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How many of you are working in a small town? Maybe some of you, like me, sometimes work out of your house and love it. Well this episode is for you!

I’m sitting down with Ron Andrews of King Cage. Ron runs this highly successful company from his home right here in Durango, and he’s sharing is secrets to small-town success.

We’re getting into keeping with your founder’s vision, knowing how big you want, or don’t want, to your company to be, and keeping your business organized in your house.  Ron’s also talking about how he got the idea for King Cage, and where his product line has expanded from his original product.

For all of you trying to hustle outside the big city, this episode is full of advice from someone who’s living the passion-driven entrepreneur’s dream!

Bravery and Business Quote

“Quality and consistency is what you’ve really got to stick with.” Ron Andrews 

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The Cliff Notes

  • Living near people who are experts in their field is a great asset to you, no matter where you live.
  • Having customers who are excited about your product brings more enthusiasm and energy to your work and company psyche.
  • Don’t feel unable to leave your current job. Find a way to support yourself doing what you love.
  • Look for trade shows in your industry to expand your reach and customer base.  
  • Specialize your products. Once you have a product that sells well, look for ways to improve and personalize it to your niche.
  • Add value to your product. What can you do to help your clients even more than you already are?
  • Advertise at a rate that you can sustain your business. Don’t look for orders so big you won’t be able to fulfill them.
  • Keep your company the size you want it. Don’t feel pressured to expand or grow in ways that aren’t consistent with your founder’s vision.

“It’s easy to connect with a person because it is so intimate here and close.” Ron Andrews

(click to tweet)

Resources

 

King Cage

Interbike Expo

Transcription (click to expand)

[INTERVIEW START]

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: Ron Andrews, welcome to the Intrepid Entrepreneur Podcast.

Ron Andrews: Thank you.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: It’s so awesome to have you here as a fellow Durangoan. Ron is the founder of King Cage. I just read an article in Mountain Flyer–this podcast is being recorder–third week of October-ish 2016. It was a great, great feature. I love when they cover makers and craftsmen. It was just so awesome to see King Cage featured in there. So I wanted to just let you talk a little bit about how you came to Durango and opened King Cage.

Ron Andrews: I started King Cage back in Boston. I used to work for some bike factories–Fat City Cycles was one of them. [inaudible] Cycles in California was another one I’d worked for. And I’d worked there a while and bike raced a while and was getting tired–[I mean?], it was just growing. And I wasn’t fitting in and wanted to do something different. And moved on to tooling for other bike manufacturers and shared some space with another small builder. One of his customers wanted to know if he could make a titanium water bottle cage, and I had made machines that made things. So I took on that project 25 years ago, maybe.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: Wow.

Ron Andrews: And still doing it.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: So that was the first opportunity to make that. Did you build a machine that could make that or did you already have something in place that allowed you to do a prototype?

Ron Andrews: There was lots of bends in the cage. In the original machine, each one was done one at a time. So you’d get the piece of metal–if you’d picture a water bottle cage, there’s the big curve where the bottle goes and all other ones are the same sort of radius. So you’d have the big curve bent was one bender, and then I had one machine that would do all the others so you would kind of Sharpie and take measure–do one bend and then move on to the next one. Do one bend and then move on to the next one. So they weren’t very consistent in the beginning.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: So how did you get into manufacturing? When you said you were racing, did you have an engineering background or is this something that–

Ron Andrews: I have an Engineering degree from Northeastern University.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: Okay.

Ron Andrews: And I had a friend that the school who worked in the [Sprite?] factory to that city. And I had access to a machine shop that it was nicer than the one they had at the bike factory. So they used me to make parts.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: While you were still in school.

Ron Andrews: While I was in school, I was working in the machine shop as work-study program. And they would let me work at night there.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: Oh, that’s awesome. So it didn’t interfere with your training either?

Ron Andrews: No, because it was nights.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: Yep. That’s great. So basically, you had always been a cyclist or were you–I don’t know if they had competitive cyclists in college at that time. I think we’re about the same age.

Ron Andrews: Yeah. I was just always a cyclist because I didn’t have a car, and I have paper route. So every day I would ride my bike to do my paper route. I got pretty fit. Then once I’d made it to the bike factory–the bike paper route was grade school and high school.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: That’s awesome.

