Marshal Parker's Blog

Large Door Systems Entrepreneur

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...

“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…