Company continues to diversify
NORTH LIBERTY — Unique Tooling, started in May 2007 to serve the RV industry, managed to grow during the economic downturn and has accelerated by diversifying into plastics, metal and wood-cutting devices as well as tool sharpening.
The firm, which operates in two buildings in North Liberty and has eight employees, had sales of $1.2 million last year, and owner Tom England expects to reach $2 million this year.
One of the North Liberty storefronts offers blades to homeowners and hobbyists and sharpening for chain saws, lawn mower blades and other cutting tools.
But Unique Tooling mostly supplies customers in the RV, aluminum-cutting, cabinet-making, marine and plastics industries in seven states as well as nearby towns including Elkhart, Shipshewana and Middlebury.
“We supply certain types of router bits and saw cutting items that they use in the RV market,” England says. “We diversified from that into wood and plastic and now we’re in the marine industry. We’re trying to diversify more and more.
“We’re hitting our little niches. A lot of it’s worked pretty well.”
England was CEO of a steel firm in Elkhart before the company closed in 2006. He started in steel fabrication and learned sharpening at Advanced Cutting Technologies, which has closed, in addition to opening Unique Tooling.
“The first product we ever had was one router bit that specialized in the lamination market of the RVs,” he says. “It cuts out the interior and exterior walls of the RV at the same time. It’s used by about 80 percent of the market that does laminated sidewalls.
“We worked with a couple of suppliers. That one particular router bit was the basis of our company. That’s how we started in 2007. At first we just supplied new.”
Relationships with maintenance operators and purchasing agents in customer companies led to requests for sharpening, which England first filled by outsourcing to other firms.
“We were already in the cribs and they were saying ‘won’t you sharpen these tools as well,'” he says.
About two years ago, he bought the equipment of a sharpening business in Elkhart — at a fraction of the retail cost — and brought it to Elkhart.
“Sharpening is only 6 percent of what we do,” he says, adding that he hopes to grow the service to 25 to 30 percent. “It was a necessity to help grow the sales of new tools. We’re trying to reach out and do more service work.”
A company whose tools can no longer be sharpened is a natural customer for new tools, England explains, and the service encourages buyers to seek higher quality: “I can buy a more expensive tool and get it sharpened two or three times rather than a less expensive tool that I have to throw away.”
By GENE STOWE
South Bend Tribune Correspondent
6:01 a.m. EDT, September 30, 2012
Article courtesy of South Bend Tribune