Brothers Bob and Mark Buchanan have parlayed their passion for drag racing and metal bending into a $3 million enterprise with only growth on the horizon.
The brothers started Bomar Industries like a lot of entrepreneurs-with no business plan and their own money and equipment. The Buchanans already had lathes, mills, welders and other supplies for their work on dragsters and other hobby projects.
Bob, 50, was an engineer and Mark, 48, worked in the sheet metal shop at Amtrak in 1990, when the elder Buchanan took a consulting job related to train refurbishing activities at Amtrak's Beech Grove facility.
He soon realized he and his brother could do the metal fabrication better and more efficiently, so the Buchanans started their own venture in their father's garage.
"I had no idea what a business plan was," Bob Buchanan said, and within five years, "we were breaking all kinds of zoning regulations and were kicked out of my dad's back yard."
Bomar's next stop was a 6,000-squarefoot plant.
"I thought we'd never fill it. We were humping along and the cash flow was good, so we didn't really need a business plan," he said. "The problem is that ignorance and lack of knowledge of the business side can knock you on your butt."
But Bomar was lucky. The company continued to grow and in 2003 moved to its current, 38,500-square-foot location southeast of Beech Grove.
Among the products Bomar has designed and manufactured: lighting fixtures for a Springfield, Ill., medical complex; an entertainment center for Interactive Intelligence's corporate headquarters; and the Grill-n-Chill, a mobile grill, ice chest and music center for tailgate parties.
Not everything has gone smoothly, though. The cost of raw materials, including steel, has gone through the roof.
"And then there's the challenge of finding employable people. The low unemployment rate makes it harder," he said. Bomar prefers to hire mechanical engineers and others with the know-how and experience to solve manufacturing and design problems.
Joyce Claflin Harrell of Bloomington spent two years and went through two engineering firms before she found Bomar in her quest to develop a prototype of the Sleepcliner, a bed-elevating system for people who suffer from health problems.
In less than 90 days, Bomar developed a working prototype, she said, and launched the product soon afterward. Bomar provides a turnkey operation: taking orders, manufacturing the product, and shipping it, she said.
"He even prepared the instruction manual," Harrell said. "He went way above and beyond."
Steve Nichols of Aussie Imports LLC, an Australian company with an office in Lexington, Ky., said he, too, was impressed by Buchanan's generosity and knowledge.
During the Performance Racing Industry trade show in Indianapolis last December, Bomar opened its doors for Nichols to demonstrate a vehicle-testing device to potential clients.
How unusual is that?
"Well, I know I wouldn't do it," Nichols said with a laugh. "Open a facility on a weekend, when you have the day off?"
He was so impressed by Bomar's facility that Aussie Imports has begun having the company manufacture a part of the chassis dynamometer, which used to be shipped in from Australia.
"I couldn't ask for a better company to work with," Nichols said.
That praise doesn't surprise Dietra Rosenkoetter, an account manager with Purdue University's Technical Assistance Program/Manufacturing Extension Partnership in Indianapolis. She has known about Bomar for about 10 years, meeting Bob Buchanan when she worked for Indiana's Business Modernization and Technology office.
"That's exactly how he is," she said. "He sees his company's engineering and problem-solving skills as value-added qualities for his clients, which makes him unique."
It doesn't stop there, either. With Rosenkoetter's assistance, Buchanan started a roundtable for CEOs, meeting every six weeks or so to talk about mutual problems and solutions.
"He's receptive to new ideas, growth strategies, partnerships and relationships," she said.
Mark, left, and Bob Buchanan launched Bomar Industries from their father's garage.