Marshal Parker's Blog

Large Door Systems Entrepreneur

Is Your Hangar Door Obsolete?

In many instances the useful service life of a hangar is defined by the economic viability of replacing a malfunctioning or out-of-date bi-fold or roller door. Today in aviation, the value proposition is extremely important when balancing the choice of a new build or the retrofit of an older structure. The frame of the hangar may live for many years, so there’s no reason the hangar door can’t produce the same structural stability and longevity. The addition of a new Hydroswing® hydraulic door transforms a hangar and extends the life of the building.

Having had my own aircraft and understanding the wear and tear on a hangar, I knew having Hydroswing® expand from agriculture to aviation would be a smart move. As the company has grown and changed, we have made a tremendous impact in aviation sector. Hydroswing® is constantly bringing new life to perfectly good (but aged) airfield and privately owned hangars. By removing the old and obsolete rolling sectionals or a potentially dangerous bi-fold door and replacing it with the simple, pre hung single panel Hydroswing® hangar door, the hangar is revitalized at a fraction of the cost of a new build. With no impact to the existing building structure, easy installation (usually only one day), very low maintenance costs, increased overhead space and  90% fewer moving parts than most aircraft hangar doors, Hydroswing is quickly becoming the number one replacement door in the world.

Dust is a constant enemy to systems in aviation and industry. Old and outdated doors that have issues with sealing correctly causing a negative impact on the hangar as whole. Retrofitting an existing structure with the modern, sophisticated and almost 100% sealable Hydroswing® dramatically reduces dust content, allowing aircraft owners, MRO and service center operations to update ailing hangars. The Hydroswing creates a well-sealed and protected aircraft space, especially in desert or high wind borne debris environments.

Hangars are large spaces to heat or cool and temperature loss via existing damaged or aged bifold sections are inefficiencies that can be addressed simply by replacing the door. In addition, Hydroswing can easily clad or treat the new hydraulic door with exactly the same thermal properties as the rest of your building, especially important when calculating cost of ownership and in life ownership service costs of the overall structure.

Even when the building is replaced, the Hydroswing® can be unbolted and refitted to a new build easily with minimal effort. The Hydroswing® is truly, “restoration door hardware” for existing hangars. With a Hydroswing, an aircraft hangar is never antiquated. Don’t be defined by your old door… Strong, secure, powerful, with minimal in life service costs and “touch of a button” ease of opening, the Hydroswing® makes any hangar modern. When looking at the costs associated with hangar ownership, “re dooring” your existing hangar with a state-of-the-art hydraulic door may be the best option. Hydroswing is the original and still best hydraulic hangar door on the market.

Evolution - A sometimes painful process!

According to Miriam Webster, the “full” definition of “competition” is: “The effort of two or more parties acting independently to secure the business of a third party by offering the most favorable terms.” Interestingly enough, there is no mention of quality or quality control.  I made no secret of the fact that one of the drivers in my business model was to eliminate the inefficiencies and dangers in the large door sector, many of which have been personified and sadly demonstrated by fatalities recently.

Competition makes entrepreneurs think more innovatively which is necessary for the growth of any business, and any industry. My “competition” was primarily the bifold door.  The bifold door filled a need when it was first introduced to the market decades ago. It was the only game in town and seemed the logical choice for anyone looking for a door for their commercial building, agricultural facility or aircraft hangar. There weren’t many other options available, until Hydroswing® came to the marketplace and rocked the boat. Technology vastly improved, safety is a concern, and the bifold didn’t (and doesn’t) make sense. Wires, pulleys and straps won’t survive in a hydraulic world.

My small shop in Cottonwood, MN hit a nerve. We started to watch the bifold manufacturing competition scramble. Via the anticipated demise of this outdated and now condemned (in the UK and EU) bifold “contraption,” Hydroswing® became a major player… quickly. As a large door product, the Hydroswing® gained many hundreds (if not thousands of orders) by being the first to market with a safe, strong, secure, single-panel hydraulic door system. Our two main competitors resorted to some unethical practices that ranged from false internet slanders, to sending in “undercover” customers to purchase our doors.

An important lesson was learned. When you create a high quality product and when you start to change an industry: watch out. The “copyists” will be hot on your tail. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, we must have been doing something really right! To keep up with Hydroswing®, the bifold competition began to slash pricing as the market commoditized.

