Workhorse Products President Tyler Dummett Gives Us a Behind The Scenes

Business Lessons

I chatted with Tyler Dummet, President of Workhorse Products in a unique look behind Workhorse. Tyler went from a High School PE teacher to driving a cutting-edge company.

We chatted about what he applied from his teaching days to Workhorse, re-energizing a company, growth through acquiring, consolidating and meeting customer needs.

Transcript

Bruce: Hey everybody this is Bruce from Printavo, Simple Shop Management Software, back on our latest podcast episode, "Business Lessons and Learnings." Today we've got a very, very special guest, Tyler Dummett, president of Workhorse Products out of Phoenix, Arizona. Thanks for joining us Tyler.


Tyler: Bruce, my pleasure. Thanks for the kind introduction. I appreciate it.


Bruce: Yeah. So Tyler's got a really great background, that I want to get more into and how that relates to Workhorse, and then also kind of Workhorse as a company, and I think it's a pretty neat look into the company and what's going on. I was first introduced to Workhorse personally, I believe at an ISS show last year, and since then we've just kind of kept in touch. But so let's just dive into it. Tyler, your background, how did you get involved with Workhorse? I mean, what were you doing before that? Were you in the printing industry?


Tyler: No, I wasn't. I was close. I was almost a screen printer I tell people. My professional experience prior to Workhorse was I was a high school educator, in specific I was a PE teacher. And just by chance was the department chair for the district I was working in and in charge of all of the screen printed items the PE uniforms, athletic teams stuff like that. And so I was getting more and more involved with more and more shirt orders, and short orders. And I started talking to printers, needing to get quotes etc. And that was my start into the actual screen printer, the garment decorating industry, and then from there, I had a little bit of luck on my side. Workhorse was in town, I was teaching in teaching school here in Arizona.
The president of the Bergman group at the time had just moved here from San Francisco, was exactly my age. We kind of hit it off became friends and as I learned more and more about the t-shirt industry or the screen print industry, it kind of morphed into a friendship, and then it kind of morphed into a business opportunity. Here I am now. I had a great opportunity to take the lead of Workhorse products.


Bruce: That's amazing, you know, the high school PE teacher to, you know president Workhorse products, it seems like such, I mean, of course, there's the relation of order in the garments and everything and the uniforms but seems very different. So, you know, how has that teaching experience helped you to run a company of the size that you're at now? And by the way, what size is Workhorse at maybe just employee count or so people get a sense? How many [inaudible 00:02:55] you manufacturer a year?


Tyler: Yeah, machines are really, I mean, it's hard to say. We share some of our production staff with a few of the other lines of products that we manufacture that isn't solely Workhorse products. Relatively, I'd say we're a small company. Workhorse is probably, you know, 150 to 200 employees, and then a portion of those are shared with a few other divisions of stuff we manufacture out of our facility in Phoenix.

Bruce: Interesting.


Tyler: Yeah, and so that would give you an idea on the size, number of machines boy it really varies, and if you...I couldn't even tell you the number, if you said, "Hey, tell me the number of pieces of equipment you ship out in a year, you know, vice, you know, manual presses, bench model presses, dryers, exposing units, flashes, automatic presses." Boy, I couldn't tell you the exact number, you know, of how many items we put out of here in a year, you know, automatic wise with our family of products. We work hard to put, you know, roughly 300 give or take units into the field if that helps give you an idea of our side.


Bruce: Okay. That's fair. Now, what about teaching side? Obviously, like I said before it's a different contrast from where and now. But how was the teaching aspect really been able to help you in your role now?


Tyler: Yeah, you know, it does seem like two very far apart, you know, professions or industries. But definitely some crossover, and if I had to pick one thing that would be the driving force, I would say its relationships or, you know, the ability to work with people. As my role in the school district, I was a leader of...or I was the department chair for the entire PE department. We were for elementary schools into a middle school into a high school. So for the biggest part for me was the ability to relate to a number of people and, you know, I use this with humbleness. And I don't say this braggadociously. But, you know, being able to unite and lead people, that's been the biggest take from becoming a teacher, you know, a teacher to, you know, this role right here.


