable goal for 2015 is $5 million in revenues, which would be a big jump from 2014, when it had about $1 million. The company has 12 employees and Chism expects the payroll to double this year.

The firm is also scheduled to move into a 12,000-square-foot manufacturing space a few doors down from its current home later this year. The new facility is nearly three times bigger, and dwarfs the 1,200-square-foot office the firm shared with another company when Chism founded the business in 2010. “We are doing good,” says Chism. “We are really busy and there is a lot of growth planned.”

The growth projections come mostly from the new work, through recent contracts Chism signed with product-invention companies. That includes Sarasota-based Sybrid Energies, which is behind the golf cart and other products, including a personal electric scooter.

Other potential growth comes from doing more business with locally based divisions of major companies. Chism Manufacturing, for example, recently signed a two-year contract for at least $250,000 to assemble batteries and other components for CAE Healthcare, a unit of Montreal-based global civil aviation simulation firm CAE. The firm likewise does battery and related manufacturing work for Manatee County-based Radiant Power Corp., a division of Hollywood-based Heico Corp. Chism Manufacturing has also done work for Gyrocam, a military contractor since sold to Lockheed Martin, and several marine products manufacturers.

When Chism founded the business in 2010, he says it was “just two people and a credit card.” He maxed out that card at $7,500 and built the business slowly. He relied on contacts from his Wire-Pro days and vendors he had worked with to build a client base.

Chism worked for a few other firms after Wire-Pro, but he ultimately decided to work for himself. Now, nearly five years into his own company, he's about to face an entrepreneurial rite of passage that usually rides shotgun to fast growth projections. “For the first time,” says Chism, “I will have to go to the banks for money.”

Follow Mark Gordon on Twitter @markigordon


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