Redwater Welding, Sundance family finds success in fabricationWritten by Heather Hamiton
Sundance —A young Sundance couple has created a successful business in the last two years allowing them to live where they want while helping on the family ranch. Redwater Welding is located east of Sundance and is owned and operated by Colter and Sarah Ellsbury.
Both in their early 20s, Colter and Sarah each received an associates degree at Sheridan College. Now married for a year and a half, they’re expecting a baby boy in March.
“Originally when I got out of college I was working and helping Dad ranch when I could. I decided to start this business because I got sick of dirt work and construction and that end of it. I was going to work for Dad and do the welding part-time, but it got to the point where the welding just took off,” explains Colter.
In the beginning Colter expected the business to be more repair oriented and the number of manufacturing jobs came as a surprise. He still does repair work and has the capabilities to do portable jobs, but concentrates on manufacturing where he can be in the shop completing projects.
“I build a lot of cattle guards, aluminum fuel transfer tanks and a lot of miscellaneous stuff,” says Colter, adding that last summer he also built several trash dumpsters.
“I have a very large customer base. If I wasn’t aware of all the different potential customers I wouldn’t have nearly the amount of work I do,” he says, adding that repeat customers are a large percentage of his business today. If a customer is happy they spread the word, leading to another call. Colter and Sarah say satisfying customers is a very rewarding aspect of owning the business.
Redwater Welding’s customer base includes federal, state, county and local clients. Taking the time to attend monthly Contractors Association meetings, bid lettings and putting in bids for big state jobs are things the Ellsburys feel have added to their success.
“I travel somewhere every month. The best way to get work is to get out there and meet people and tell them what you do. Something always comes from that,” says Colter.
Redwater Welding has to bid almost every potential job Colter finds. If his bid is chosen he is responsible for building everything to a specific code. He explains that a lot of time is spent reading and following up on numbers to ensure everything is done to an exact standard.
“I have speck books and detailed drawings I have to go by. Everything has to be exact and I have to fill out a lot of paperwork. I’ve been pretty stressed at times over some state deals. It gets down to the exact paint and it has to be certified. If it doesn’t work out I am liable, and I in turn get a letter from my paint supplier saying the paint is to speck, so I can call him if there are any problems.”
Colter and Sarah both say the most difficult part of starting your own business is the financial commitment.
“The hardest part is the upfront cost of everything and being willing to take that risk. I’m in a business where 80 percent of my costs are materials, so I have a lot of up front costs for each job I bid,” explains Colter.
The couple credits a good banker and lots of family support to their successful start. Colter rents a shop from his brother and his dad helps when things get really busy. In turn he and Sarah are able to help with ranch work and also sell Loomix with Colter’s dad.
One future goal Colter and Sarah have for Redwater Welding is to be able to purchase materials and fabricate during the slower winter months.
“My plan is to have everything built in the winter and sit on it so it’s readily available in the spring and summer. A big selling point on a lot of stuff is to have it built and ready to go the next day,” says Colter.
Both Colter and Sarah have been surprised at the success of Redwater Welding and admit that 2009 exceeded their expectations. They are hoping for another successful year in 2010 and are working hard to make sure it happens.
“Being your own boss and having flexibility is the best part. Being able to help your family is very rewarding too,” says Colter.
“Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. I know that’s been very rewarding and it’s brought in more business and helped us meet a lot of people,” adds Sarah.
“I don’t like sticking my neck out, but I’ve had to do it a lot and it’s paid off,” states Colter. He says that owning the business hasn’t been what he thought it would be, but that he really enjoys it and is looking forward to watching it grow and improve over the years to come.