Ron Andrews: Then I was jumped on. They were racers, riders, so I would just jump in and learn this whole racing thing even though I was just a cycle commuter. Bicycle as a tool thing, not as a toy.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: It is a little intimidating to kind of go from a commuter or even a recreational cyclist into racing. I imagine on the East Coast at that time, there was probably quite a scene. What was it like for you to get into that?

Ron Andrews: The people I started training with were pretty lowkey.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: Thank God.

Ron Andrews: Yeah. More of a fun ride, the mountain bike thing. Those are fun people where you’re not just putting your hours in on the road.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: What was the mountain biking like back there at that time?

Ron Andrews: It was beginning so there weren’t many people riding the mountain bikes. When I would go riding in the woods, it’d be rare to see another tire print out there. Where now you go back there, it’s just–it’s crowded. There’s restrictions on the trails you can ride, that sort of thing. But back then, you just rode wherever you wanted to. Because then they’ve come upon people in the woods, and then– “Woah, what are you doing with that thing out here?”

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: Well, I also have to ask: when you made that titanium water bottle cage, was it for a roadie or a mountain bike person?

Ron Andrews: It was an enthusiast. He probably had every bike. He was just some guy that–the person that I was working for made extensive titanium bikes before–in the beginning. Though he wanted everything from his seatpost to his [pump?] to the water bottle cages–he was just a titanium aficionado. He wanted everything on the bike to be titanium.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: Awesome. Well, that’s a great story. And how did you happen to breeze your way over to our little corner in Colorado, here in southwest Colorado?

Ron Andrews: Worked in–I’m trying to think what happened. Had a job making medical devices there between one of the bike factories. And lived in Boston–was turning into a commuter person that had to drive an hour or so to work. And got an offer from John Parker at Yeti Cycles here in Durango to come out and work for him. Had an interview, and found a house. We moved probably within a month or two.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: Okay. So John Parker, you just opened a little bit of a can of worms. For the listeners here today, John Parker was quite a presence here in Durango. I moved here in 1994, so I’m assuming you moved here in ’91 or ’92?

Ron Andrews: Yes, ’91.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: Okay. So you are of the [inaudible] like, class at Yeti Cycles here in Durango?

Ron Andrews: [inaudible].

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: Okay. Well, honestly, one of the reasons I wanted to move here is because there was Travis, [inaudible], and Ned. I had gone to school in UC Davies and learned how to mountain bike there when I wasn’t raft guiding and oh yeah, studying at some point. And I just told my dad, I’m like, “Oh, it’s just for a year.” And I kind of busted my way into the Herald, and somebody left, and I was a warm body with a pulse, and they let me be a Sports writer. But I was hired there, Ron, typing in Letters to the Editor during the 1994 election year. If only my dad knew. But anyway, so I kind of elbowed my way into writing about mountain bikes, [I had a?] column. So I met John. And that whole thing was quite an era here in Durango. I’m really stoked they got to be there even for the tail end of it.

Are you still there?

Ron Andrews: I’m still here.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: Okay. It’s not like you have much to say about John Parker. Should we not talk about him? Tell me what it was like, though, when you moved here. Unless you don’t want to. I made a little timestamp here so if we need to edit this out, we can. But if you feel comfortable talking about what it was like to be at Yeti Cycles back at that time, it sure would be cool to share that. Because I still love the brand so much. And it’s evolved in a cool way recently, I think.

Ron Andrews: It was exciting.  I mean, the company had a huge cult following. Every bike that left had a story with it. [inaudible] would call and ask if there’s bikes ready, or there’s certain little things that they wanted to change where you could have the little cable guy to be a different color. So every bike that would come out of paint had a tag on it that was who the owner was, what the color of the cable stops would be or what fork was going to go in it. It was an exciting place to work because the customers were so enthusiastic.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: And just the company culture, I remember. It had this cool vibe to it, and I don’t think there was another company in Durango at the time like that. I mean, Ska had started, maybe–and is certainly that today, but I think Yeti just was a very special company. I think it kind of defined a little bit of the outdoor recreation economy culture in Durango at that time and going forward.