More lessons were to come… and they were fast and furious. What I learned as an open minded entrepreneur, is that when you set about changing something that has been set without challenge for many years (30 or so), you better be ready to see everything the word “competition” means. In our case, unfortunately, it was an all-out war. This kind of battle rarely results in a clear winner and brought the worst out in several players who were still trying to play catch up. I also learned that competition can and will resort to any means to survive. So, for all you budding entrepreneurs that think you got it nailed, a word of wisdom: keep an eye over your shoulder. As most successful business owners will tell you, getting there is one thing, but be ready to innovate and execute continually, be ready to be agile in your approach, and be ready for the firestorm when competition goes “sour and nasty” — and it some point it usually will.

What we did at Hydroswing® was simple. We evolved to the next stage, we proved our product, and had them all reeling. The evolutionary process can indeed be painful, as I will write about in forthcoming blogs.


NOTE: Since I started on this journey at least 3 people have been fatally injured by the bifold door and several others maimed. The UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) have banned, condemned and categorically enforced removal of all bifold in the UK, closely followed by the European Commission on Machine Safety.

Hydroswing® … Door Disruptor ... Game On!

Realizations seem to come in steps. The landscape changes quickly so it’s imperative to keep pace. Less than 18 months in to my stewardship of The Hydroswing® Single Panel Door System, it was clear this wasn’t just a product… this was a revolution in the large door market.  The Hydroswing® Single Panel Door was emerging as the large door sector’s “disruptor.”  “Disruptive innovation” is defined as an innovation that creates a new market and value network and eventually disrupts an existing market by displacing established market leaders and alliances. The term was coined and the phenomenon analyzed in 1995 by Harvard Business School professor, Clayton M. Christensen when he studied the excavating equipment industry (where hydraulic actuation slowly displaced cable-actuated movement). Christensen further articulated the theory in his first book, “The Innovator’s Dilemma.” I had a very good understanding of his concepts, and by 2008 we at Hydroswing® were living the definition.

As an entrepreneur I knew I had a tiger by the tail. When the bifold manufacturers started to cut their own pricing out of the blue, I knew there was pressure. Then, one of the well-known brands even went “personal” with bizarre anonymous outbursts on forums in aviation and agriculture, posting accusations and personal insults whilst slitting his own throat on competitive pricing. I was definitely disrupting!

Undeterred by outside forces, Hydroswing® entered 2008 with a full on assault on the traditional bifold market. Our target the 35/85’ x 14’/21’ size points. That same year we joined what is affectionately known as the “ton up club.” Hydroswing® proudly introduced a door system for an existing early adopter, Performance Aircraft Inc. of Gillespie Field in El Cajon, San Diego. This was the very first Hydroswing 100 foot plus door!  Truly, a big freakin’ door (BFD)! This monster measured a whopping 119’ x 27’ and was manufactured for a brand new build on an EagleSpan Structure for southern California’s foremost Piper dealer.

Without realizing, I had created the Door Disrupter! At over the 100’ wide and above 25’ at it tallest size point, we had powered through to yet another size point. We were now firmly replacing and competing with bifold, slider, stacker, fabric and tilt up doors… All with one product, one vision and ironically, the lowest part count, easiest to install large door system in the world. Game on!

The video link shows time lapse of building our very first “ton up” in four shifts in our little shop in a small town in Minnesota. Utterly phenomenal. I am pleased to report that Performance Aircraft remain a very committed Hydroswing® customer, and after install and a few integration modifications, the 119’ x 27’ Hydroswing® is performing as well today as it was in 2008.

In just 18 months we had firmly entered the large door arena. We were punching into size points the sliding, fabric and tilting large door market thought were unchallengeable from Hydroswing®.  And it didn’t stop there…
To be continued...

Moments and Metal Mayhem…The Door Machine Cometh!

Being an entrepreneur is all about thinking — strategic thinking, thinking on your feet, thinking about EVERYTHING. Having grown the UK's largest Firework Co in the 90's to a position of highly profitable sale to TNT Fireworks at the millennium, it was clear from my new (ad) venture into steel fabrication and hydraulic systems that my next ten years were destined once again to be shrouded in sparks. And sparks there were, along with plenty of loud music and the ever present delivery challenges. I felt right at home in the fire.

As a business owner, there are always moments that stick. The ones that tell you in your gut that you can really make this happen. I remember that significant memorable and proud moment in my first year as I was walking through our shop in Cottonwood, Minnesota. Early morning. Today’s “kill” in numerous pickup trucks outside. Our guys cutting, grinding, sawing, welding, lifting, painting loading and dispatching. It was alive! Nickelback playing full blast battling to win out over the noise of the productive machinery. The smell of weld and ground steel in the ether, sparks flying: The Door Machine Cometh! It was in full swing and there was an air of determination for the future.