Bruce: So when you're uniting, and you talk about that and getting everyone on the same page. Maybe what's like one tip or something that you've learned to help do that, to help accomplish that, I mean, between 100-200 people that that's significant, right? And making sure that everyone's just as excited about Workhorse as you, and the growth, and everything?


Tyler: Right. Let me take that in just a slightly different direction, okay. Let's take that because I do think I have a nice and applicable example for you. So I want to migrate it just slightly out of our production facility, and say, okay, you know, I've been with Workhorse for seven years, so when I came in here definitely a unification of the staff here was one thing, but the biggest impact for us was it boiled down to our distribution network, you know, the companies out there that are working with us and selling our stuff on a daily basis. We worked extremely hard out of the gate at my tenure here to reconnect with those companies. So our distribution network, you know, we invited them out to visit our facilities, we kind of did a reintroduction of ourselves to them and said, "Hey, we're here to partner with you, you know, where is it we could do better for you? Where is it we struggled with you in the past?"
And we brought 'em in and said, "Hey, this isn't a...we're not here to push our agenda on to you to sell our stuff. Let's become a team, you know, where can we help you? Where can you help us? And how can we go out into this marketplace supporting each other and have a bigger impact on what, you know, we're able to do together?" So bringing those people in, bringing some shared goals, finding some common ground, and kind of energizing our distribution network to share the vision that we had at the time, or to be a part of it or vice versa. That was really the biggest connection of, you know, bringing a group of people together, to try to get them all in one common, direction or one common goal, or...you get what I'm saying?


Bruce: Yeah, yeah. So it's really bringing everybody together in your network forth together, and just meeting with them and understanding and you communicating to what your goals are where you want to take things. That that really emphasizes...so we talked a lot about one-on-ones. Making sure owners sit with every person on the team regularly, and ask those same exact questions too. How are you doing? How can I help you? What's bothering you? What's keeping you down? You know, what can I make easier about your job? Hey, here's what we're going. Here's what's going on at the company level, you know, keeping and maintaining that transparency aspect. But that's neat that that's how you kind of use that as a foundation to unify.


Tyler: Yeah and then to...and, you know, we sat down and discussed, you know, several times what's the best move for us? And I'm not saying that was the best, and we're constantly evolving or trying to, you know, find better ways. But the approach we took to unify or to, you know, strengthen if that's a better word or reconnect with our distribution network. That was really the platform to help drive then, like you said, you know, talking to everybody in your company, okay. So a reenergized dealer network, of course, did what? You know, promoted or prompted some sales.
So as sales were coming in and sales were increasing, that has a natural pump upness if you will, or that's got a natural way to kind of energize the internal staff because they feel like, "Man, we're back. We got stuff to build. We've got orders lined up." Now we put a platform in place to now look internally and say, "Hey, as we're creating a vein or a better platform to be more noticeable, or to gain some market share back. Now we've got to be better at what we do here to support these people." So, you know, oftentimes an inside-out approaches is common or you start there. But we...I don't want to say we did it totally backwards. But we definitely, you know, tried pushing, increasing some sales to kind of rally the troops internally here to kind of get to the good vibes on that hey, look what's happening let's get on board with this thing.


Bruce: Sure. Now to me that sounds like before you were brought in to help reenergize and grow and connect, that there was issues with this connection, and figuring out a stable foot, like, you know, are you able to touch on maybe before that aspect what things were like, and what like what you were looking at when you came in to be able to say, "Okay, here's where I want to take things."


