A Family Business Machining Its Way To Success With Strategic Planning

Absolute Dimensions Stephen Brittain

Strategic planning, team training, and belief in employees have Absolute Dimensions machining its way to success.

The timing was right when Mike Rickords and his son-in-law, Stephen Brittain, decided to turn their dream of owning their own machine shop into reality. Mike had decades of experience working for a large aerospace manufacturer, and Stephen had held various positions from CNC operator to large assembly program manager at a small firm. So in 2003, when Mike heard that he might be laid-off, they both got serious about the idea of using their combined experience to start their own business.

Building the business plan

While they were putting together a business plan, they reached out to the Kansas Small Business Development Center (KSBDC) at Wichita State University. The KSBDC helped them create a more robust business plan to present to a bank for financing. “After 10 banks turned us down, Garden Plain State Bank approved a SBA guarantee 7(a) loan to finance one water-jet machine and some operating capital,” said Stephen. Then, on March 19, 2004, Absolute Dimensions, LLC opened its doors for business.

By 2008, the business was doubling its revenue every six months, and they needed another machine to keep up with demand. One week after they bought a new horizontal CNC machine, the strike at Boeing in Seattle hit the market hard. “Our financing and nerves got tight in those days. Luckily, we had some receivables and cash on hand to help us through those lean months” said Stephen. “Business was slow and we were concerned about our keeping our employees on the payroll, so we participated in the Kansas Shared Work program,” he added.

In 2009, Absolute Dimensions, LLC was able to obtain a SBA 506 Recovery Act zero-interest loan to help through the difficult time. They also kept in touch with the KSBDC for guidance on strategic planning, and even had all five of their office staff attend their workshops. The strategic planning process helped them diversify their product and service capabilities to include composite materials. They also added new customers outside the aerospace industry. Absolute Dimensions, LLC is now using their machining equipment to produce parts for a truck manufacturer, a company that makes signs, and they even make custom metallic inlays for tile.

By 2012, Absolute Dimensions, LLC, was growing to the point where they needed to consolidate their financing at a larger bank that had the capacity to service their needs. Today, the company’s 24 employees are trying to keep up with demand, and using every inch of available space in their facility.

Advice to other small business

When asked for their words of wisdom to other small business owners, Steven and his wife Miranda, who manages the office, said it is vital to manage the growth of your business. “You can grow too fast and put your business at risk”, said Stephen. “Save money when you have it because your cash flow can create constraints”, Miranda added. They both believe it’s important to reach out to organizations like the Kansas Small Business Development Center for expert advice on business planning. They gave a lot of credit to the KSBDC and the SBA for helping them navigate through the turbulent times.

The future looks bright for Absolute Dimensions, LLC. If things keep up, they may be looking for a new building and more automation to meet the growing demand.

Originally published at http://www.sba.gov/about-offices-content/2/3117/success-stories/753832

Additional video footage of Absolute Dimensions can be found here.


Alan Badgley, consultant with the KSBDC at WSU assisted Absolute Dimensions. Alan has expertise in strategic planning, specialty finance, and training. Alan can be reached at ksbdc@wichita.edu  or 316-978-3193316-978-3193.

Who is the Kansas SBDC?

who is the kansas sbdcAt the Kansas SBDC we’re asked this question quite a lot. And, it’s a tough one to answer.

We’re not a for-profit business that falls under a certain NAICS code. We’re not a government organization, even though the government provides us funding. We’re not really higher education even though we work with our higher education partners as a bridge to their communities. We’re just different.

But different in a good way.

To explain who we are, and really to clarify it for our marketing, I’ve taken a few minutes to deviate from the usual boring About Us write up in an attempt to describe who we really are. See if you agree.

“I have this friend…”

When I think of businesses I often think of them in the form of human beings with individual personalities. If asked to describe the personality of the Kansas SBDC, I would describe us as “that friend.” You know, that friend that everyone has and they typically never utter their name aloud. They are the friend they bounce ideas off of or turn to when they need business advice.

We are the friend. We are that friend you call when you have a great idea or are trying to figure out what’s going on in your business. Or maybe we’re more like a business acquaintance than a friend. But whatever you call us, you know that we’ll take the call, and take the time to listen.

You trust us. We always seem to know what we’re talking about, and when we don’t, we’ll find someone else that can help.

You know that you can always count on us to have your best interest in mind. We’ll tell it to you straight every time.

We’ll encourage you, support you, and send extra resources your way. We know that your business is important to you and we respect that.

You know that you’ll never have to worry about sharing anything confidential with us. Our lips are sealed. And you also know that we’ll be one of your biggest cheerleaders when you let us share your story.

And we’re different. That’s part of what makes us that friend. We have a world of knowledge, totally tuned in, and yet unique in the world.

We are like other organizations that care about supporting small business with a few important differences. We have the academic knowledge. We know the theories and the formulas that make business successful, but we translate our knowledge into something you can use. Our advice is grounded in reality because that’s where we work – in the real world.

We’re focused on the economy, but different from others in that our sole focus is on entrepreneurs and small business owners living in Kansas. We don’t try to recruit business from the outside nor offer financial incentives for outside companies to expand to small towns. We work with people that live and work here for a reason – because they like Kansas. So, it kind of makes sense that our tagline is growing Kansas entrepreneurs.

We stay current on what works best for your small business – whether it’s the latest in marketing, financing, exporting, government regulations, or opportunities that may work to your advantage. Our people stay up on best practices through their own ongoing training and professional development. Why? Because we know it will help you in your business.

We’re part of a bigger team. That gives us quite a few additional resources that standalone organizations don’t have. So when you need something from beyond Kansas, we put out the call and get you help – for market research, expanding distribution, breaking into new markets or whatever else. We have resources we can tap into across the U.S. for you.

We’re not a lender, but we do help with financing. Our role is to really understand your short-term and long-term financial needs and help you reach your goals. We do this through intensive one-on-one consulting. We share best practices, benchmarks, and more to help ensure that your business is profitable for the long haul.

We invest time and resources in you. We don’t spend a fast 5 minutes with you and tell you what to do. We get to know your business inside and out. We work with you for weeks, months, years – whatever it takes – to get you where you want to go.

We are unique in that we have a very qualified, committed team that’s passionate about small business and entrepreneurship. It’s hard to find people that are not only dedicated, but are uniquely positioned to support your most critical business needs. And we’re talking about a team made up of CPAs, legal experts, certified export experts, international trade experts, business valuation experts, national development certified financial consultants, and more. It’s actually pretty impressive.

Why does our friend do this? It’s a given that they are passionate about what we’re passionate about. But there’s another reason they enjoy being that friend.

Our funding partners have asked us to fulfill this critical role in our communities and our state, and we take pride in that role. We know that our economy, our communities can’t survive without you – entrepreneurs and small business. So, we do everything we can to help through free consulting and low-cost training and workshops.

We know it’s more complicated to compete, to grow, to find good employees, to make decent margins. And sometimes that requires calling a friend, or business acquaintance to run a great idea past them or to get some solid advice so you can figure out what’s going on.

Would you agree with this characterization? Are we that friend?