Posted: April 01, 2014
Made in Colorado 2014: Industrial, miscellaneousEric Peterson
Industrial / Misc.
RV heating systems
Hap Enander patented an on-demand water heater in 1989 and moved from the RV aftermarket to factory installations with Winnebago and other major manufacturers by the mid-1990s.
Aqua-Hot today commands a 95 percent market share for heating systems in high-end RVs. “We really dominate this niche,” says Aqua-Hot President Paul Harter.
Harter came to Aqua-Hot from Chrysler in 2006 and soon found himself in the midst of a perfect storm for the RV industry. The company’s revenue dipped to $4 million in 2009, but has since bounced back. “We’ve tripled in revenue since 2009,” says Harter. “We’re going to be at $12 million this year. We came out of the recession a lot leaner than we went into it, and that’s helped us with our recovery.”
Enander passed away in 2009 and the company set up a foundation to continue his work with Christian youth programs. “We gave away $250,000 in 2013,” says Harter. “That’s our goal every year.”
Ball Corp. Metal Beverage Packaging Division
Aluminum cans and vessels
ball.com / Broomfield
Ball dominates the aluminum can business, crushing the competition. The company produces about 40 billion recyclable aluminum cans in North America, with more than 2 billion coming from its facility in Golden, and another 20 billion in other markets.
The catalog includes about 20 different shapes and sizes, from aluminum bottles to tall boys, as well as labels that change with temperature and vents for smooth pouring.
“We have an outstanding relationship with basically all of the major beverage marketers in the world,” says Jay Billings, Ball’s VP of innovation, global metal beverage and North American marketing.
The Ball Technology and Innovation Center in Westminster is one of two facilities worldwide - the other is in Bonn, Germany.
“Our process is very collaborative,” says Billings. “We work through different options and permutations for both parties. We often arrive at a solution we didn’t expect.”
Craft brewing is a niche that’s recently exploded. Ball has supplied cans to 60 craft breweries in Colorado and 300 nationwide. “We’re really happy to support their growth in cans,” says Billings.
New is Oskar Blues Crowler, a 32-ounce can that’s filled and seamed right at the brewery’s Longmont taproom. Oskar Blues’ Dale’s Pale Ale is typically credited as the first canned craft beer in the country. “We’ve been with them since day one and we’ve grown with them over the last 11 years,” says Billings.
Hank Ridless saw a big opportunity to shake up billboard printing by leveraging better technology and digital printing when he launched Circle Graphics in 2001. The big players in the outdoor advertising industry scoffed, but Ridless had the last laugh. Circle Graphics now prints about 65 percent of billboards and other out-of-home advertising in the U.S., and is the world’s largest digital printer in terms of installed capacity.
Investors bought the company in 2012, but new CEO Andrew Cousin gives Ridless his due. “Most of the company’s accomplishments have to be credited to Hank, the visionary founder.”
Cousin says innovation has driven the 400-employee company’s growth since day one. “We have two Ph.D. chemists on staff,” he says, noting that Circle’s proprietary ink costs $10 per liter, much less than the $75-per-liter status quo. The end result has been “disruptive pricing” that undercuts competitors by 40 percent.
The company moved into canvas-wrapped wall decor in 2011 and now supplies numerous traditional photo retailers, portrait studios, and photographers with custom-printed products. After “triple-digit growth” for the division in 2013, the company is taking a crack at the consumer market with a new website, Eazl.com.
“We expect that business to double again this year,” says Cousin. “We’ve got a tiger by the tail.”
Dave Smith started Ice-O-Matic in 1952 and broke into the market by demonstrating his icemaker in the bathtub in his hotel room at a trade show.
“He didn’t have money for a booth,” says Kevin Fink, Ice-O-Matic’s president.
While the budget for trade shows has long since moved beyond bathtub demos, Ice-O-Matic remains unchanged at its core, says Fink. “The concept remains the same as it is today: How do you make ice reliably in a very simple machine?”
Today Ice-O-Matic is one of the largest manufacturers of ice machines on the planet, with nearly 200 employees, 135 of them making ice machines in northeast Denver.
“About 99 percent of what we sell globally comes out of this facility,” says Fink. “We’re the fastest growing ice company in the world right now.”
The market is vast and evenly split between North America and other continents. “Every Starbucks in the world has one of our ice machines,” says Fink. Subway, 7-11, Coca-Cola and other major international brands are also customers.
Ice-O-Matic recently developed a product that efficiently delivers 900 pounds of ice a day into Coke’s touchscreen soda fountains at movie theaters and restaurants, and is launching a line of smaller icemakers in 2014. “They’re designed to fill a segment of the market we haven’t been in,” says Fink, highlighting offices, gyms and churches as potential customers.
“We think it’s important we’re building stuff in Colorado,” he adds. He’s bullish that Ice-O-Matic can partner with more restaurant chains based on the Front Range, and is upping its local profile as the official ice of the Colorado Avalanche, he adds. “We’ve been largely off the radar. There’s a tremendous amount of businesses that are based here in Colorado that don’t know we’re here.”
Denver-based writer Eric Peterson is the author of Frommer's Colorado, Frommer's Montana & Wyoming, Frommer's Yellowstone & Grand Teton National Parks and the Ramble series of guidebooks, featuring first-person travelogues covering everything from atomic landmarks in New Mexico to celebrity gone wrong in Hollywood. Peterson has also recently written about backpacking in Yosemite, cross-country skiing in Yellowstone and downhill skiing in Colorado for such publications as Denver's Westword and The New York Daily News. He can be reached at Eptcb126@msn.com