Tyler: Yeah, certainly. And I'd like to say, you know, Workhorse I was extremely fortunate, you know, to be given this opportunity, you know, and the saying is it's better to be lucky than good. You're talking to a guy who's far luckier than good. Workhorse has as most people...well, I should say this, you know, we kinda have a longer story of how we became Workhorse prior to Workhorse being what it is today. We were manufacturing here at Chaparral industries. Okay, so Chaparral was a line of manual festive dryers last year that was a ground-up start for us here in Phoenix. Through the acquisition of a company, Workhorse product through Tuff Products, through Progressive Machine, that kind of rounded out the Workhorse that people see or know today.
So back to your question, I had an extremely solid foundation to start on, okay. It wasn't...we weren't challenged with, boy, we don't have enough manufacturing facility, we don't have a building, we don't have the staff, you know, we don't have the equipment, we don't have industry knowledge. We had all of that, okay. So it wasn't coming in, you know, saying, "Hey, we need a ground-up redesign." It was just coming in and saying, "Okay, we've got all of these tools. How do we bring all of these tools and get them to work better with one another?" And we may be, you know, almost kind of gave ourselves a rebranding so to speak. We kinda unified our color scheme of our equipment. We did a few things like that and just took a fresh approach may be to the market. So I didn't come in with a...I didn't come into a company that was financially challenged. I didn't come into a company who was challenged with a lot of things, other than, "Hey, let's just kinda of reintroduce ourselves." Or you know, "Listen to the market a little closer than we've done maybe recently and this kind of reenergizes ourselves."


Bruce: So what was Chaparral making before? And then talk about the transition to Workhorse from there.


Tyler: Okay, so Chaparral was always making textile equipment, so that was our...that was Workhorse and I guess it does get a little confusing. So people that have some experience in the industry, probably recognize Chaparral. That was at the time a startup company that the founders of our parent company that was their first step into textiles. So that was manual presses, flashes, and dryers, and they named it Chaparral industries. Okay, so Workhorse and I don't know, there's probably people in the industry Bruce who can give a better history lesson to this than I can. But Workhorse was a company that was, runs...it was a totally separate company from Chaparral industries. It had different owners, it was guys who had started that on their own. And so Chaparral acquired Workhorse, okay. We brought it into our Phoenix facility.
At that time we liked the Workhorse name, and we stuck with Workhorse and essentially shed the name Chaparral. And I probably miss speaking by saying we because all of this happened years and years before I was ever a part of it.


Bruce: Got it. Okay, and then through there what was the, you know, growth strategy from there to bring on other different products? Because that was just manual presses and dryers we're talking about.


Tyler: Right on the money. That was all manual stuff. So our growth came at the time via acquisition, okay. So we were Workhorse Chaparral if you will, and then to get into automation... We actually did manufacture a couple of Chaparral automatics prior to the acquisition that really got us into it. So I think at the time maybe four or five prototype [inaudible 00:15:13] were actually manufactured from the ground up here in Phoenix and produced. But that led to the acquisition of Tough Products out of Houston, okay. So Tough Products as people are probably familiar with the names Freedom, Javelin, Olympian, okay. Those were the three automatic lines that were being produced by Tough Products. So Workhorse Chaparral then made the acquisition of Tough Products.
So now we had a nice manual line and we had our first full automatic line, bringing in the free...at the time the Freedom, the Javelin, and the Olympian which were all automatic presses.


Bruce: Did you move that facility out to Arizona too?


Tyler: We did, yep. Everything moved to Phoenix for manufacturing.


Bruce: Wow, that's a massive move. We've talked to some shops about, you know, moving, you know, a lot of different presses and things in different neighborhoods or nearby. But that sounds like an incredible move to move such massive manufacturing.


Tyler: Yep. Lucky for me, I wasn't here when that happened either. So I didn't go through all the strain of doing all that. It was all here in place and ready to go when I got here.


Bruce: Got it. Now, what was the thought behind acquiring versus, you know, building it more organically in-house? Is that more of like a speed type of play or it's saying, "Okay, hey we can get faster into the market if we acquire it."?


Tyler: That's probably a combination of all of those things, and I think any acquisition of another company, there's value and, you know, maybe a built-in customer base already.


Bruce: Got it.


Tyler: Bringing a known reliable product to market, you know, may offer some advantages versus something brand-new, you know, or, you know, I don't want to say a startup but a brand new untested product. So I think there were probably many reasons that led to an acquisition to bring that in versus, you know, a ground-up approach.


Bruce: Sure. Were there any lessons learned that you guys took away from doing that a couple times?


Tyler: Oh, absolutely, absolutely. And again this was all in place prior to my arrival. So I can't really pinpoint and say, boy, we really picked this or that up. But without a doubt there has, you know, without a doubt there is definitely, you know, knowledge gained when you make a move like that.


