Metal crafting business crafts a new path toward continued growth

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January 2, 2020

Sometimes the work of a small business advisor at the NH Small Business Development Center is to help entrepreneurs determine what not to do.  

That was the case for Ryan Lonergan who runs Third Shift Fabrication in Plainfield.  Ryan was pretty certain he needed to move his metal crafting business out of his home and into much larger space about a year and a half ago.  Business had picked up and he was running out of room for making his hand-crafted metal decor.  

Instead, in meetings with business advisor Nancy DuBosque, formerly SBDC’s Keene Regional Director, the two of them developed a better solution. Ryan could improve the efficiency of his manufacturing process and avoid an expensive move at the same time. 

“She really helped us go through the range of possibilities and the emotions around them,” Ryan said.  “She’d put the information into her spreadsheet, work the numbers, and in the end, we found a great solution.”

Moving will still be necessary, but it would have required taking out a larger SBA loan than Ryan wanted at the time.  Plus, any move for Third Shift Fabrication must be during winter or mid-summer months, the slowest times when Ryan is, for once, not out at craft shows and fairs selling his popular metal pieces.  

“We focused on getting the shop more efficient, getting a rural development loan, and bringing in two shipping containers to free up manufacturing space,” Ryan explains. “One container holds the things we bring to the shows and one is for storage, and now we can move things further along right in this same location.”

Ryan said there was real value getting an outside view of his plans, someone like Nancy who didn’t have built-in biases about the business.  He’s in a series of meetings again with the new Keene Region NH SBDC business advisor, Vardhan Bajpai, to work through questions about packaging and to plan how to hire a marketer, something he realizes he desperately needs.  

“We need someone as passionate about marketing as I am about the metal craft and manufacturing end, and I know that marketing is just not me,” he said.  

Ryan’s mother, JoAnn Lonergan, helps with the marketing at this point, along with providing customer service and shipping help.

Growth has come quickly for Third Shift Fabrication, which began operations only last year after Ryan left employment as a network engineer for Comcast.  “I needed something to regain my sanity after corporate America,” he admits. Decorative metal working was something he had done as his hobby, and that’s what he turned to once quitting his job.

“Having a 4-month-old daughter really lit quite the fire under me to work hard and provide for her, and that’s when the business really took off,” Ryan says.  He started showing his pieces at fairs near his hometown.  At one of those, he met a man who told him, “You’ll get part-time results from part-time effort,” and that really spurred him.

This means Ryan was out at the Big E 17 days straight, followed by a brewfest in Exeter, shows at the Hampshire Dome, and many more.  Some of these shows require 18-hour days, which Ryan only partially covers with hired helpers.

Now he’s moved from a manually operated jewelry machine to an automated one and he’s upgraded the grinding process with new machinery that has cut labor time by 80 percent. “All of that turbo-charged the number of pieces we could do in one day,” Ryan said. 

Web and Etsy sales are climbing quickly.  When Ryan can spend less time at shows and fairs, he’ll concentrate further on growing the online sales. Still, being able to bring his products to shows, he knows he gains customers for life once they see his creations in person.

“They’ll see the beauty of the products and see that we can mass produce unique pieces that shimmer,” he said. “They can see that if they order online, they’ll receive a good product.”

The need for moving is still out there, particularly with the continued growth. 

“We’ll be ready to move when the opportunity presents itself,” Ryan says, and he’s grateful for the work he did with his NH SBDC advisor.   

“We know the comparative costs now —for buying, for up-fitting, for machinery and fixtures, and labor.  We’ll put all those numbers into seeking a loan that will allow us to pay a certain number of new employees for 12 months,” Ryan said.  “This industry is volatile--not up and down, but up, up and up.”