In the heady first months of any start up or acquisition, it is my belief that every entrepreneur is nervous, and I was no exception. In a town of only 1,127 people in the Midwest, the pressure to succeed was great. I set to work on ensuring we had the volume, the tools we needed, and the production capacity required to deal with that volume.

It was time for that strategic thinking. We had to evaluate our existing sectors, aviation and agriculture. Like all fast-growing businesses, we had new challenges relating to volume… the more we made our markets aware, the further out our emerging customer base wanted us. Creating the volume was one thing, but overcoming the logistical headache was a challenge and as we grew. Think teamwork. A team was coming together and several of my guys stepped up. Not only did we have an emerging brand, but we also had some emerging stars in our midst who wanted to succeed! Another moment… I had the right people at the right place.

When I acquired the small shop in Cottonwood, production was running at 250 to 350 units annually. Within one year, we were rocketing towards a year two target of 750 to 1,000 units.

My vision was taking shape at warp factor. The rush an entrepreneur feels, that addiction we’ve all experienced was alive, growing and hungry!

To be continued...

Legos, Nuclear Blast Shelters and Thunderbirds - Influences and Inspiration

Entrepreneurs are always seeking new pathways and routes to the target of their vision. We always have our influences and inspirations for comfort and sanity when all around us are naysayers. As my endeavor grew legs and I began to create the world’s leading hydraulic access systems OEM, I often reminded myself where it all began. Ask any entrepreneur about their “story” and they will most likely tell you an interesting tale sprinkled with unlikely details. The vision that drove me on the road to success is historic, deep-rooted and possibly even surprising.

Like most boys, I had a fascination with (Pre Teknik) Legos. Like the Hydroswing® of the future, the simplicity of building was key. However, by the age of 6 I became very frustrated in my Legos — No hinges for door panels! Thankfully, in 1973, Lego introduced hinges for my single panel creations! I was quickly able to construct doors for my landing craft, tractor shops, and hangars for model aircraft. I was hooked on doors!

All told, the power, simplicity and sheer versatility of this incredibly simple and controllable power source was all around me ... and as a farm boy in the North of England my grandfather very quickly had me using all sorts of agricultural hydraulic equipment from front loaders and backhoes to hydraulic grass box trailer gates and forage harvester trailer pickup hitches.

Then, things really took hold when I began watching Thunderbirds. This British science-fiction television series was produced between 1964 and 1966 using a form of electronic marionette puppetry (dubbed "Supermarionation") that combined with scale model special effects sequences. A now iconic show in the U.K. follows the exploits of International Rescue (IR), a life-saving organization equipped with technologically-advanced land, sea, air and space rescue craft; these are headed by a fleet of five vehicles named the Thunderbirds and launched from IR's secret base in the Pacific Ocean. The jet powered rescue craft and space craft had hydraulic doors clad in stone and landscape, hydraulic launch pads, a hydraulic swimming pool cover for rocket silo and the most incredible hydraulic door for the Thunderbird 2 hangar ... complete with hydraulic palm trees !!! Go Figure! I was completely captivated… Check it out here:

As I grew up, the door images continued to inspire me… always in my head. Eventually I ended up in the HAZMAT storage business. While growing several successful HAZMAT companies, I had an opportunity to see the ultimate hydraulics at work at Greenham Common. Greenham Common used hydraulic doors to seal in safety and seal out nuclear blast. Opened in 1942, it was used by both the Royal Air Force in WW II and most famously by the US Air Force as a major Cold War Nuclear Strike Base. From late 1967, Greenham Common was used for NATO operations in deterrence of the Eastern bloc countries. The missile bunkers seen here were designed with their hydraulic doors to withstand the local airbursting of a point strike on the West’s front line deterrent from the East, showing the unique ability of the Hydraulic door system to carry strength and integrity to such a level… and they are still in existence today for all to see as part of the Cold War history. These extraordinary doors were some of the main inspirations for the strength of the hydraulic system that would later become Hydroswing®.  “Simple, Strong & Secure.” a mantra we still use today. Recently, these bunkers have been used in the making of the latest Star Wars movie as X wing hangars!

In hindsight, Hydroswing® was simply the coming together of what that early vision had built. As entrepreneurs, we all know the core to our inspiration. Do you know what sculpted your vision?

Next week, back to business.  To be continued.