Bruce: What about things on your end, and the people management side, I mean, still being there for seven or so years, you know, I'm assuming there is a swath of different cultures, and coming together and how things are done and, you know, again getting people on the same page. Did you have to work with that still?


Tyler: Certainly, there are people still employed with Workhorse today that have been here, you know, 25 years longer than I have. So it's, you know, I won't say it hasn't come without a challenge or two here there. But challenge is probably a strong word. I think it's been an absolute luxury for me personally, and for some of the newer or younger...younger or newer whatever staff to come in and see, you know, wow, you know, this is really neat to have a couple of people with the amount of knowledge, in our company. The amount of knowledge in the industry and to say, "I've watched this industry for 25 years."
And I guess something [inaudible 00:19:01]


Bruce: Oops.


Tyler: You know we are a small company, and part of a small company is we take a very...we're, you know, family-owned operation and, you know, we take that work-family very serious. And, you know, having a handful of staff that has been here since you know the inception or since the duration and bringing on new faces really ties in an attitude of family, loyalty, we're in it together. And you won't hear me say, "Boy, we really had to...we really had to get some old out to get the new in, or we needed to revamp the staff." We really haven't. And what we've tried to do is take advantage of that experience and take advantage of that wisdom, and use that to help guide some of our newer employees or younger employees to the company if you will, but yeah, I guess, I really just wanted take the opportunity to drive home, you know, the family approach here with our staff...


Bruce: Sure.


Tyler: ...you know from top to bottom, from ownership to sales, to customer service, to production floor, you know, top to bottom.


Bruce: No, that's good. That's a great cultural direction that you're setting. Another question about the consolidation and acquiring as this is interesting to learn about. Did you guys have to cut or remove products? And if so how did you determine that?


Tyler: I don't think we necessarily had to cut or remove. I think what we did was maybe the better word would be consolidate the lines, and maybe an example of that would be let's take the automatics, for example. Our acquisition of Tough Products brought in three automatics, the Freedom, the Javelin, and the Olympian and then we had another acquisition after that of a company called Progressive Machine which brought in a line of presses called The Falcon Press. And just a quick snapshot is that the tough acquisition was all pneumatic driven machines, so they were all powered by air. The progressive machine acquisition was brought in The Falcon, now brought in you know servo indexing, electric print heads. A much-updated machine if you will. So we don't offer The Falcon anymore correct, we don't offer The Javelin anymore correct, but it isn't like those products where, oh, we need to check or get rid of those. It was, you know, let's consolidate the pros of a couple of different lines and bring a new press out that has the good from both.
So about four years ago we did that when we launched the press that we call the Sabre [SP]. Okay, so if you look at the Sabre, it isn't, "Boy, they came out with the Sabre and they trashed The Javelin and The Falcon." It definitely wasn't the case, you know, The Javelin and The Falcon were the foundation for us launching the new press called The Sabre. So it isn't really we had the trash or get rid of things, it was how do we take components and merge them? How to even get components and make them better? And essentially, you know, maybe brand them differently or put a different name on them, or give a new, you know, feel to, you know, some of the existing product.


Bruce: Is The Sabre the press that you started working with that you put the tablet on the front too?


Tyler: It was the first press we put the tablet on.


Bruce: What was the decision behind that, when you guys, you know, was it saying, "Okay, here here's where things are going." Or was it more of, "Look, this is what our competitors are doing. We gotta make sure we're in par."?


Tyler: Yeah, probably a little of all of that, okay. It was definitely an advancement, a product advancement for us. It was definitely a sign of, you know, of what technology is allowing people to do in general not just in our industry, but you know technology is an ever-changing driving force. And we had the ability to do that in terms of, you know, not only was it is neat, not only did it bring in some advancements. But it also is an extremely intuitive way for a press operator to look at that machine, understand the tablet if you will of the stall to operating system, and it took a portion of the learning curve for somebody going into automation and it trimmed it out, because of how intuitive we could make that.
So if you look at past machines of ours, you know, where you have some analog control, where you have switches or buttons. And I'm not saying that wasn't useful or it didn't work because it absolutely did. But an intuitive tablet just need to be more along the lines of that... More and more people could relate to that [inaudible 00:24:18] "Wow, look how easy that is and look this changes color to mean it's on or off or I can move this button here and that." It just...it did a lot of things for us. It prompted some technology advancements that prompted some more options for users, in terms of the portal option that it has where you can communicate with your press when you're out of the office, and equally important to all of the technology stuff that I brought in, it made the press far more intuitive for a wider range of people to run or to operate it with a higher level of confidence.
It took a little bit of the scare of, "Well, how do I run this big machine." You know, "How do I print automatically," to, "This is so easy to control and to run."