Ron Andrews: It worked well there because people were flexible and I think they did get paid great. But it was a fun place to work in so that made its draw was the entertaining aspect, the camaraderie with all the welders and the [inaudible] in the office.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: That was back when Barracuda was here, too, sort of, right?

Ron Andrews: Barracuda started making their bikes at Yeti and then moved on to their own thing at a different place.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: So the bikes were actually made in Durango. I want everybody to hear that. That’s really cool.

Ron Andrews: And the Barracudas were made also at Yeti for a little bit. They moved on to some factory somehow. I’m not sure how that all entail. I kind of left by then.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: When you left, where did you leave to go do? Did you have to leave Durango or were you just–did you put your own stake at the ground at that time?

Ron Andrews: –there and cages were enough to support me then.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: That’s so cool. Okay, so we’re talking probably 1995 or so when you left and when out on your own to become an entrepreneur.

Ron Andrews: I was an entrepreneur at Yeti. So it was ’93 or ’94. It was pretty quick. I was there only a year.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: And you were out of your garage with your company, and you still are, right?

Ron Andrews: Moved from the house with a garage, now I’m in a different house. Now I work in the basement so my commute’s even shorter.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: I started my company in my basement in Durango, too. That’s awesome. So this company, King Cage, has supported a family living in this awesome little town for that long.

Ron Andrews: Right.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: That’s awesome. Has it become more of a family company for you guys?

Ron Andrews: My wife does shipping and invoicing. So the two of us, and then there are employees. So not only that supports our family, it supports some other people also.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: Awesome. That’s economic development, right there. So tell us about some of the expansion that you have had over the past few years. The Mountain Flyer article, I was particularly drawn to this cult following you’ve built in Asia. Can you talk a little bit about that? And how did that happen?

Ron Andrews: I’m not sure how it happens. I do a trade show in Las Vegas called Interbike, and they come to the booth. It’s just crazy in the beginning–I’d get these orders for hundreds of cages [inaudible] most of them are 20’s and 40’s. Over the years, just other stores have done the same. These huge orders come from overseas, and they still do. And I don’t advertise much at all so I’m not sure where they hear about me. [inaudible] only is building where it’s every day there’s orders coming in. There’s more to do. It’s a bit of a growing pain to keep up with these overseas orders.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: Is it primarily your foot cage?

Ron Andrews: No, it’s just the water bottle cages the primary product. Like, 80%-90% is cages. The rest of the other things are not so big.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: Okay. That’s really amazing. So if anybody’s curious about this, it’s kingcage.com, and then click on Products and you’ll get to see just the range of water bottle cages and–I just think your foot cage looks so artistic. I love the art that you have of the old rivet leather saddle with the mud flask behind it. That’s super cool. So basically, it’s a whiskey flask.

Ron Andrews: It fits under your seat.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: And I have developed kind of a–I don’t know, you might roll your eyes or maybe you won’t on this one–but tell me about what you developed for fatbikes because I just love fatbiking. When I heard that you were doing stuff for fatbikes, I immediately jumped on to your site. But tell us a little bit about that.

Ron Andrews: The fatbike product is a small pannier that can hold 40 oz., 64 oz. bottle that simply screws onto the forks or anywhere underneath down to just as a second spot to add storage. Because a lot of those bikes, people want to go out into the woods with it, and the pannier gets big and bulky where you are pushing your bike or bike packing, as they call it. It gets caught on the trees or whatever. So these mini panniers are now what people are liking to have on their fatbike.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: Yeah, it looks really cool. That’s the Cargo Cage?

Ron Andrews: That is the ManyThing Cage.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: Oh, okay. Cool. That’s the new product right there. Awesome. Right along with the custom bottle lever right below it. What were you going to say? I’m sorry.

Ron Andrews: It’s just real universal–you could put a stuff sack in it. And the straps are adjustable. So pretty much whatever that fits in the strap will go on to that little [boulder?] thing. And it’s crazy light also where a pannier and a rack gets pretty heavy.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: Yeah. So my audience, Ron, is full of people who either live in a mountain town or a small community of some kind that keeps them close to their passion–the same reason you and I and our families live here–and they’re entrepreneurs and they’re basically trying to make a run where they’re not living in a city or going corporate in there. Just trying to be [inaudible] about it. Obviously, we’ve been doing this for a while from a little town. You just mentioned that you had a little bit of a struggle with some of the shipping overseas in Asian orders and whatnot. Obviously, we all have struggles as entrepreneurs, but do you ever feel like you’re going to need to expand outside of Durango or do you feel like you’re going to be able to keep it going here? Tell us your philosophy on how you handle growth while keeping the spirit and soul of your brand.