“If it’s not broken ... Don’t fix it ... Right?” And Other Contemplations of Buying a Business

At the end of the day, it’s really a crap shoot (or maybe a pheasant shoot) when you buy an existing business. There are so many questions, and not always easy answers. Having firmly decided and committed to the risk factor of acquiring the assets of Cottonwood Welding & Manufacturing in Minnesota as the starting gate for Hydroswing®, I knew I had to look at this purely through entrepreneurial eyes. Several key issues came into play that would impact my future risk:

Location.  Shall I keep the shop in a small town that’s a 2 hour drive from Minneapolis?  Or relocate manufacturing?

Management. Since I would not be a fully present CEO, I had to ask, shall I introduce new blood into the management system, or hire within?

Product. Shall I begin innovation and development right away, or let things roll for a bit?

Following a short negotiation and asset purchase (and much pheasant hunting, snow mobile riding and beer drinking ...... all under the banner of knowledge gathering and diligence), we dug in and began in earnest to look at the direction we needed to go.

I had the same thought all owners have, get the word out and get the sales up… IMMEDIATELY. And the task begins. I threw in everything my experience had brought me over the last 20 some years. As I was kicking off in the new age of web-based marketing, I knew the campaign would need to bring the product worldwide exposure.

In an online universe there some really important things to consider: Branding. Branding. Branding. Immediately my mind went to, well you guessed it, branding. The key to any product messaging, and my own soapbox as well, is to deliver a message that was far reaching, modern, simple and very recognizable. My goal was (and is) singular—to place Hydroswing® in the forefront of large door systems market around the globe.

Out with the old...

In with the new...

Logo and visual messaging to the Ag, Aviation and Architectural markets were the main drivers (and something we have become known for). It has always been about the clarity of message… simple, strong and secure, just like the Hydroswing® itself. So we kept it clean: Hydroswing ...Hydraulic Doors & Walls said it all! The brand took hold quickly, maybe even a bit too quickly.

The groundwork was in place. Things were solid. Questions were leading to more questions, but we knew the direction, we had had started to draw the map. We were on the road. You buy a business, you step back, take a look, and then the real work begins. To be continued...

“I liked the shaver so much I bought the Company” (Victor Kiam) – A Lesson in Going After (and getting) What You Want

For those not of the era, Victor Kiam was an American entrepreneur and TV spokesman for Remington Products, and the owner of the New England Patriots football team from 1988–1991.  After attending Yale University, the Sorbonne and Harvard Business School, Kiam worked for Lever Brothers and Playtex as a salesperson. He first made his fortune as the President and CEO of Remington Products, which he famously purchased after his wife bought him his first electric shaver. He’s also the author of: Going for It!:How to Succeed As an Entrepreneur ¬– and an inspiration to many like me.

If Victor could do it, why couldn’t I? I had designed my Hydraulic Door System for my helicopter hangar based on the principles of: zero loss of headroom, the maximum width of opening possible, the ability to clad in aesthetic materials, ease and simplicity of use, and, of course, ownership. I knew what I needed to do…  I needed to build these doors.

I tried all my contacts in the area and no one would take it on as a project. By chance, whilst thumbing through Trade-a-Plane, I saw a very small photo of a hangar with what “looked” like “My Door.” I called the classified ad and was re directed to a small company in Minnesota. It was located 13 miles from the nearest airport in a town called Marshall. How fortuitous!

Thanks to the local Schwann Food Co., who had invested in the local airport and set it up for private aircraft, I was there within the week on a charter direct from Palomar Airport in California (KCRQ) to Marshal, Minnesota (KMML). That trip changed my life. 

I found a gem… my door in its infancy. Door were being manufactured in a tightly run (by the Accountant/ CEO) small welding shop called Cottonwood Welding & Manufacturing Inc., just outside Cottonwood, MN. A small town of 1,125 people, Cottonwood is surrounded by more corn, bean and ethanol plants than can ever be imagined!  Twenty-five dedicated people were in the process of making the early and original versions of what later became “my door,” the Hydroswing® Hydraulic Door System.

Having been involved for many years in engineering in the aviation and defense industry, I was quickly able to evaluate what I was seeing. As a customer, I could see the door itself, and as an entrepreneur and business man, I could see the business. I knew instantly I was looking at my next big project… AND what a project it became! The process began… I was going to buy that door, I was going to buy that business, and all that came with it… good, bad, or otherwise. My diligence was in full flow!

Opportunity was knocking, and knocking hard! There was no time to waste ... Some would say the welding mask was a great improvement! And so the journey began…
To be continued…