Bruce: Got it. So it's really almost lowering the barrier to a whole lot of...a host of things that you can talk about, being remote and not necessarily have to be in the office, you know, reducing the knowledge necessary to run an automatic press and some similar items. So what do you feel like is next then, I mean, you see you guys in a couple [inaudible 00:25:32] but, you know, with the tablet on there and the digital aspect what do you think or what do you think these presses are going to really even further meet the customer needs?


Tyler: Yeah. Do you want me to touch on that in regards to, I mean, because I think that could be a two, maybe a two-pronged answer from me? We are definitely going to continue to advance our product line. So if you took the tablet or the technology out of it. We're gonna continue to evolve the machinery that we bring to market, okay. We've got a...and we've revamped our Odyssey entry-level manual press for starters. We've got a new electric dryer line out, so I think that's going to be ever-changing to meet the needs of the market, whether it's different types of substrates people are printing on, different types of inks they're printing with. That's a lot...that's always driving us to work on our product line, in terms of what does the future look like in terms of what technology can bring in? Wow, I think the imagination's your limit on that, you know, look at some of the advancements that are out there right now with some of the digital capacity. You know, something that is maybe, you know, something in terms of screen print and equipment wise that technology could do.
You know, I think I'll tie that up into a word of communication. Having your equipment easier to access, you know, or communicate with remotely like you did with the with our Sabre line, which has now carried on to all of our automatics. But anywhere you have internet connection you can essentially you know talk to your press. Now that communication might just take a couple of different avenues. Now you maybe can communicate like that with other items, you know, maybe you're dry or maybe you're exposing, you know, maybe it even goes a step further and not only can the operator or the owner communicate with it. But what if your shop or the pieces of equipment in your shop could communicate with each other, you know, your press is connected to your dryer so to speak, or your dryer to you if you're exposing unit. And maybe that's a little far-fetched but, you know, maybe you almost create a little environment in your shop or you can be on press and tracking the job that came off of the exposing unit and, you know, those screens are working their way to you
I think there's some really neat stuff you could do there. Or you're on press and you print 200 cotton shirts, and you're now ready to switch the job over and do polyester shirts, and you can communicate to your dryer right from your press, we're changing the settings from cotton shirts to polyester without having to physically go over there and make the settings like that.


Bruce: Sure. That's pretty amazing.


Tyler: And I guess I should I should preface that isn't an option on anything we have now should anybody, you know, say but, you know, where does the future go? I don't think that is, you know, maybe too far off and that might be a neat feature to have with some of the technology.


Bruce: That's very cool. And do you think or what are your thoughts on the industry as a whole and you feel like things are going? I mean there's a lot of articles around and we've chatted about on the show too on the Amazons and the Walmart's and, you know, obviously there was a movement before where things went offshore, and I think that's definitely halted in things held back here. But call it the next five years, 10 years what are you thinking?


Tyler: Yeah, I think everything you mentioned, there's definitely a level of, you know, concern about that certainly you're watching it in the Amazon stuff like that. I think that is a growing part of the market, but, you know, I still... I was shocked when I came into this industry. I'm like, "Geez, how many people can print t-shirts? Are there that many people wearing t-shirts?" And, you know, stamping it to a t-shirt is really I've learned, it's just the tip of what can be done in this industry, you know, but to keep it really simple. People still wear t-shirts, they still like, you know, printed garments, and I don't see that going away anytime too soon.


Bruce: Gotcha, very cool. What's one time at Workhorse that was just a super exciting moment that you can remember being there?


