Release Reels — An Entrepreneur’s Journey from Biking to Fishing

Thursday, 14 May 2015 09:50 by Info@YesVirginia.org
After a hectic career traveling all over the U.S. and Europe as a professional cyclist, all Wes Seigler wanted to do after retiring as an athlete was to relax at his parent’s home in Reedville, Va., and fish every day like he did as a kid...

After a hectic career traveling all over the U.S. and Europe as a professional cyclist,  all Wes Seigler wanted to do after retiring as an athlete was to relax at his parent’s home in Reedville, Va., and fish every day like he did as a kid.

While fishing on the Chesapeake Bay and offshore Virginia, Seigler and his friends soon encountered problems with the performance of the reels they were using. Drawing upon his experience perfecting his own bike gearing and after encouragement from contacts in the cycling industry, Seigler decided to design his own product.

Release Reels was established in 2009. Seigler quickly found himself in the world of POs, RFQs and SKUs and learning what it all meant on the go. He initially started manufacturing in China, but found his intellectual property was leaking into competitors’ products and decided to bring back the manufacturing stateside.

Release Reels makes premium saltwater fishing reels, and the tolerances are very high. The product has to perform perfectly and look sharp. In order to make sure the machining was spot on, he decided to manufacture it himself. Upon being told he couldn’t compete with Asia, Seigler responded, “We can, we just gotta be willing to work.”

The company now operates nine CNC machines and has 10 full-time employees. 100% of the assembly and machining is done in Virginia and 100% of the component parts are made in the U.S. Seigler sources specialty bearings from Florida, gears and springs from Wisconsin and screws from San Diego, all to ensure the product is made in the USA.

“We have to win all categories — that’s the mentality of our company,” said Seigler. Release Reels products outperform in every class — they are smaller and more powerful, while weighing less.

The company also maintains a lifetime warranty on all its products, which no one else in the industry does. “If you purchase a product, I believe you should be able to call somebody and talk to them,” remarked Seigler. “We can fix it inexpensively, since we do all the machining in-house. Customers love the interaction and that carries into their next purchase.”

Release Reels also works with Rappahannock Community College and hires interns with an interest in machining as a career. “Giving a chance to somebody that might not be university bound has been pretty cool. Manufacturing is not what it used to be, it’s technology driven. We run a clean shop and it’s a great environment where people can learn a lot,” said Seigler.

The company’s high standards and customer service have paid off. After beginning with production of 100 reels per month, the company is now selling almost 600 reels per month and building the infrastructure to grow beyond that. They have also expanded into international markets from Europe to Southeast Asia.  

“The international market is huge for us,” noted Seigler. “People love an American-made product. Japan has a large fishing industry with some of the top shops in the world there. Being accepted by those customers is a strong statement for the quality of our products.”

As we celebrate Virginia Business Appreciation Month, Release Reels is a great example of the innovation and entrepreneurial spirit alive in the Commonwealth. To learn more why Virginia is a great place to grow a business, click here.

Release Reels Founder and President Wes Seigler demonstrates the company’s premium saltwater fishing reels for a future customer. Photo courtesy of Release Reels.

Highground Services — A Successful Graduate of the Franklin Business Incubator

Friday, 1 May 2015 09:34 by Info@YesVirginia.org
John Warren and James Strozier, two former International Paper employees, put their experience together and became entrepreneurs when they created Highground Services in 2006. They co-founded the company with their wives, allowing it to qualify as a veteran-owned, SWAM (small, women-owned and minority) business...

John Warren and James Strozier, two former International Paper employees, put their experience together and became entrepreneurs when they created Highground Services in 2006. They co-founded the company with their wives, allowing it to qualify as a veteran-owned, SWAM (small, women-owned and minority) business.

The company provides high quality engineering services for process control, system automation and instrumentation projects.

The company was off to a fast start — they landed their first contract with International Paper in May 2007 and became a part of the Franklin Business Incubator that December.

When International Paper announced the closing of its Franklin Mill in 2009, this represented a substantial part of Highground Services’ sales.

Rather than be discouraged by the economic downturn and loss of their largest customer, Warren and Strozier seized the opportunity to hire displaced International Paper workers and expand their customer base. They also diversified their business by providing new services, including electrical construction and plant maintenance.

“We made a conscious decision to locate in a historically underutilized business zone and we really value being a part of this community,” said CEO James Strozier. “Our employees are tremendous and they worked tirelessly to help us not only survive, but thrive in what could have been a very challenging time.”

