Manufacturing the Future is a journey that Chris and Jen have been on together since the beginning of Escapod. But how did they get there?
Lifelong campers, Chris and Jen Hudak met in 2014 in Moab, both while on their own soul-searching mountain biking trips. From there, all they wanted was to fit outdoor adventure into their busy schedules. But they had a problem: they spent more time setting up camp than actually camping.
In 2016, they went into a family garage and built their own off-road teardrop trailer, packed with functionality. The custom design not only helped them take back their adventure time—it gave them a product to take to market.
Everywhere they took their teardrop on their mountain biking adventures, interest was peaked by passersby, friends, and family. From there, Chris decided he wanted to try and make this a full-time gig and see where it could take them.
Today, their company, Escapod, has more than 70 employees and was recently named the ninth fastest-growing manufacturing company in North America by Inc 5000. But rapid growth brings a whole new set of problems.
Mo Growth, Mo Problems
In the episode of Manufacturing the Future, featuring Escapod, Chris and Jen discuss the challenge of building a foundation for their company while simultaneously scaling operations and manufacturing processes.
“It’s really hard to work on both. Growth ... doesn't allow you to stop and build strong foundations. The growth is wonderful, but it also causes complications,” Chris says.
To begin solving the problem, a technology company wasn’t an option, so they learned to leverage technology platforms that could help them build out key elements of their operations—like tracking products for the supply chain, tracking working instructions, and revision control,—while reducing redundancies and mistakes across those platforms and constantly assessing new platforms to determine their value-add.
Investing in the Workforce
They also looked at workforce investments. For instance, by hiring a general manager, Chris had more time to focus on business decisions.
“As you really grow and you start to have income and you start to have real revenue, you can start to be able to afford higher level positions that can help you guide the business,” he says.
Jen adds that it’s the people that help make Escapod successful. “The partnership that Chris and I have with our two other partners is really special. We all bring unique skill sets and have really healthy conflicts. What that leads to is that we're each able to poke holes in the other person’s concept and then improve upon that concept, and you see that ripple through our product,” she says.
Not only has Escapod grown tremendously since its origin, but it’s also been subject to one of the company's core values: Continuous Improvement. This value has driven the company to be innovative when in product development.
This led the company from its first product: The Original TOPO, a wood aluminum-based constructed teardrop trailer to our new product the TOPO2.
The team looked at other industries to find what works for many manufacturers when creating the TOPO2. They explored aerospace, automotive, and other companies in the manufacturing industry.
This led to the development of TOPO2, which is a class-leading, 4-season off-road teardrop trailer that doesn’t ask you to choose adventure over comfort. Its single-piece structural composite body is as durable as you can get. Equipped with our proprietary shock-in-spring Freeride Suspension System, the TOPO2 is designed to handle the most rugged terrain.
This change in product drives the company closer to reaching our goal of “Creating the Best Damn Camper Known to Man”.
Want to hear about the journey directly from the founders? Give both the Manufacturing the Future and Composites Weekly podcasts a listen to hear the story of how Escapod started in a garage to become one of the top manufacturing companies in growth in 2022, their approach to operations, and their advice for people like them who had an idea that solved a problem, and now want to scale their business to sell to the world.
Topics you can expect to hear about include:
- Actionable advice for small businesses looking to improve operations with tech solutions.
- Investments that help small businesses scale operations.
- Why knowledge fails without documentation.
- How technology like a one-stop website helps create a high-quality customer experience.
- The importance of partnering with others to build those services.
- How Escapod measures success
- How they iterate if something isn’t measuring up.
- Why their most critical operational investment is investing in good people.