Tyler: Oh, geez. There's been a handful. Probably the introduction of the Sabre press for us, and we brought that to Long Beach five...four shows ago so five years, four shows ago and just the introduction of that I think for so many people in the industry who knew Workhorse, for what we were before. I'm not saying that was anything negative, you know, we were known...this is what we build, this is what we did, and that's just who we are. Bringing that press out, I think really was exciting because it generated a lot of buzz of, like, "Wow, you know, look what they've done, they've changed, its new." And that was really the launch of an almost a revival in our company so to speak or people, you know, looking at us differently outside of it's the same old Workhorse, it's the same old press. All of a sudden we weren't the same old Workhorse.

We were the same old Workhorse and a lot of positive things, in terms of manufacturing, in terms of customer service, in terms of staying in the industry but it was a fresh take on that for us.


Bruce: Yeah, okay. Very cool. Are there any sort of books that you're reading now about anything or anyone you're following?


Tyler: Well, yeah there's a lot of books I'm reading right now, and I don't know they're all, you know, I probably, you know, I've read a lot of them. And I do it just to try to get a bit or a piece out of something, you know, that can be applicable to what I'm doing here day to day. Travel quite a bit so I'm a fan of like audible.com where you can download a book and just listen. I can't really pinpoint one that I can say, "Boy, that was, you know, a top-to-bottom changing moment for us." But I like to pluck articles here there. I read an article on a flight a couple weeks ago out of the, you know, The Harvard Business Journal Magazine, you know, it was and it was you know in relation to sales. Really neat stuff in there. So oh, let's see. I just was reading one the accidental sales manager. For me that was really neat to, you know, look at a few things on the sales side that we could you better hear.


In terms of who are we following? Boy, that's where you hit a nerve there with me Bruce. That is something that I should probably get better and better at in terms of the social media side of it. Because I do think that is important, you know, who do I follow? Anytime I get on Instagram or Facebook anything that I see related to a squeegee or a screen print press, you know, we keep an eye. Or I shouldn't say we keep an eye out...I'll obviously look at. Everyday followers for me, you know, to kind of bring this back to our family type mentality here. We've got some really great Workhorse shops out there who have helped us in a number of ways, in our growth, in our product development. And I certainly watch those, you know, go shops, you know, every day via their media outlets.


Bruce: Sure. Yeah, I checked out your Instagram actually before, and there was a lot of really cool reposts of different shops and, you know, whip the thumbs up by the presence.


Tyler: Yeah. So those would be my...if you said, "Hey, who do you follow?" Those would be my common followers. Oklahoma first company...


Bruce: Yeah, they're Printavo accounts as well.


Tyler: Okay, yep. Goodfellas Merch here in town in and I'm shortchanging a lot of people by not, you know, putting my list together. But shops [inaudible 00:34:20] like that, you know, or constant, you know, looks, for follows by me.


Bruce: Nice, that's very cool. Yeah, Harvard, the Business Review by the way you guys can check it out, the hbr.org too, an incredible collection of articles, like you were saying you're reading on the plane too Tyler, around everything management and inside and outside of a business. And so I definitely recommend that for everyone to check out and continue to stay up-to-date on. But appreciate the time Tyler. This has been a really cool chat, just about Workhorse, your background what's going on over there and where you guys are headed. So really appreciate it.


Tyler: Yeah, same to you. Thanks. I know it took us a little time to get here but now it flew by fast, didn't it?


Bruce: Yeah, right. As a little bit of background, I've been reaching out to Tyler for quite some time since probably a year ago. But, you know, just with schedules and everything conflicting, we finally got some time to chat. But again, thank you and I hope you guys have a great rest of the week.


Tyler: Hey, thanks and same to you. I do this again anytime with you.


Bruce: Awesome. Have a good one, Tyler.


Tyler: Yep. Same to you, Bruce. Thanks.


Next Post: Adam Cook - Move Well, Move Often [Your Health & Printing] - PrintovationConf 2017

About Printavo

Printavo ​​is simple shop management software. Whether your shop works with screen printing, embroidery, signage, digital printing, or awards & engraving–we make your complex workflow simpler to manage and understand. Printavo keeps your shop organized by handling scheduling, estimates, quote approvals, workflow, payments, accounting and more. With Printavo, you’ll work smarter–not harder.

Try Printavo
Get free business lessons delivered to your inbox.

No charge. Unsubscribe anytime.