The company’s efforts have paid off in multiple ways. They received the Virginia Business Incubation Association's Donna Noble Incubator Client Award in 2009, UVA’s Darden School of Business Tayloe Murphy Resilience Awards in 2011 and the Franklin/Southampton Chamber of Commerce Business of the Year Award in 2010.

Highground Services has surpassed the $5 million revenue mark for the third straight year, and grown from four founders to 65 employees. The company is also poised to graduate from the Franklin Business Incubator and is in the process of purchasing a building across the street in downtown Franklin.

The entrepreneurial spirit and resiliency of Highground Services is a great reminder of the innovation that exists here in the Commonwealth as we celebrate Virginia Business Appreciation Month. To learn why Virginia offers the resources for entrepreneurs to start and grow their businesses, click here.

Co-founders Jim and Lisa Strozier (center) are joined by local officials in front of their new property in downtown Franklin, Va.

U.S. Chamber of Commerce Ranks Virginia a Top State for Performance, Innovation and Talent

Monday, 6 May 2013 17:18 by Info@YesVirginia.org
In its fourth annual Enterprising States study, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce gave Virginia top marks in three out of six categories. Virginia was ranked No. 3 in Overall Innovation and Entrepreneurship, No. 5 in Overall Performance, and No. 5 in Overall Talent Pipeline...

In its fourth annual Enterprising States study, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce gave Virginia top marks in three out of six categories. Virginia was ranked No. 3 in Overall Innovation and Entrepreneurship, No. 5 in Overall Performance, and No. 5 in Overall Talent Pipeline.

This year’s theme, Getting Down to Small Business, focused on the importance of small businesses to lead the economic recovery, and looked at how states can implement policies to support entrepreneurs.

The study noted the importance of accelerator initiatives, economic gardening activities, business plan competitions, workforce development curricula and international trade programs—all of which Virginia does. Governor McDonnell’s 2012 Year of the Entrepreneur initiative and Virginia’s Business One Stop program received special recognition in the report.

Virginia was able to obtain a No. 3 ranking in Overall Innovation and Entrepreneurship due to its leadership in science and technology. According to the study, Virginia is the No. 1 state in STEM job concentration and has the No. 1 share of high-tech businesses.

The Commonwealth’s high standard of living and No.1 ranking in adjusted median family income helped Virginia to achieve a Top 5 spot in Overall Performance.

The report also noted Virginia’s well-educated workforce, including strong high school advanced placement scores, educational attainment, and higher education efficiency—all contributors to Virginia’s success in obtaining a Top 5 ranking in Overall Talent Pipeline.

These top rankings confirm Virginia’s position as a leading place for small businesses and entrepreneurs. The Commonwealth recently received an “A” for its small business friendliness from The Kauffman Foundation and Thumbtack.com.

With March unemployment at 5.3 percent, the lowest number since December 2008, the Commonwealth’s focus on small business and job creation is yielding positive results. To learn why Virginia continues to be a great place to start a business, click here.

Small Businesses Rank Virginia A Top Ten Friendliest State for Doing Business

Monday, 11 June 2012 09:31 by Info@YesVirginia.org
Virginia was ranked the No. 7 Friendliest State by more than 6,000 small businesses surveyed by Thumbtack.com and the Kauffman Foundation in the recently published Thumbtack.com Small Business Survey...

Virginia was ranked the No. 7 Friendliest State by more than 6,000 small businesses surveyed by Thumbtack.com and the Kauffman Foundation in the recently published Thumbtack.com Small Business Survey.

Virginia was in the top ten nationwide in the following categories: lowest cost to hire a new employee, business-friendly labor and hiring regulations, strong training programs, and networking events geared towards small businesses.

The Commonwealth was also the No. 1 state in the Mid-Atlantic region in the categories of overall small business friendliness, lowest cost of hiring a new employee, and ease of starting a small business.

Small businesses and entrepreneurs are at the heart of economic growth, providing 65 percent of net new jobs nationwide between 1993 and 2009, according to the Thumbtack.com Small Business Survey.

Governor McDonnell’s recent announcement of new legislature to encourage investment in small business further illustrates Virginia’s intent to attract and assist small businesses. Senate Bill 344 and House Bill 585 created the Small Business Investment Grant Fund which offers a grant equal to 10 percent of the qualified investment.

To learn why Virginia is a great place to start a business and read more about the extensive resources available to entrepreneurs, click here.

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