Ron Andrews: Maybe lack of advertising so it doesn’t really [inaudible] quickly. I think it’s grown at a nice rate now where there aren’t any huge spikes in orders, they just–gradually, year by year, 10% or 20% increase. So I think I can keep it here in town. It’s just keeping the production is difficult because it’s at the house. People come here to work. I do enjoy my days off so they work usually Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. And then Thursday, Friday are [inaudible] shipping and office days for me by myself. So the production is a struggle to keep up. The number of products that have to get met. In cages, they get made every day. And also, the balance with the people in the house here. Whether or not there would be a second location or a subcontract to someone here in town where they would do the bending and welding at someone else’s garage would work fine. It’s a pretty simple machine. It’s in that video on the webpage. And the welders are small. It’s not a smelly kind of welding. Some people think of welding–the sparks, [inaudible]–it’s the titanium stainless steel. It’s a really clean welding. I weld in the basement, you can’t even tell up here what’s going on down there.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: That’s awesome. So are you planning on maybe–I don’t know, maybe you do this already–do you open it up to students to come in and do any kind of internships with you?

Ron Andrews: I had a kid from Mountain Middle School. This summer was really fun. He worked one day a week. Just on his way into high school and was interested in welding and manufacturing. That was a good one because it’s only one day a week.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: Right. And these people are all in your house?

Ron Andrews: Yeah.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: So that right there is a little bit of a limiter.

Ron Andrews: –with a person because it is so intimate here and close.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: Right. Well, that’s one way to keep your company culture completely intact. So that’s worked, obviously, for you. Honestly, I’ve always wanted to reach out to you and get to know you a little better. When I saw that article, I was like, “Okay. If he’s willing to be there, I bet he’d do a podcast with me.” Because I know you haven’t been spraying heavily about your business and trying to grow super quickly. I mean, Chris Herting, I think, of 3D–racing in 3D bicycle is the same. Like, you guys want to keep it the size it is, focus on quality and innovation, and keep it like you don’t want to have 75,000 employees. And that’s great, too. I love the fact that I’m able to find somebody just like you who’s had a long-running profitable growing business, but has kept it right-sized for your life.

Ron Andrews: Yeah, it’s been awesome.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: That’s great. So I have one other question I have to ask you: so you and I both love to visit garage sales. I see you at a lot of them. Do you buy bike cards or find inspiration–I mean, it’s always been around bikes, that’s where I see you at these garage sales. Like, tell us about that a little bit. Is that just sort of a fun hobby for you or do you actually go and get design inspiration from old bikes you find at garage sales?

Ron Andrews: It’s just that it’s the old bike. It’s hard to find those fun, old parts. I have boxes of them for some reason, and I have a collection of bikes that just are decoration. [inaudible]. It’s just the older designs–it’s just nice to see stuff that’s been made the in states for the years. Just no inspiration on them at all.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: Okay. Well, that’s cool. Really, for years and years–I think my kids were babies the first time I would just take them out and look around on Saturdays. And we’d have yard sales. We always had really good yard sales because I was a journalist at the time, and just had tons of gear. But you’re always there. So I recognized you from there. Well, cool, Ron. I’m really stoked that we were able to connect on this. I guess, just any parting advice for any burgeoning entrepreneurs who might be wanting to move to a little town like Durango and start up their own thing? Like, if you could talk to yourself from the age you are now and the position your company’s in now to that younger [inaudible] version of you, what would you say from an advice standpoint?

Ron Andrews: Quality and consistency is what you really got to stick with.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: Amen to that. Especially when you’re inspired by being a maker and a craftsman from the beginning, you do have to stay with that. Well, really awesome to see your company doing so well and that you’re creating jobs in our awesome little town here. I really appreciate you taking the time to join me and share your story with my audience today.

Ron Andrews: Thank you.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: All right. And we’ll keep an eye on everything you’re doing so that–

[INTERVIEW END]

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