FuzeHub interviews Steve Davis of Tapecon, a hundred year old manufacturer in New York State.
Steve Melito: Welcome to New York State Manufacturing Now. I’m your host, Steve Melito. We’re here in Western New York today with Steve Davis of Tapecon.
Steve, welcome to the podcast.
Steve Davis: Thank you. Thanks for having me.
Steve Melito: I think this is the first time we’ve been in Western New York to do one of these. I was wondering if you could give us an idea of the ecosystem out here for manufacturers who do a lot in the medical device industry. Is this a growth segment for you?
Steve Davis: For us, it is for sure. I’d say in Western New York in general, there’s a pretty strong ecosystem and a lot of really growth in terms of people getting more engaged. I think things like workforce development challenges and whatnot are getting people maybe outside of the office a little bit more than inside to go and try to find solutions to address any constraints to growth and things like that. There’s a good cluster network of various manufacturers and trade associations that are pretty active here. So overall long history and culture of manufacturing in the region, so a lot to build on.
Steve Melito: And of course, we’re really here to talk about Tapecon. So if you would, can you give us an overview of what Tapecon is about, what you do, why you do it, what makes you tick?
Steve Davis: Geez, that’s a lot of questions.
Steve Melito: It was.
Steve Davis: It’s been really fun. Last Friday we celebrated our 100th year in business, so we had our a 100-year anniversary party and what a blast. Had all the employees and some partners together and just celebrated a 100 years. We’re a family owned company. My brothers and I are the fifth generation now taking over the family business. We’ve had a long history since 1919, of being born in Buffalo and manufacturing product in Buffalo. But it’s been a pretty crazy evolution. We started off as a company that had a patented mechanical sign changing machine in which we would print an imagery on the sign changing machine and then sell the machine. But over time, we pivoted into being an industrial printer, and then really around the mid ’40s and then since then, it’s been a constant evolution of incorporating various technologies in our manufacturing process.But to take a step back, we’re a contract manufacturer, so we serve brand owners to make them more competitive in the marketplace through allowing them outsourced manufacturing solutions. And those solutions are primarily specialized printing and converting technologies on generally flexible materials. But we’ll manufacture products including printed indicators for the medical device or healthcare industry, as well as different user interface solutions for industrial equipment or electronic equipment. We’re serving the OEM market there, the original equipment manufacturing market. And custom converted solutions, so different components of performance materials that are flexible in nature with various dye cutting, or slitting, or cutting type capability and mixing and matching our printing and converting capability, we can be a one-stop shop for a brand owner for a single use disposable product, including the custom packaging to launch that product into the marketplace on their behalf.
Steve Melito: Do you consider yourself to be an electronic contract manufacturer, a medical device manufacturer, both, maybe something else? Is there a shorthand way that you would describe all of that?
Steve Davis: Yeah, it’s really tough to self-identify in a particular silo like that because we have such a broad range of capability. When you talk about electronics manufacturing, really where we are is coming from the flexible hybrid electronics space. So we’re not rigid printed circuit board. In essence, we’re coming from more of the flexible printed electronic side. So we’re printing functional materials like silver, carbon coppers, onto flexible substrates to make various electronic design configurations, but in a flexible format, not a rigid format. That’s one core capability. But then on the healthcare side though, our facility is medical device compliant also. We’re producing a lot of single use disposable Class I in some cases, Class II medical devices. But generally though, using that printing and converting form factor.
Steve Melito: So to be a Class I medical device manufacturer, do you have to have certain certifications or comply with different standards?
Steve Davis: Yeah, it’s all FDA at the end of the day. But our ISO registrations, we have 29001 and the new 2015 standard, and then we are ISO 1345 and the latest standard also. So both of those ISO registrations really put us in a position to serve brand owners and the OEM market, both on the medical device side as well as the industrial side. And industrial’s kind of a big catchall. We have some aerospace application and some various little niche markets that we’re serving.
Steve Melito: Are most of your clients in New York state or are they national, maybe even international?
Steve Davis: All of the, I’ll say bill-to addresses are national, so our primary customer base is in the states. However, our ship-to addresses can go international because they have various locations and we’re shipping into those various locations. But future wise, as that national base looks to be more globally competitive and get a footprint in other international markets, we are looking at establishing relationships throughout the globe so that we can offer manufacturing localization support in the market locations that they want to expand.
Steve Melito: It sounds like you’re on a path for growth. What are some constraints to that growth? Is workforce a challenge?
Steve Davis: Workforce is absolutely a challenge. It’s going to continue to be a challenge. I think it’s our single most largest constraint when it comes to growth. If we’re going to forecast growth, when I look at constraints, it’s probably number one. So obviously we’re doing a variety of things to get ahead of that and not have it hurt us.
Steve Melito: Okay, good. And earlier we talked about you’re working with some local schools, so you’re making an effort to get out there and do that. Is there any advice you’d have for other companies that are struggling with the workforce? And believe me, there are many.
Steve Davis: Well, geez, get out there and talk. One of our core values is connect and collaborate. So I like to think that that core value is almost our best salesperson and just best representation of our company. Because whether you’re on the management team or just a employee in the factory or wherever, at Tapecon, I feel like everyone is out meeting people and finding opportunities. If people are willing to go out and collaborate, then there are plenty of resources and training centers looking for those industry partners. If someone has a workforce development problem and their solution is to wait for that problem to go away, or to have someone else solve that problem for them, I think their heads in the clouds. And it really starts, I think, getting outside and meeting those people that are making an impact and aligning your business strategy to the business strategies of people like that are involved in training centers or other type of institutions.
Steve Melito: In terms of workforce, you are a well established company. You’ve been around for years, fifth generation, that’s remarkable. Oftentimes companies don’t get past the third. So there have been many, I guess, cultural changes over the years with the company. What’s the culture like now? Tell me more. You talked about collaboration a little bit. What are some of the values?
Steve Davis: That’s an exciting thing for me to talk about. I took over as president in 2015, and it’s been, I would say a rediscovery. I’d say that there’s been long-standing tenants of the culture here, but I think that in 2015, we took a step back and rediscovered them maybe a little bit more deeper. And so it involved a 100% survey of one-on-one conversations with all of our employees where we started to uncover what makes us tick. And so really there’s four key areas. One is around learning as a lifestyle where throughout everything in our organization, there’s always some type of learning component. There’s an improve it spirit in our company. It’s where we fit in the ecosystem of a contract manufacturer. And you’re serving the needs of a brand owner and things move fast around here. You need to improve things pretty fast. So that’s another core leg of the stool. Connecting and collaborating, I already mentioned about, both inside and outside the organization and then we have a core value called embrace the challenge, which is really about just having a sense of grit to some of the challenges that can come in every day because our customers challenges at the end of the day are our challenges. So just embracing that and dealing with it. Those four core values are really driving how we act toward each other inside the organization, how we’re interacting with customers and various things.
So it’s been a lot of fun going through that process, rediscovering that, because I think it’s created a new sense of excitement here in the past few years.
Steve Melito: You mentioned customer challenges and they become your challenges. Do you work with startups?
Steve Davis: We’ll work with everybody. So yeah, we do. Obviously there’s a different process to I think vet the, I don’t want to say feasibility, but really kind of vet the partnership and whether that’s a good partnership to engage in. There’s some different questions to ask and different discovery. But yes, we do work with startups.
Steve Melito: Are there particular qualities that you look for? For example, some contract manufacturers will tell us we only work with startups depending on who’s their board or who their advisors are. Do you look at those type of things?
Steve Davis: Yeah, you do. I think first and foremost, you look at the leadership. I always like to understand the background of the leadership and what’s driving them. And funding obviously helps. But again, you can tell a lot by the leadership and where that’s going to go. And frankly at the startup phase, I also like to have a good understanding of what the value proposition and the customer segments that they’re looking to serve. Because they’re early stage in their business model canvas or whatever you want to call that. There’s a little bit of verification in validation a little bit also in the early stage in terms of whether or not you feel their business model’s going to be successful.
Steve Melito: So a lot going on at Tapecon. Where do you want to be in five years?
Steve Davis: We do have that written down.
Steve Melito: Okay.
Steve Davis: So a lot of it is centered around growth, but not growth for the sake of growth. Because we’re a family business, and it’s not like we’re trying to raise our top line to get better valuation and sell or anything like that. We feel that we can be a more profitable company if we can raise our top line. That’s what’s driving growth. Where that growth is going to come from, is absolutely going to come from the healthcare space. It’s absolutely going to come from, I’ll say the performance products or using the internet of things and smart materials to really take brand owner designs and offer the latest in material technology and some of the manufacturing technologies to make those products more durable, lighter, easier to build. So there’s some assembly solutions options for us in the future. And just a variety of product enhancement challenges that we can help the brand owner through and be a part of their success, which will in turn be our success.
Steve Melito: I’m going to go out on a limb a little bit. Do you see yourself as being in terms of flexible hybrid circuits, like a JBL of the Northeast or of the US, maybe of the world?
Steve Davis: Well, considering JBL is a multinational global company, I think in the billions in revenue, that’d be a nice goal to aspire to, without sacrificing what we stand for in our core ideology, and I guess the family business vibe here. There’s definitely aspirations to play a larger role beyond just being a manufacturer of someone’s product, but to actually help our brand owner customers in their new product introduction process all the way back to their ideation when they are looking at their feasibility of their design, and then as they get to scale up and launch. But really not just be part of the scale up and launch portion of their new product introduction process, but actually offer up ideation in some partnership in terms of helping them get more creative and how they can be more competitive in the marketplace. And so I envision a service offering in addition to our manufacturing services, to help brand owners get through that new product introduction process faster and have better products at the back end of that new product introduction process.
Steve Melito: That’s excellent. Is there anything else you’d like us to know about Tapecon? This is your chance to just lay anything out there that you’d like.
Steve Davis: Oh, geez. I don’t know. Locally here in Larkinville, we’re the oldest tenant in the entire Larkinville neighborhood. This neighborhood’s been around for a long time. And of course it used to be an old soap factory, which eventually went out of business. But Tapecon was one of the first to move into this space when it was vacant. So we’ve been here since 1949. And so we are the oldest tenant in the entire Larkinville district, which we’re really proud of. Even though our initial factory was actually located down by Canalside, so where you can go ice skating down in the city of Buffalo, stone’s throw away near Pearl Street Brewery. Between Pearl Street Brewery and Canalside is where our original factory was from 1919 to the ’40s. I should go maybe stick a plaque in the ground or something to put it there if someone will let me do that. But I guess some people don’t know maybe how far the history really goes back. And I guess the commitment we’ve had to the city of Buffalo and how we’ve been part of the revitalization of Larkinville.
Steve Melito: It’s a great story. Thank you for sharing all of it with us. And we’re here with Steve Davis of Tapecon and as we wrap up this podcast, I just want to remind our listeners that if you are a small to medium size manufacturer in New York, an inventor, an entrepreneur, FuzeHub is ready, willing, and able to help you. The best way to get started is to go to our website. It’s www.fuzehub.com. And once you’re there, look for the solutions program menu, and then you’re going to look for a Contact us form on that menu to submit a request for assistance. And then within 24 hours, you will hear back from someone on the FuzeHub team, and we’ll try to figure out how New York State can help you grow and thrive. So on behalf of New York State Manufacturing Now, I’m your host, Steve Melito. Thanks for listening.